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The University of Southampton
MusicPart of Humanities

Research project: Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Thirteenth-Century Music and Poetry

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The aim of this AHRC-funded project is to place the conductus of the period c 1170 to c 1320 on the same footing as its two partner genres, the motet and organum.

Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Thirteenth-Century Music and Poetry’ was funded by the AHRC and started on 1 October 2010. Via a monograph, three commercial CDs, an online catalogue and three PhDs, the project aimed to develop an understanding of the 12th- and 13th-century conductus.

The long thirteenth century (c1170 to c1320) saw the emergence of three coherent repertories of polyphonic music: settings of liturgical chant called organum, motets that were originally derived from parts of organum, and the conductus. Organum and the motet have been the subject of impressive levels of musicological study in the last 150 years whereas the conductus - despite its status as the first consistent repertory of newly-composed polyphony in the history of music - has remained somewhat in the shadows. Although the repertory has been catalogued, little work has been built on these bibliographical foundations. The conductus therefore stood at the centre of this project, merging Latin poetry and music in a single genre.

Cantum pulcriorem invenire (‘to find a more beautiful melody’, hereafter CPI-I) sought to understand the Latin poetry and music of the conductus with a view to reinstating it alongside organum and motet, the position that it enjoyed in the eyes and words of all thirteenth-century theorists. This understanding was gained by an analysis of repertories and chronology, poetry and music, in conjunction with a review of the highly contested question of the genre's rhythm and metre. This then served as the basis for an examination of cadential function, intertexts, leading to a study of the function of the conductus as a mixed form in the context of the literary prosimetrum. The research also considered geographical aspects of the conductus (its particular cultivation in England, the Iberian Peninsula and south-western German-speaking lands) and its fate on the shifting generic horizon around 1300.

The research involved four elements:

- a monograph

- a recataloguing of the entire repertory, practice-led research to contribute to some of the key parts of the project

- two PhDs.

The recataloguing of the project depended heavily on the unpublished work of the late Gordon Anderson (d. 1981), an Australian musicologist. The second element was the examination of the repertory from a performative standpoint. Using world-class performers with an extensive track record in the performance of medieval polyphony, and building on the PI's experience in this area, CPI-I investigated the questions of rhythm and metre in the conductus by bringing various solutions to the question into a performative arena and creating recordings both on CD with a commercial label and as internet-delivered sound files. The three PhD dissertations worked in detail on areas of the repertory that the project itself treated coherently but in general terms: the question of the relationship between the English conductus and other genres and the issue of intertextual links both within the conductus repertory itself between the conductus and other genres. The project has been and will be disseminated in the form of a monograph, published by Cambridge University Press, recordings in two formats (three commercial recordings with Hyperion; a series of working documents placed on the PRIMO (Practice as Research in Music Online) website), and an online catalogue of the repertory.

Related research groups

Musicology and Ethnomusicology
Music Performance Research

Conferences and events associated with this project:

Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Music in Western Europe, 1150-1350

9 - 11 September 2013

In September 2013, following the first conference on the music of the Ars Antiqua in Princeton in November 2011, the University of Southampton's Department of Music hosted the second conference in this series at its Highfield Campus.

Plans for publication of the conference proceeding with Cambridge University Press are on-going.

Please follow these links for further information on the conference and the call for papers.



Please, follow this link to access the conductus  online catalogue

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