Cambridge University historian Sam Barrett and professional musician Benjamin Bagby are bringing lost music from the Middle Ages back to life. Gizmodo reports that Barrett, who specializes in medieval music, has spent the last two decades researching a song repertory from the 11th century called “Songs of Consolation.” Now, after the discovery of a missing sheet of music, and with Bagby’s help, Barrett has successfully reconstructed 80 to 90 percent of the lost melody from “Songs of Consolation.”
Based on the poetry of Roman philosopher Boethius, “Songs of Consolation” was written in the Medieval music notation known as neumes. Because neumes indicate melodic direction but not specific pitch, Barrett worked with Bagby, of The Lost Songs Project and the medieval music group Sequentia, to figure out what “Songs of Consolation” would have sounded like.
“Ben tries out various possibilities and I react to them—and vice versa,” Barrett explained in a press release. “When I see him working through the options that an 11th century person had, it’s genuinely sensational; at times you just think ‘that’s it!’ He brings the human side to the intellectual puzzle I was trying to solve during years of continual frustration.”
Together, Barrett and Bagby reconstructed “Songs of Consolation,” using a medieval songbook and poetry collection called the “Cambridge Songs.” After discovering a lost page from “Cambridge Songs” in a German library, they were able to develop a nearly complete sense of the song repertory's melody.
“Songs of Consolation” was performed in its entirety for the first time in 1000 years at Cambridge University last weekend. Check out a short excerpt as performed by Bagby, with his group Sequentia, above.
Banner Image Credit: Cambridge University, YouTube