Translating Sound, Then and Now: The Palaeography and Notation of Insular Song, c.1150-1300

Samantha Blickhan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis provides a detailed examination of the notational forms being used to write insular song in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, specifically, the notation of 111 songs in British miscellany sources between c.1150 and 1300. I frame this examination within a larger examination of music palaeography, tracing the practice from its roots in the Gregorian revival of the nineteenth century to its use in modern scholarship, and showing how a lack of standard practice has resulted in palaeographic methods that often prioritise chronological development.

In light of this methodological deficit, I have created a method of notational palaeography which uses a semiological approach to allow the notation to be examined in its own right, within its original manuscript context, without attempting to create a standard orthography that is unlikely to have existed at the time the songs were written. The method also allows for the examination of a very large number of notational forms, songs, and sources, the results of which can be used to develop a greater understanding of how scribes were writing song during this time period.

Beyond the creation of this method and its application to insular song, I also show how my approach can be used to teach early notation to undergraduate students, using as a case study the course ‘The Notation of Medieval Song’, which I designed and co-taught in the spring of 2015 at Royal Holloway. The purpose of this case study is to show how using an approach to notational pedagogy that allows for an examination of the notation in its original context—without prioritising editing or transcription—can help students to better understand the complex relationships between sound and visual source material, and the roles both of these elements play in the notation of medieval song.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Deeming, Helen, Supervisor
  • Leach, Elizabeth Eva, Advisor, External person
Award date1 Nov 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Music
  • Music Notation
  • Royal Holloway
  • Samantha Blickhan
  • Medieval Studies
  • Palaeography
  • Manuscripts
  • pedagogy

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