It is difficult for an editor to do full justice to what is essentially the result of another man’s plan and labor, particularly when the field is as specialized as Middle English music and the man as learned in that area as was Professor Henry Holland Carter, Unfortunately, upon his death in 1952 Dr. Carter had not as yet undertaken an introduction to this dictionary of Middle English musical terms, for which he had gathered material through the many years he served as Professor of English and Chairman of the Department of English at Indiana University. Hence this preface will be limited to an explanation of Dr. Carter’s plan.
The work here presented is a definitive study of Middle English musical terms, arranged on a modified historical principle and based, as the bibliography will show, on essentially everything published in Middle English. Terms included in the study refer to the theory, the performance, the materials, and the forms of Middle English music. As in the OED and MED, but with more concentration on musical applications, definitions are given for all terms and are illustrated by chronologically arranged examples. For terms of low incidence all of Professor Carter ‘s quotations have been used; for those of moderate or high incidence, only the earliest, and the most varied and interesting.
Any term included in the dictionary is a member of one or more of four categories, which are designated materials, theory, performance, and forms. Little need be said by way of explaining the categories of materials and theory, for most terms of these classes are primarily musical in signification. Examples of the former are rote, tromp, wrest, and prikked-song-boke—of the latter, gem el, dlasolre, neume, and gesolreut. Words such as third, abufan, and descenden are technical musical terms when they refer to intervallic relationships, or pitch or position. Where terms occur in both lay and technical senses, the object has been to distinguish between these usages. In most of these cases the distinction has not been difficult. With à few terms, however, as with armonie, where in a number of examples it is difficult to determine whether the writer intended the lay sense of “pleasing music” or the technical sense of “polyphony,” the task has proved more complicated and has necessitated definitions allowing for the indeterminacy of the examples.
Considerable variety will be found among the terms in the category of performance. The practice has been to include here not only the names given to musical performers and performances but also the terms referring to musical operations, to musical sounds, and to the method, manner, or quality of musical performances. Thus, in addition to substantive terms applied to musical performers and performances, a large number of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs have been entered in the dictionary. Among these, two groups may be distinguished: terms such as ribiden, melodiously, and psautrien, which are basically musical in meaning; and terms such as blowen, in various musical usages as “to operate the bellows of an organ,” curious, in reference to an “ornate” or, pejoratively, “flamboyant” musical performance, and stif, “powerful,” as in the verse This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun, which are from general rather than specifically musical categories. To this latter group belong terms such as clere, delectable, sweet, delicious, and nobil, which were used by medieval writers in critical or aesthetic appraisal of musical subjects.
All secular or religious terms which refer to musical compositions, musical texts, and musical services have been considered under the category of forms. On the secular level this class comprises the terms for poetic compositions with musical settings, such as balade and roundel; general or quasi-formal terms occurring within musical contexts, such as ditty and fit; and the names for the dance and its forms. The close association of the Roman Catholic liturgy with the history of medieval music is acknowledged in the extensive treatment accorded to liturgical terms. There are musical implications, for example, in the names for items of the Mass, for the formulae, canticles, and hymns, which in canonical life formed an important part of the daily devotions, and for the various services of the Divine Office.
A distinctive feature of the dictionary, finally, is Dr. Carter’s topical style in illustrating substantive terms of high incidence. Under the term menestral, for instance, quotations have been brought together which deal with the social and economic status of the minstrel in medieval England. Under the term harp, as a further instance, quotations are included which illustrate what was conventionally said about the harp as a means of musical entertainment, what was said about the psychological and emotional effects of harp music, and what was said about the ceremonial and religious use of the instrument. Examples quoted for words of this class are, in general, arranged with more regard for their topical character than they are in the OED and MED.
Because his glossary had for the most part been established before the MED began publication, Dr. Carter’s indebtedness to this valuable work is slight, although collaboration with the editors of the MED had at one time been contemplated and the present editor has had frequent use for the fascicles of the latter work as they have become available. The lexical and etymological assistance provided by the OED has been most useful. Upon occasion, when texts and manuscripts quoted by OED have been unavailable, use of OED quotations has been made and acknowledged. Among the most indispensable of the musicological and liturgical reference sources consulted have been Curt Sachs’ History of Musical Instruments, Willi Apel’s Harvard Dictionary of Music, and the Oxford History of Music.
The editor recalls with gratitude the long and faithful interest of Dr. William Lowe Bryan, late President Emeritus of Indiana University, and the sympathetic support of Dr. Herman B Wells, President of Indiana University. He gratefully acknowledges the administrative help provided the project by Dr. Ralph L. Collins, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculties of Indiana University; the professional help and counsel of Dr. James A. Work, Chairman of the Department of English of Indiana University; the kindly interest of Dr. Willi Apel, Professor of Musicology at Indiana University, in making available the services of one of his students whose work with the technical aspects of the dictionary subsequently proved so indispensable that it has been acknowledged elsewhere; the patience and courtesy, through the years, of the library staff of Indiana University in making available the large number of texts required by the project; and, finally and especially, the professional criticism of Dr. Robert W. Mitchner, Associate Professor of English at Indiana University, who has read the manuscript and made invaluable comments upon it.