Professor Mary Channen Caldwell Publishes Article Exploring Medieval Europe nova cantica in Speculum

October 31, 2023

Professor of music Mary Channen Caldwell recently published an article in Speculum, a medieval history journal, about the emergence of new Latin songs known as nova cantica


Beginning around 1100, new Latin songs began to emerge from a landscape of liturgical chant in medieval Europe. Termed nova cantica, this repertoire was characterized by novel approaches to form, poetry, and melody which, although chiefly a Latin tradition, also characterize a smaller number of vernacular songs composed during the same period. Linking Latin and vernacular nova cantica, a subset of multilingual songs also exists that foregrounds novel relationships between languages and music in the nova cantica tradition. I argue that the cross-fertilization of Latin and vernacular languages signals both the literary and cultural backdrop of the twelfth century, as well as the desire of poet-composers to explore the expressive potential of language. This article considers how the use of more than one language fostered opportunities to exploit language rhetorically, compositionally, and sonically and to construct ties to the cultural and linguistic milieux within which the songs were produced. Two case studies united by a shared devotional subject, Saint Nicholas, offer a comparative perspective: Exultemus et letemur, a Latin/Anglo-Norman song transmitted in a twelfth-century English manuscript, and Nicholaus hodie, a Latin/Picard French song in a late twelfth-century theological miscellany copied in northern France. Separately, each song reflects a unique linguistic, ritual, and cultural approach to and context for the veneration of a popular saint; together, they exemplify how novel approaches to song and language informed how composers, poets, and performers rearticulated and redefined the intersection of song, language, and hagiography in twelfth-century Europe.

Read the Article Here.