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Sacra et Profana: Music in Medieval Manuscripts

"Nothing exists without music, for the universe itself is said to have been framed by a kind of harmony of sounds, and the heaven itself revolves around the tone of that harmony."

- Isidore of Seville


This exhibition encompasses the sacred music of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic peoples as well as the profane, or secular, music performed at courts across Europe and the Middle East. Sometimes expected boundaries between sacred and profane or between geographic and cultural regions were porous. In thirteenth-century Spain, hymns to the Virgin Mary were written and performed in the manner of love songs. Persian music for royal wedding celebrations engaged spirit and heart. The troubadors' song-poems, first developed in France, were performed both north and south of the Alps. Hebraic as well as many other types of chant later influenced the creation of Christian music known as Gregorian chant. The exhibit also considers manuscripts' physical nature, their production by hand and development to print.

Medieval music was first written to aid the memorization and performance of religious music, while profane music continued longer as a strictly oral tradition. Notation both preserved musical repertoires and enabled the development of complex, polyphonic musical forms. Music manuscripts also open a window onto medieval culture, not only through the music but also through the manuscripts' decoration. The depictions of secular musicians, who perform in the manuscripts' margins, provide valuable information about aristocratic attitudes toward musical entertainment and toward the rising middle-class society.

The beautifully decorated and illustrated medieval music manuscripts exhibited here also highlight the richness of University of Houston and other major Houston collections. The display and catalog further reflect the collaboration of University of Houston art, art history, and history students who created this exhibit.

Exhibit Information

The exhibit will run from October 10, 2012 - February 8, 2013 in the M.D. Anderson Library

Video & Slideshow

Audio From Exhibit

Contact Info

Dr. Judith B. Steinhoff
Phone: 713-743-2839

Ms. Pat Bozeman
Phone: 713-743-9751

Permalink: http://info.lib.uh.edu/p/mmm