The Foundations of Musical Literacy in the Medieval West 800-1100: Oral and Written Transmission in Early Plainsong


ACLS Fellowship Program


Music Research and Composition


Plainsong, liturgical chant of the medieval church, was sung throughout Western Europe from at least the eighth century until its suppression by the Second Vatican Council in 1964. This project examines the origins of plainsong, and the means by which it was disseminated in Western Europe during the Central Middle Ages. Plainsong was among the first medieval musical repertoires to be recorded in writing. Alongside written processes of transmission, musicians continued to employ oral means to teach existing chants and compose new ones. These two modes of communication co-existed throughout the period delimited by this study and left specific indications of their presence and influence on the surviving written record. Together, they formed the basic elements of musical literacy.