Medieval manuscript that could “redefine history of thirteenth and fourteenth century music in Bohemia” discovered in Prague’s Klementinum

“The discovery was made by Dominique Gatté, our colleague from Strasbourg in France, who started to follow all of the new digitalised medieval manuscripts and their musical parts. He made this discovery thanks to his systematic work and let us know about it through our international cooperation on this topic.

“It was bound into a book from the 1430s, which is a copy of an earlier work written by Petrus de Crescentiis, it is about agronomic systems and how a man is supposed to manage his agricultural estate.”

I understand that binding old parchment into new manuscripts was quite common back then?

“Yes, that is correct. It was a common practice.

“For now, we do not know how the thirteenth century musical manuscript, written on parchment, came to Prague and ended up being used in the binding of a manuscript from the fifteenth century, but it was a common practice.”

Musicologists seem to be very excited about this discovery. How important is it?

“The importance of this discovery is on two levels.

“First of all, it is one of four fragments that we have conserved in Europe from the Notre Dame School. [The circle around Notre Dame] was one of the most important musical innovation centres in Europe at the time.

“The second level of importance is for the musical history of the Bohemian lands during the medieval era. We know that it came to Prague and that it was found here, but we do not know how it came here. That is a matter for our research. We hope to find other clues so that we will be able to redefine the history of thirteenth and fourteenth century music in the Kingdom of Bohemia.”

Are the actual compositions found in the texts new to us?

“I am not a musicologist, but I think that these compositions are already known. They are closely connected with another fragment that is now in Firenze in Italy, which was made for Sainte-Chapelle [a royal chapel] in Paris in the mid thirteenth century for King Louis IX of France.

“They are not new compositions, but for us it is important that they are related to another fragment. It gives us the opportunity to study the practice of music production and the practice of slight changes in melody in different manuscripts.”

So, if you had to summarise, what will researchers now focus on with these texts?

“It will focus on the datation and on the question of the second life of the manuscript. Furthermore, there will also be focus on how it was used since it was produced.”

The text, within the fifteenth century Ruralia commoda manuscript, can be viewed online here: