Medieval Music

The Bodleian has many medieval liturgical books, sacred and secular music fragments within other volumes, and treatises on music. It acquired these mostly as part of broader manuscript donations: the library did not actively collect music until the late eighteenth century.

Among the library’s earliest musical liturgical manuscripts are the ‘Leofric Missal’ (MS. Bodl. 579), a ninth-century French Sacramentary with additions from tenth-century England; and two eleventh-century collections, the Winchester Troper (MS. Bodl. 775) and the Heidenheim Troper (MS. Selden Supra 127, not digitized).

The medieval polyphony includes many fragments recovered from bindings, as well as the famous source of fifteenth-century music by Dufay and others in MS. Canon. Misc. 213, and an anthology of fifteenth-century English carols, including the ‘Agincourt Song’ (MS. Arch. Selden B. 26). Outside the Western church tradition, there are also important sources of Byzantine chant of the eleventh to nineteenth centuries.

In the field of music theory, the Bodleian has numerous sources of both ancient Greek and medieval Latin theory, as well as important sources for Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian writings on music. For example, MS. Bodl. 842 is a collection of treatises on music from fifteenth-century England; MS. Canon. Class. Lat. 273 is a copy of Boethius’s De institutione musica likely from fifteenth-century Bologna.

Along with the manuscripts available through Digital Bodleian, many Bodleian manuscripts have been photographed through the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music. Two specialized guides to the Bodleian’s medieval music collections are also available: Hughes, Medieval Polyphony in the Bodleian Library (1951) and Wilson/Stefanović, Manuscripts of Byzantine Chant in Oxford (1963).