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Biography

The Saint Martial School was a medieval school of music composition centered in the Abbey of Saint Martial, Limoges, France. It is known for the composition of tropes, sequences, and early organum. In this respect, it was an important precursor to the Notre Dame School.
Many of the modern musicological studies concerning a "Saint Martial School" focus on four manuscripts with remarkably innovative compositions for the 12th century (F-Pn lat. 1139, 3549, 3719, and GB-Lbl Add MS 36881). It is often assumed that these fragments derived from different Southern French monasteries, despite the lack of cantor attributions in the rubrics. The repertory combines modern forms of poetry with modern forms of musical composition, consisting of settings of proses, tropes, sequences, liturgical dramas, and organa. Even a polyphonic setting of an epistle recitation survives as florid organum.

Polyphony was neither invented at Limoges nor did it appear the first time in the notation of its scriptorium. An oral tradition of a polyphonic performance can be traced back to the time, when the Musica enchiriadis had been written, and Adémar was a contemporary of Guido of Arezzo, who described in his treatise Micrologus a similar practice as "diaphonia" (discant), which already allowed to sing more than one note against the cantus during cadences ("occursus").
In comparison with the few late traces of a polyphonic singing in the earlier manuscripts, the four main manuscripts and a lot of similar manuscripts of Aquitaine are so full of later developments, that their manifold forms, the calligraphy, the illuminations, and the poetry have not lost their attraction for philologists and musicians.

A well-known example is «Stirps iesse», which is nothing else than a florid organum over a «Benedicamus domino» cantus which was widespread within the Cluniac Monastic Association including the Magnus liber organi of the Notre-Dame school. As «Benedicamus domino» verses concluded almost every divine service, Cluniac cantors were supposed to know a great variety of them. Many of them had been new compositions and became favored subjects for new experiments in poetry and musical composition. Florid organum itself like any tropus can be regarded in two ways, as a useful exercise to memorize a certain cantus precisely note by note on the one hand or, as a very refined and embellished performance by a well-skilled soloist or precentor. «Stirps iesse» was actually a combination of both, as a Benedicamus performed «cum organo» it was rather a longer performance during an important liturgical feast, but the troped organal voice added a certain Marian poem to it, which fixed it within the week between Christmas and New Year.

The manuscripts "Saint-Martial C" und "D" even were nothing more than additional quaternia within a homiletic collection of sermons. Most of the manuscripts with polyphonic compositions are not just from the Abbey of Saint-Martial at Limoges, but as well from other places of Aquitaine. It is unknown to what extent these manuscripts reflect the products of Saint Martial in particular, it rather seems that there were prosar collections from various places in Southern France.
During the 12th century, only a very few composers of the school are known by name, and the new poetic experiments were not only in Latin, they obviously inspired as well courtly poetry of the Troubadours. Even if St-Martial poetry (versus, tropes and sequences) was almost entirely in Latin, some melodies collected in the manuscripts of the Abbey were also used to compose Old Occitan poetry. Before the collections of the chansonniers, there are already contemporary Old Occitan songs with musical notation for all stanzas which has been written at the scriptory of Saint-Martial Abbey like O Maria, Deu maire It shows that aristocratic circles present at the Abbey have been closely related to those of the troubadours.

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