Medieval Vernacular Song in the 21st Century

On Saturday March 26th the annual Plainsong and Medieval Music Society conference was held at the Barber Institute in Birmingham, hosted by Mary O’Neill. The symposium, entitled ‘From Text to Performance: Medieval Vernacular Song in the 21st Century’, brought together performers, musicologists, and textual scholars. John Potter outlined the possibilities and challenges facing singers of medieval music today and Benjamin Bagby explored the reconstruction of performances of medieval texts, singing excerpts from Beowulf, accompanying himself on a six-stringed harp. Peter Ricketts offered some philological insights on Occitan poetry while Mary O’Neill surveyed musical issues in Old French, Occitan, and Galican-Portugese song. There were also two papers focused principally on polyphony: Ian Rumbold discussed the creation of sacred contrafacta for secular polyphony in the St Emmeram Codex and Uri Smilansky highlighted the aural and expressive effect of complex technical procedures in ars subtilior motets.