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.
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…
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?)
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.