French-American Bridge for Medieval Musical Iconography

Music, Art, and Performance at Cluny


By Emogene Cataldo

On January 11, 2017, the FAB-Musiconis group attended the fourth session of the L’iconographie musicale et l’art occidental seminar at INHA, titled, Lieux et espaces en musique: le Moyen Age clunisien. The session offered two rich perspectives on the intersection of Cluniac space, performance, and music in two papers delivered by Sébastien Biay (INHA) and Susan Boynton (Columbia University), with a response by Anne-Orange Poilpré (Paris-Sorbonne 1).

In “Du choeur monastique au choeur des anges, de l’espace vécu à l’espace figuré : les chapiteaux du rond-point de la grande Église de Cluny (XI-XIIe siècles),” Biay posed questions about the surviving capitals of the so-called Cluny III basilica, which was destroyed in the French Revolution. Of the eight capitals that survive from the chevet, two depict scenes of musicians. These two musical capitals depict four musicians each and include an inscription that enumerates the eight tones. As Biay suggests, these eight tones suggest the eight psalmodic tones, while the number eight is also invoked by the number of columns delineating the ambulatory of the round east end. Whereas the first capital encapsulates four musicians in mandorlas framed by the inscription, the second divides the space horizontally with the inscription, which continues in a horizontal band around the capital. Biay noted not only the aesthetic qualities of enumeration and rational parts of the text and images, but also the position and gesture of the musicians themselves, whose embodiment of the act of playing music corresponds with the active descriptions of music-playing in the inscription. Taken together with the text, the images of the figures suggest a binary rhythm of physical movement and implied sound.

In “Cluniac Spaces of Performance/Lieux de performances clunisiens,” Boynton investigated the intersection of space, liturgy and manuscripts of Cluny in relation to both physical and imagined spaces of performance, as well as the power attributed to Cluny and its affiliated abbeys through language. In De miraculis, an early-twelfth-century compilation attributed to Peter the Venerable, the author describes evocative visions seen by monks in the choir of Cluny during the night hours, including a vision of a perambulating harp player followed by censing angels. This was an intriguing connection with the corresponding cithara-playing figure depicted on the Cluniac capitals discussed by Biay. In addition, manuscript illuminations enrich the evidence for performance in Cluniac spaces; a celebrated manuscript illumination from Paris 17716 depicts the dedication of the altar of Cluny III by Pope Urban II in 1095, showing both the interior and the exterior of the church simultaneously (BnF Ms. 17716, fol. 91r). The interior is crowded with designated communities and individuals: Pope Urban II, Abbot Hugh, the monastic and cleric communities, and perhaps, as Boynton posits, the lay community. Finally, in texts written about liturgical practice at Cluny, Boynton highlighted how writers frequently refer to the monastery as “locus noster,” or, “our place,” signifying a concept of collective space that is activated by liturgical and commemorative performance.

These two presentations, rich with interconnections and intriguing questions about music and performance in medieval Cluniac communities, suggest an omnipresent importance of embodied experience in Cluniac culture in images of music performance and descriptions of liturgical activity. This is illustrated both in the physicality of the musicians sculpted in the capitals and the evocative visions recorded by Peter the Venerable, as well as the manuscript illustrations of Bnf Ms. 17716, in which figures escape the conscripted frames and participate–either as actors or spectators–in the performance.

The next and final event of the seminar will be held at the INHA on March 8, 2017, in which Camilla Cavicchi (CESR Tours) and Florence Gétreau (CNRS/IReMus) will present papers in a session titled, Lieux et espaces en musique : les salles de musique, de la Renaissance au XVIIIe siècle.

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