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Music and the moderni, 1300–1350
The ars nova in Theory and Practice


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  • Date Published: August 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107167094

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About the Authors
  • Music theorists labelled the musical art of the 1330s and 1340s as 'new' and 'modern'. A close reading of writings on music theory and the polyphonic repertory from the first half of the fourteenth century reveals a modern musical art that arose due to specific innovations in music notation. The French ars nova employed as its theoretical fundament a new system for arranging musical time proposed by the astronomer and mathematician Jean des Murs. Challenging prevailing accounts of the ars nova, this book presents the 'new art' within the intellectual context of its time, revises the datings of Jean des Murs's writings on music theory, and presents the intersection of theory and practice for a crucial era in the history of music. Through contemporaneous accounts, Desmond explores how individuals were involved in 'changing' music in early fourteenth-century France, and the technical developments they pursued that precipitated this stylistic change.

    • Integrates the analysis of music compositions with the in-depth study of medieval music theory
    • Situates the important contribution Jean des Murs made to the history of music, with significant implications for how we understand the chronology of the ars nova
    • A core bibliographic item for scholars and postgraduate students with interests in early music, music theory, and notation
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    • Winner, 2019 Lewis Lockwood Award, American Musicological Society

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Karen Desmond's book places early fourteenth-century music and musical thought persuasively within their intellectual contexts. Equally at home in music theory, the history of musical style, palaeography, prosopography, astronomy, philosophy and a whole host of other fields of knowledge, she rises to the challenge of saying something substantially 'new' about the ars nova. Drawing all these intellectual threads masterfully together, Desmond's breath taking study will be the defining work on the subject for many years to come.' Christian Thomas Leitmeir, University of Oxford

    '[Karen Desmond gives] an exciting, revisionist account of this crucial period in medieval music history, offering a wealth of new insight into staple texts and works, and a model framework for engaging theory with other modes of intellectual practice. This book will make a significant intervention in the field of fourteenth-century music studies, with repercussions not only for music historians, but also for scholars of intellectual history.' Emma Dillon, King's College London

    '… [this book] alters our understanding of a crucial moment in music history. Drawing on a dazzling variety of evidence and leading the reader with grace through difficult terrain, the author rethinks what was new in the ars nova. To better see the new art as its contemporaries saw it, the author revises the datings of Jean des Murs's writings; relates his innovations to developments in astronomy and mathematics; elaborates on the key aesthetic concept of subtilitas; enhances our artistic appreciation of destabilized rhythmic phenomena; and explores the philosophical stakes behind the theoretical controversy, involving two different conceptions of time.' Official citation for 2019 Lewis Lockwood Award, AMS Awards Committee

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107167094
    • length: 322 pages
    • dimensions: 252 x 177 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.79kg
    • contains: 27 b/w illus. 13 tables 22 music examples
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Subtilitas and the ars nova
    3. Jean des Murs, Quadrivial Scientist
    4. Arts old and new
    5. From trees to degrees
    6. Notational dots and the line of musical time
    Appendix 1: list of transitional ars nova motets and concordances
    Appendix 2: key dates in the biography of Jean des Murs
    Appendix 3: key dates in the biography of Philippe de Vitry
    Appendix 4: sources of Jean des Murs's notitia and conclusiones
    Appendix 5: edition of Apta/Flos
    Appendix 6: works list for Jean des Murs.

  • Author

    Karen Desmond, Brandeis University, Massachusetts
    Karen Desmond is Assistant Professor of Music at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, and in 2018 was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Harvard University. She has published her research on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century music, theory, and notation in the leading journals of her field. Desmond was awarded an NEH Research Fellowship and an SSHRC Banting Fellowship for this book project.


    • Winner, 2019 Lewis Lockwood Award, American Musicological Society

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