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Fragments of a songbook from Tongeren

Two late 15th-century fragments with polyphonic musical notation, discovered at the end of the 20th century. Until then, the folios had served as covers for a bundle of accounts, stored in an inconspicuous and unclassified folder labelled 'miscellaneous'. The archival records originate from the Church of Saint Nicholas in Tongeren, which was demolished in the early 19th century.

Research indicates that the fragments likely date from the period 1470-1485. They contain snippets of nine compositions, which, with their combination of religious and polyphonic, vocal and instrumental works, form a diverse repertoire. More specifically, the four bifolia include parts of a 'Salve Regina', two French chansons, a song in Dutch and five instrumental pieces. With the exception of the French chansons, 'D'ung aultre amer' and 'Ma maistresse', composed by polyphonist Johannes Ockeghem (ca. 1410-1497), all the music fragments are anonymous. Although the manuscript is far from complete, it is notable for containing six unique pieces, including the song 'Te Loven in die goide stad' (In Leuven in the good city), which is significant for the Dutch-language song repertoire.

Additionally, several features in terms of notation grant the fragments an exceptional status. Notably, the arrangement of the parts includes both choirbook notation and score notation, where normally only one of these systems would be chosen in a manuscript. The fragments are also remarkable for their historically early use of bar lines and the addition of accidentals. Together with the 'limited' polyphony of the music snippets (two and three parts), these characteristics suggest that this manuscript might have been compiled for didactic purposes. Therefore, the anonymous creator of the manuscript can likely be found in the vicinity of the collegiate church of Our Lady in Tongeren, which was the only institution in the city providing a professional music education.

Source: Resonant, Centre for Musical Heritage.

Stadsarchief Tongeren
Rights status
Public domain
  • Inventory number cp: Sint-Niklaaskerk zn (topstukken_02)
  • Masterpiece ID: 169
  • Format: manuscript
  • Number of folios: 2
  • Dimensions: 147.5 x 115 mm
  • Material: parchment

Source: Unknown, 1475-1500, Fragments of a songbook from Tongeren, Stadsarchief Tongeren, Public domain