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About the project

The project Connecting Medieval Music is a platform for the study of contrafacta in medieval Romance lyric. It constitutes a digital repertory of Occitan and French models and contrafacta, but it also includes all Latin, German, Italian, and Galician-Portuguese contrafacta connected to the Gallo-Romance tradition.

Thanks to its interactive interface, Connecting Medieval Music invites users to explore the connections between lyrics across Europe in their geographical and chronological dimensions.

The project does not only consist of a list of known cases of contrafaction but aims to provide information on the formal and cultural features of each lyric: the circumstances of its compositions, the people involved, the events it mentions, the sources that preserve it, and much more. People, places, events, lyrics, and manuscripts are all linked in an interconnected network that reproduces a layer of Europe's cultural history.

 

Contrafacta: a definition

Although the term "contrafactum" is well-known in modern scholarship, it may be helpful to clarify how this category is employed in the context of this project. Contrafactum is a contemporary term that describes the practice of reusing an existing melody for a new text, extremely popular in the Middle Ages. The new text usually replicated the syllabic structure and often the rhyme scheme and rhyme sounds of the model. These formal features can be likened to the fossils left by melodies and can help us identify a contrafactum in all those instances in which the musical notation is irremediably lost, as is the case for so many medieval vernacular lyrics. Some scholars prefer to adopt a "sceptical" definition: only songs that have survived with music can be considered contrafacta, since only through a direct comparison of the melodies can we verify the musical match. On the contrary, the logic at the foundation of this project is that a contrafactum does not cease to be one after the last existing copy of its melody is destroyed (nor when the last carrier of its oral tradition forgets it or dies). In the attempt to analyse a phenomenon that is inherently fragmentary, as is true for all medieval research, it is not possible to limit our research to items that are complete and unscathed by time. The reason is apparent if we look at the Troubadour tradition, within which only four times both model and contrafactum have survived with music. If we could only talk of contrafaction, we would be forced to argue that contrafacta were practically non-existent among Occitan poets – while we know that it was instead a constitutive practice of Troubadour lyric production. 
Other scholars, mostly concerned with the metricological aspects of medieval lyrics, talk of contrafacta only in cases with matching metrical structures. This approach neglects the musical nature of contrafaction and overlooks how easily music can adapt to texts with different numbers of syllables. Our definition of contrafactum encompasses these cases of "imperfect contrafacta". These are lyrics that modify the structure of the model while still reusing a considerable portion of the original melody and do not profoundly alter its integrity. Modifications can include the number of lines per stanza, the number of syllables per line, and the genre of the rhymes. This category is considered distinct from that of "intermelodicity", which consists of reusing smaller parts of a melody, integrating them in a new musical context, reconfiguring its modules in a new structure, or significantly altering the model. 

The aim of this project is to foster the study of contrafaction rather than providing a fixed canon. In this perspective, we take on the responsibility of analysing and discussing cases of contrafaction that have not survived with music. We further include cases presenting metrical affinities (labelled in a separate category) and lyrics that previous scholarship has considered contrafacta, engaging critically with previous scholarship.

 

Main bibliographic sources

The information available on Connecting Medieval Music comes from hundreds of sources, but the foundational basis for the Occitan repertory is the BEdT, which provides accurate information on the metrical relationships, place and date of composition of Occitan lyrics. We have followed BEdT, except where more recent research was available. The more useful resource for the integration of notices on troubadours was the Dizionario biografico dei trovatori (Guida - Larghi 2014). Linker 1979, checked against the bibliography by Raynaud - Spanke 1955, constituted the basis for the information regarding the French repertory.

As with all research on contrafacta in medieval Romance lyrics, this project is built upon the foundational works by Friedrich Gennrich and Hans Spanke.

A full list of the cited scholarly works is available on the Bibliography page. References regarding single items (works, people etc.) are specified at the bottom of the sidebar.

 

The digital platform

The Connecting Medieval Music platform uses MedMus – DH-DW extension for medieval music, literature, and cultural heritage, created by Stefano Milonia.

DH-DW (Digital Humanities-Data Workbench) is a Drupal-based software created by Steve Ranford (University of Warwick) and Steven Jones (ComputerMinds), first built for the project Oiko.world, directed by professor Micheal Scott.

The MedMus platform has also been adopted by the project Prosopographical Atlas of Romance Literature, with which we have had a data-sharing agreement.

The musical transcriptions, available for the Occitan repertoire and for a small number of French works, are embedded from  MedMel: The Music of Medieval Vernacular Lyric – Connecting Medieval Music's sister project.

 

The onthology

MedMus data model implements an extended version of the CIDOC-CRM especially crafted for medieval literary and musical works. 

Data model

 

 

Principal investigator: Stefano Milonia (University of Warwick)

Collaborators: Samuele Maria Visalli (Università di Roma Sapienza), Ermes Faillace (Università di Roma Sapienza), Giulia Boitani (University of Cambridge).

Contact: stefano.milonia[at]gmail.com