– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Unlocking Archives MT16 (1)

Unlocking Archives is an interdisciplinary graduate seminar series of illustrated lunchtime talks about current research in Balliol College’s historic collections: archives, manuscripts and early printed books, and the connections between them.


Wednesday 16 November (MT6), 1-2pm, Prof. Matthew Balensuela (Depauw), ‘The Music Theory Booklet Balliol 173A ff. 74r–81v: Copying and Content of an Early Medieval Theory Compendium’

Balliol MS 173A is a codex created in the fifteenth century that combines selections of Aristotle (ff. 1-73) with a collection of early music theory (ff. 74‑119). The first music fascicle, ff. 74-81, stands apart from the rest of the music portion (works of Guido and a tonary) in several ways: it has handwriting different from the rest of the codex; it ends with a blank verso that could have served as the back cover of a small booklet; and it features elaborate illustrations found nowhere else in the collection.

Through an analysis of the codicological and orthographical evidence and the contents, I argue that Balliol 173A, ff. 74–81 was originally a self-standing booklet, originally copied around the twelfth century and that one of the main purposes for creating such a booklet was not merely to perpetuate the contents (works by Cassiodorus, Isidore, and Aurélien of Réôme), but also to teach scribes musical terminology and to create a brief reference work of basic musical ideas and concepts. Scribes represent an audience for music theory texts unstudied in the history of music theory. The creators and users of this booklet may not have been interested in learning music theory, nor in performing or composing music. Rather, this booklet may demonstrate how scribes untrained in music learned the basic meanings of the words they were copying and how to lay out pages that combine both text and examples.

* * *

All welcome! Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last about half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol special collections material discussed. St Cross is next door to Holywell Manor; see ‘Finding Us’ at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f

Comments are closed.