Date of this Version
"Review of Helen Deeming, ed. Songs in British Sources, c. 1150-1300, Musica Britannica 95 (London: The Musica Britannica Trust and Stainer and Bell, 2013), in Plainsong and Medieval Music 23/2 (October 2014): 245-51.
By the time of his death, John Stevens (1921–2002), emeritus professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University, had been working for over two decades on a study and edition of the trilingual repertory of song in medieval England from c.1150 to c.1350.1 The initial products of that research were themselves so lengthy and detailed that the scope of the whole endeavour appears to have been enormous, and it is understandable if immensely to be regretted that the undertaking remained unfinished in his lifetime. The edition under review is the fresh work of a younger Cambridge-educated scholar, Dr Helen Deeming, to assay a part of what Stevens had projected.
The target repertory is large enough that Deeming has made two strategic decisions. She has tightened up the time period by ending at c.1300 rather than at c.1350. And she has eliminated from consideration the large collections of songs found in purpose-copied books – those carefully ruled, systematically organised codices that were for the most part destined for corporate use or ostentatious gift-giving – in favour of a focus on the songs that ‘are found scattered, singly or in small groups, among many (principally non-musical) manuscripts’ (p. xxv), and which thus would have been mainly accessible solely to individuals for private contemplation and performance.
In closing, I highly recommend that readers seek out and spend time with this stimulating edition. It challenges us to think and it gratifies us with a novel offering of diverse, often unfamiliar, and musically compelling medieval songs.