16th-century Spanish Antiphoner
This 16th-century Spanish antiphoner comes to our collection
as a donation from Herbert Zim. Zim purchased the manuscript from an antiquarian
in Barcelona who routinely acquired such remarkable documents, cut them to
pieces, and sold individual pages to tourists.
An antiphoner is a Catholic liturgical book containing plainchants
for the Divine Offices, the set of eight daily prayer services held by members
of the clergy. Individual services could vary greatly in length and complexity,
but their essential structure centered around readings from the Old and New
Testaments and recitation of the psalms. Additionally, each office included
at least one hymn and chanted responses to the Biblical readings of the day.
Antiphoners traditionally contain antiphons (short verses sung
before and after a psalm) and responsories, verses sung either by two choirs
or by a soloist and a choir in alternation. The music of the antiphoners is
organized according to church calendars based either on the lives of the saints
(Sanctorale) or on major feasts of the liturgical year (Temporale). Although
the recitation of psalms was a primary focus of the Divine Office, the actual
music for the psalms was generally collected in a separate book, or psalter.
The image above (left) is an excerpt from a responsory, followed
by an Alleluia chant. The music is written on a five-line staff with text
inserted below. Thicker red lines between the text clarify which syllables
belong to individual words since much of the chant is melismatic; that is,
many notes are sung to each syllable, so a single word may be drawn out over
multiple lines of music. Faint pencil marks between note groupings were added
later to help the singer to determine how the music should align with the
text. The music is written in neumatic notation, a Medieval system that indicates
pitches but does not specify the relative lengths of the notes, for notation
was intended as a reminder of music learned.
The second image contains the responsory verse Pascha nostrum
("Our Passover") and the sequence Victimae paschali laudes ("To
the Pascal victim, may Christians offer songs of praise"), which, curiously,
are part of the Easter Mass rather than the Divine Offices. The second chant
begins with a richly illuminated calligraphic letter "V," featuring
an intricate design in red and blue ink on parchment, presumably penned by
someone other than the scribe who copied the music. The artwork throughout
most the antiphoner has a fairly consistent design, though the music and unfinished
illuminations near the end of the book are in a different hand.
The complete manuscript measures 53 x 38cm. and is 10cm. thick.
It is bound in leather and contains around 175 pages.
The antiphoner is currently on exhibit on the 3rd floor of McCain
Library & Archives. Please feel free to come by and see this remarkable
book. If you have any questions about this item, please contact Jennifer Brannock
at x4347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information:
Joseph Dyer, Kenneth Levy, and Dimitri Conomos: 'Liturgy and
liturgical books', Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 27 July 2007)
David Hiley, "Plainchant Transfigured: Innovations and
Reformation through the Ages," in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed.
by James McKinnon (Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990): 120-142. (Cook Library ML160 .A68 1991)
Michel Huglo and David Hiley: 'Antiphoner', Grove Music Online,
ed. L. Macy (Accessed 27 July 2007)
Text by Dr. Edward Hafer, Assistant Professor of Music History,
University of Southern Mississippi