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 . To see more Items of the Month, click here.

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