Musical Catalan frontiersmen

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona

One of the more important documents for what I work on is the 889 act of consecration of the church that underlies the one in this picture, which is Sant Andreu de Tona, on a big hill a few miles south of Vic in Catalonia. It’s important to me for a bunch of reasons, all of which are discussed in various print things I have forthcoming (he insists lamely),1 but which could be listed briefly as: the community was at that point outside the boundaries of regular authority, and though the bishop apparently came out to see them the area then disappears from the record for thirty or more years; the probably late-Antique tower that stands by the church appears to have guarded a late antique burial ground; Romanised titles and personal names are used in the charter of the consecration, which is a surviving original by a scribe who otherwise didn’t use those; a man called Centuri was present who appears to have been the father of a judge of the same name who later appears only at occasions when big fiscal estates were being passed into private or ecclesiastical hands by the counts; and, the people of the place also still remember this and a memorial stands on the hill which I have been and seen.

The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona

The memorial to the founders of Sant Andreu de Tona on the Turó del Castell de Tona

I’ve said all this before, of course, but recently re-reading the text of the document I was reminded that the document is also important for a whole separate branch of academia, early musicology. No, seriously, this charter is weird in more than one way. Head of the actors and the donors is another son of this Centuri guy, a priest by the name of Albaro, and he gave, I quote: “calicem et patenam, missalem, lectianarium et organum, casullam, alba et stola“, or in translation, “a chalice and paten, a Missal, a Lectionary and an organ, an alb and a stole”.2 To which, the reaction of the McKitterick-trained student that I am was roughly, “Hey, that’s a couple of expensive books there, these guys must be relatively rich, and all this way into the badlands, what on earth are they farming? Hmm. WAIT, DID THAT SAY AN ORGAN?” And I hope yours was similar. The trouble with this is that the scholars who are interested in early musical instruments are less interested in how much in the back of beyond little Tona was at this point, and how unlikely it is that they had something that’s otherwise not documented in the whole area for nearly a century.3 A more jaundiced and cynical viewpoint suggests that, given it’s part of a clause about books, what is probably meant is not organum but ordinem, so that it would be a liturgical Ordo, which would be paralleled from other consecrations in the area.4 But still, these are two words you would have thought were hard to confuse, Athanagild the scribe knew his Latin, it’s the original document and everyone who’s edited it agrees that’s what it says, so it is still odd. Especially since the music is not yet over…

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Arxiu, pergamin núm. 9135 (2-VIII-2)

Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Arxiu, pergamin núm. 9135 (2-VIII-2)

No indeed. Because the last clause of the document, not that you can really see it in this enlargement of a tiny illustration which is all I currently have of it, is a snatch of an antiphon, and it’s marked up in neumes for singing. Some of the more liturgically-minded scholars out there may recognise it: “Surgite, sancti, de abitationibus vestris, loca sanctificate et plebem benedicite et nos homines peccatores in pace custodite“, loosely translating as “Rise, o ye saints, from your dwellings, sanctify the place and bless the people and keep ye us sinful men in peace”. This document is apparently one of the earliest examples there is of ‘Catalano-narbonese’ neumes.5 There isn’t another consecration with stuff like this on it known from this area. And this brings to mind something that I only recently learnt, that the term organum later comes to mean polyphonic singing, as distinct from plainsong you see.6 But what would that mean in this context? A text containing pieces of music marked up for polyphonic singing? Or a manual of how to do it? In either case, I don’t think there’s any such manuscript now known, and it becomes very hard to explain that the antiphon on the charter is marked up only for plainsong if that was something in which the local singers, of whom there seem to have been at least one, were interested. And the next time the word turns up in the general area, at the 972 consecration of the monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, it’s more clearly the instrument: “vociferant enim sacerdotes… organumque procul diffundebat sonus ab atrio laudantes et benedicentes Dominum”, ‘for the priests cried out loudly… and some way off the organ spread sound from the atrium, praising and blessing the Lord’.7 (I suppose there’s no reason why it couldn’t be two choirs operating simultaneously in different modes but firstly, that would sound horrid, and secondly if the organum was mobile, why would it not be moved closer to the priests?)

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikipedia Spain

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikipedia Spain

So. We know really very little about ninth-century Tona but every little thing there is makes me wonder who on earth they thought they were there and how they’d managed to develop that impression of themselves. And, of course, whether anyone else out there was just as supposedly precocious or backward-looking. And occasionally it makes me wonder whether maybe they really could actually have had an organ in their tiny stone church on top of that weird sticky-up hill in the middle of a plain miles into the terra de ningú.


1. Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú’” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (ed.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming); Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming), on the pair of which this paragraph rests and where the references it implies can some day be found.

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrica-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. 9, with references to earlier editions, of which Manuel Rovira i Solà, “L’acta de consagració i dotació de l’església del castell de Tona” in Quadern d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 1 (Barcelona 1980), pp. 25-29, has a facsimile.

3. Joaquim Garrigosa i Massona, “L’acta de consagració de l’església del castell de Tona i la seva importància musical” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Tona 889-1989. Mil cent anys de història (Tona 1989), and M. Carmen Gómez Muntané, “La Cataluña carolingia: de musica y liturgia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del rom´nico (siglos IX y X), pp. 135-138, transl. as “Carolingian Catalonia: music and liturgy”, ibid. pp. 487-489, both accept the text, uncritically or with a nod to the alternative mentioned below, respectively.

4. This alternative propounded in Rovira, “L’acta”, and Laura de Castellet, “Un orgue romànic a Sant Benet de Bages” in Butlletí dels Amics de l’Art Romànic del Bages no. 153 (Manresa 2008), pp. 3-9 at p. 4.

5. Gómez, “Cataluña carolingia”, pp. 136-137; facsimile here taken from p. 136.

6. So says R. N. Swanson, The Twelfth-Century Renaissance (Manchester 1999), p. 183 where he adds that the practice is known back to the ninth century. The source of this contention, to judge from the relevant part of his bibliography (ibid., pp. 224-225) is Leo Treitler, “Oral, Written, and Literate Process in the Transmission of Medieval Music” in Speculum Vol. 56 (Cambridge 1981), pp. 471-491, where the chronology is indeed thus set out at p. 474, though he is only really concerned with books. As far as I can see, however, he says nothing about polyphony, so I don’t know where Swanson had that from.

7. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1127, an especially exaggerated and splendidly-phrased act with several embedded micro-narratives in it. It is quoted without reference to whatever earlier edition (there are several) she was using by Gómez, “Cataluña carolingia”, p. 137, whence quoted here. See there and also de Castellet, “Un orgue romànic”, for musicologists’ perspectives.

About these ads

6 responses to “Musical Catalan frontiersmen

  1. The question(s) that comes to my mind is/are ‘what exactly WAS an “organ” at this time?’ Was it a huge thing with pipes and so forth taking up half a wall, or something small, that might be packed in a box and operated by a young boy with bellows, etc, etc? Do we really know? And subsequently, ‘why do we assume that a little back-of-beyond church WOULDN’T have had one?!’ And finally, ‘if we assume little churches in-the-back-of-beyond DID have them, how does it alter our idea of distributed liturgical performance, church wealth, social wealth, and so on in Catalonia (or indeed anywhere)?’

    Also, can I offer the opinion that in this quotation: “vociferant enim sacerdotes… organumque procul diffundebat sonus ab atrio laudantes et benedicentes Dominum”, the adverb ‘procul’ might be used in the sense of ‘extent’ rather in than a simply locative sense, so that it means “for the priests cried out loudly… and the organ spread sound far and wide from the atrium, praising and blessing the Lord’. In which case you don’t need to make any assumptions about the apparent removal of choir and instrument…?

    Lastly, I shall draw the attention of music historians of my acquaintance to this post and see if they can help with the 9th century issue. :)

    • Good point about the Latin, that might well make more sense.

      The problem is one of distributed wealth, as you say. Archæologically and documentarily there’s nothing to make Tona look unusual in those terms, though its community self-image is plainly a bit unusual. Neither of these documents appear to think there’s anything odd or special about the organ, it’s mentioned in passing rather than as focus, but nonetheless, these are the only two mentions of one in a document-rich area for two hundred years plus. Even the inventories of Vic cathedral, of which there are three or four over this period, don’t mention one. That might be because theirs wasn’t movable, of course. I don’t think Sant Benet’s endowment charter mentions the organ anywhere else, either, which might also suggest it was more fabric than treasure.

      Tona’s perhaps was movable: the (later) illustrations in de Castellet’s article suggest a two-man affair that could have been carried on a cart (though to get it up the hill to Tona you’d want it well strapped down, he says having climbed it). At which rate, of course, the wealth involved is a lot less, we assume, but the connections to craftsmen and scientific knowledge are still well outside what we know of for this place (which is, basically, nothing). I think that’s the direction I’m most interested in taking this, which is why one would like to know what the chances are that it can be taken as read…

  2. Cullen Chandler

    When shall we see this material in print with your name attached? One hopes in time for me to see it as I finish my book.

    I hope to get to Catalonia next year and have time to visit some of these places. Methinks I’ll need a guide.

    • I don’t know when this stuff will be out, I’m afraid (though one of my other blocked papers finally came out this week!). The smaller paper might literally be any day now, but the editor is not answering my mails just now. The book, I was told nearly a year ago, would be out Spring 2010, I handed over the text on time and nothing else has happened. I am told I’m head of the queue, but Spring 2010 doesn’t look very possible given that there’s only a month of it left and I haven’t seen proofs yet. Sorry. I’m happy to pass you electronic copy of either or any if you would find them helpful.

      I’m hoping to go in June this year if I have enough holiday left, but I’m going to have time only to visit half the places I’d like to.

  3. Pingback: Bearing the sins of Michel Zimmermann « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. Pingback: The handwriting of an emperor – maybe | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s