Cambridge team


The project’s frame is set by the Cambridge team. They work on polyphonic music in France in the late 12th and 13th centuries. This is the first situation in which musical history in itself became crucial not only to the documentary practices that preserved it, but also to the aesthetic values that informed the creation of new music (Rankin, 2000).

It was in that context, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, that the first musical ‘canon’ was established (Wright, 1989; Roesner, 2001), and then transmitted far beyond its original institutional situation; now – for the first time in European history – the past ‘materialized’ in books of polyphonic music.

Such books were a new phenomenon in the early 13th century (Rouse, 2000), and were associated with high social status; they were not made for the use of performing musicians, but as a deliberate summation of musical achievements. This enormous change in musico-cultural practice sits within a very specific social context associated with:

  • the centralisation of royal and aristocratic power
  • the stabilisation of economic factors
  • the emerging university in Paris and its attraction of many students from distant parts of Europe (Baldwin, 2010; Wei, 2012)

The migration of scholars into and out of Paris fostered the dissemination of musical practices, new forms of music writing, and historical consciousness about musical styles in ways qualitatively distinct from previous centuries.

By identifying the characteristics of musical change in this Parisian milieu, the Cambridge team will distinguish categories whereby past and present are linked, integrated, contrasted, separated (Hartog, 2003), thereby enabling reflection on present uses of the past.

The Cambridge team will:

  1. Explore music-collecting against larger social and cultural currents that determined canonisation.
  2. Examine the accretion of musical substitute compositions, ‘clausulae’, as a profound process of experimentation with and manipulation of music of the past. Particular emphasis will be placed on how old and unmeasured chants could be recast as platforms for new rhythmic styles.

Team members

Susan Rankin

susan_rankin_800x800Susan Rankin holds a personal chair in the University of Cambridge as ‘Professor of Medieval Music’. She was educated at the universities of:

  • Cambridge
  • King’s College London
  • Paris (École Pratique des Hautes Études, IVeme section)

Her scholarly work engages with music of the middle ages through its sources and notations and through its place and meaning within ritual. Those ways in which music was exploited as an element within church ritual, and especially in dramatic ceremonies, have formed a long-term focus of study.

A second focus has been the palaeography of musical sources copied at Sankt Gallen in the early middle ages. Most recently she has edited a facsimile of the early 11-century ‘Winchester Troper’ (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 473), demonstrating to what extent it is possible to transcribe the earliest European repertory of two-part polyphony.

In Spring 2007 she gave the Lowe lectures at the University of Oxford entitled ‘Impressed on the Memory: Musical Sounds and Notations in the Ninth Century’, and this forms the basis of her current project while based at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. She was elected fellow of the British Academy in 2009.

→ View her list of publications on

Adam Mathias

adam_mathias_200x200Adam Mathias is a PhD student in Historical Musicology at Cambridge University, supervised by Susan Rankin. He completed his undergraduate study at Emmanuel College, Cambridge where he graduated with First Class Honours and was awarded several prizes. Following this, Adam was awarded the Herchel Smith Scholarship to spend a year as a visiting scholar at Harvard University where he was also made a Choral Fellow at the Memorial Church.

Adam is funded by a HERA grant entitled ‘Sound Memories: The Musical Past in Late-Medieval and Early Modern Europe’, in which he will be focusing on the polyphonic repertory associated with Paris and Notre Dame around the 13th century. His research will centre around the repertory of clausulae contained within the Notre Dame sources.

Beyond this project, another research interest of his is in English motets from the end of the thirteenth century. In addition, Adam maintains a fascination with opera and its relationship to technology and acousmatic/diegetic sounds. He is also an organist, having held scholarships at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge.

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