A treasure which the Widener Library has unwittingly possessed for many years was brought to light yesterday through the acumen of M. L. Stout '25.
Stout is taking a course in research work under Mr. G. P. Winship '93, Librarian of the Widener Collection, and in perusing an original edition of Elizabethan plays recently, he noticed that the binding was cardboard on the inside and vellum on the outside. Examining the vellum, he saw that it was an old musical score with French-Latin words written in. He took it to Mr. Winshop, who allowed him to remove the binding after paying for another.
1550 Latest Possible Date
Suspecting that his discovery was of considerable value, he took it to Dr. A. T. Davison '06 for appraisal. Dr. Davison identified it as part of an antyshon in the Easter mass of the Catholic church, dating from 1550 at the latest. No definite value has been set upon the manuscript, but Dr. Davison admitted that its worth was considerable. Stout plans to return the manuscript to the library at once. It is not yet known what disposition will be made of it.
The size of the vellum is that of a good-sized book. The music is written in the form of plainsong on a staff of four instead of five lines, and the tones are designated by numae, or small homogeneous dots, in place of the figures with tails used in present notation. There is no division into bars and no attempt at time. It was the custom of the monks to chant to the limit of their powers and then pause to rest themselves and their hearers.
The music is of a very crude type, somewhat similar to the plainsong used in rituals today in a very high Catholic church. It is sung in unison and is to a degree monotonous.
The Library is, however, more concerned with the historical value of the manuscript than with its musical merits. As an example of musical notation before the use of the printing press for the purpose and as a specimen of medieval plainsong it will hold an important place in the Widener collections.