900 - 999
The ancient Greeks had developed a system of musical notation that differentiated between instrumental and sung music, and even indicated rhythmic value. The practice of writing music, as well as the practice of many arts, vanished after the fall of Rome.
Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman emperor (742–814) restored learning and education to the Western world and the empire over which he reigned. He implemented a standardization of written text and music throughout his empire, which extended through much of modern-day Western and Central Europe. The emperor employed Alcuin, a scholar from England, to run a school and scriptorium in Aix-la-Chapelle, Charlemagne’s favored residence. The resulting, highly legible script was Caroline minuscule. A musical notation was developed, too, in the form of the so-called St. Gall notation, named after the abbey in St. Gall, modern-day Switzerland.
This leaf is written in Caroline minuscule, with unheightened or nondiastematic neumes. Neumes are the earliest notes used in plainchant, which is the monophonic unison chant of the Christian liturgies. Early on, they were squiggles and dots, like the ones displayed here. These neumes do not show the relative pitch between notes, and there is no indicated base pitch. None of these were necessary to the singer, however; the notation served as a reminder of the relative pitches to singers who would already have been familiar with the melody.
The text is 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, “Exhortamur (vos) ne in vacuum gratiam Dei recipiatis. . .” (We exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain), which is the Epistle of the Mass for the First Sunday in Lent. It is followed by Psalm 90, which is sung as the Gradual of the Mass: “Angelis suis mandavit de te ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis. . .” (God has given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways).
Rare Book Department