Plainsong and Medieval Music Society

Last updated

Plainsong and Medieval Music Society
FormationNovember 1888;134 years ago (1888-11)
TypeNonprofit organization
Legal statusCharity [1]
Purpose"exists to promote the performance and study of liturgical chant and medieval polyphony, through the publication of editions, facsimiles and scholarly articles, and through educational and liaison events." [2]
HeadquartersEngland, UK
Key people
Helen Deeming (chair) [3]
Thomas Schmidt (secretary) [3]

The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (PMMS), also spelled as the Plainsong and Mediæval Music Society, is an English music society. [4] Founded in 1888, the PMMS primarily researches, promotes and produces publications on medieval music, particularly the liturgical chant from that time to the present. A registered charity since 1987, it has been particularly influential in encouraging the revival of Anglican chant. Musicologists associated with the PMMS include H. B. Briggs, Anselm Hughes, G. H. Palmer, and George Ratcliffe Woodward, and more recently Gustave Reese, D. H. Turner, John Stevens and Christopher Page.


The society is best known for its publications, which number over a hundred; most of them are either essays on, or editions of, plainchant. Through Cambridge University Press, it publishes the journal Plainsong and Medieval Music twice a year, previously known as the Journal of the Plainsong & Mediaeval Music Society.


The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (PMMS) was founded in London in November 1888 to promote the study of medieval music and plainchant in general. [4] [5] This is recounted in a March 1889 issue of The Musical Times :

A SOCIETY called the Plainsonge [ sic ] Mediæval Society has been formed at 20, Finsbury Circus, London, for the study of music of the Middle Ages. After a catalogue of English MSS. has been compiled, it is intended to reproduce those of importance in facsmile, to publisher music which has not before been printed, to arrange for lectures by competent musicians, to correspond with similar socieites on the Continent, and in other ways to carry out the objects of the Society.

The Musical Times , March 1889 [6]

An early 1896 PMMS publication gives the President as the 'Bishop of Salisbury', [7] which would have been John Wordsworth at the time. [8] The Vice-Presidents listed included several musicians and clergymen, including the Bishop of Argyll and The Isles (Alexander Chinnery-Haldane), Hickman Beckett Bacon, Frederick Bridge, Edward John Hopkins, George Martin, Henry Fleetwood Sheppard, John Stainer and Arthur Sullivan, among others. [7] The honorary secretary from the founding until 1901 was H. B. Briggs. [4] Among the society's many council members at the time were W. J. Birkbeck, Arthur Henry Brown, Somers Clarke, Walter Frere, John Thomas Micklethwaite, George Herbert Palmer, Athelstan Riley, Charles Francis Abdy Williams and George Ratcliffe Woodward. [7] The PMMS began with a choir, [5] which lasted a few decades. [9]

The society was an important step for the growing late 19th-century interest in singing Gregorian chant in the vernacular. [10] It was thus influential in encouraging the development of Anglican chant. [4] Since 27 August 1987, the PMMS has been a registered charity with the Charity Commission for England and Wales; its charity number is 297147. [1]

The musicologist Anselm Hughes was a major figure of the society; he was secretary from 1926 until 1974. [4] Among the more recent academics associated with the PMMS are Gustave Reese, [11] D. H. Turner, [12] Frank Llewellyn Harrison, John Stevens, Christopher Page and John Harper. [9] The society is currently led by a team of Officers, Executive Trustees, Advisory Trustees and Honorary Officers; chief among these are the Officers: the Chair Helen Deeming of Royal Holloway, University of London, the Secretary Thomas Schmidt of University of Huddersfield, and the Treasurer Christian Thomas Leitmeir of Magdalen College, Oxford. [3]


Since its inception, the society has aimed to be a central resource its disciplines, publishing facsimile manuscripts, translating non-English documents, and creating a comprehensive catalogue of all pre-Reformation plainsong and measured music composed in England. [4] Its chief objective has always been academic scholarship, for which it is best known. [9] By the mid-20th century, the PMMS had published around 70 items, split between plainsong essays and editions of plainsong. [9] Among the more notable publications was a partial translation of Peter Wagner's Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien, [13] Frere's Graduale Sarisburiense (1892–1894), the Antiphonale Sarisburiense (1901–1924), the Bibliotheca Musico-Liturgica (1894–1901) catalogue, Early English Harmony by Harry Ellis Wooldridge and Hughes, an Old Hall Manuscript edition, Worcester Mediaeval Harmony by Hughes and Polyphonia Sacra by Van den Borren. [9]

Selected publications

  • Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1891). A Collection of Songs and Madrigals by English Composers of the Close of the Fifteenth Century. London: Bernard Quaritch.
  • Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1896). The Plainsong of the Mass. London: Waterlow and Sons.
  • Briggs, H. B. (1898). Recent Research in Plainsong: A Paper Read to the Members of the Plainsong and Mediæval Music Society. London: Vincent.
  • Palmer, G. H., ed. (1899). The Order of Compline Throughout the Year: With the Musical Notation from the Salisbury Antiphoner. Oxfordshire: Wantage.
  • Wagner, Peter (1901). Introduction to the Gregorian Melodies: A Handbook of Plainsong. Translated by Orme, Agnes; Wyatt, E. G. P. London: The Plainsong & Mediaeval Music Society. Originally published in German as Einführung in die gregorianischen Melodien.
  • Woodward, George Ratcliffe; Petri, Didrik, eds. (1910). Piae Cantiones: A Collection of Church and School song, Chiefly Ancient Swedish, Originally Published in A.D. 1582 by Theodoric Petri of Nyland. London: Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. OCLC   3042023.
  • Catalogue of Manuscripts Written or Owned in England up to 1200 Containing Music. Salisbury: Royal School of Church Music with the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. 2005.
  • Hartzell, K. D. (2006). Catalogue of Manuscripts Written or Owned in England up to 1200 Containing Music. Woodbridge: Boydell Press with the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. ISBN   978-1-84383-281-2.

Plainsong and Medieval Music

Related Research Articles

Plainsong or plainchant is a body of chants used in the liturgies of the Western Church. When referring to the term plainsong, it is those sacred pieces that are composed in Latin text. Plainsong was the exclusive form of Christian church music until the ninth century, and the introduction of polyphony.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gregorian chant</span> Form of song

Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song in Latin of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant developed mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries, with later additions and redactions. Although popular legend credits Pope Gregory I with inventing Gregorian chant, scholars believe that it arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of the Old Roman chant and Gallican chant.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monophony</span> Musical texture

In music, monophony is the simplest of musical textures, consisting of a melody, typically sung by a single singer or played by a single instrument player without accompanying harmony or chords. Many folk songs and traditional songs are monophonic. A melody is also considered to be monophonic if a group of singers sings the same melody together at the unison or with the same melody notes duplicated at the octave. If an entire melody is played by two or more instruments or sung by a choir with a fixed interval, such as a perfect fifth, it is also said to be monophony. The musical texture of a song or musical piece is determined by assessing whether varying components are used, such as an accompaniment part or polyphonic melody lines.

Pérotin was a composer associated with the Notre Dame school of polyphony in Paris and the broader ars antiqua musical style of high medieval music. He is credited with developing the polyphonic practices of his predecessor Léonin, with the introduction of three and four-part harmonies.

Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion, or a combination of both of these techniques may be employed. As no real independent second voice exists, this is a form of heterophony. In its earliest stages, organum involved two musical voices: a Gregorian chant melody, and the same melody transposed by a consonant interval, usually a perfect fifth or fourth. In these cases the composition often began and ended on a unison, the added voice keeping to the initial tone until the first part has reached a fifth or fourth, from where both voices proceeded in parallel harmony, with the reverse process at the end. Organum was originally improvised; while one singer performed a notated melody, another singer—singing "by ear"—provided the unnotated second melody. Over time, composers began to write added parts that were not just simple transpositions, thus creating true polyphony.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neume</span> System of medieval musical notation

A neume is the basic element of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rhythmic mode</span>

In medieval music, the rhythmic modes were set patterns of long and short durations. The value of each note is not determined by the form of the written note, but rather by its position within a group of notes written as a single figure called a "ligature", and by the position of the ligature relative to other ligatures. Modal notation was developed by the composers of the Notre Dame school from 1170 to 1250, replacing the even and unmeasured rhythm of early polyphony and plainchant with patterns based on the metric feet of classical poetry, and was the first step towards the development of modern mensural notation. The rhythmic modes of Notre Dame Polyphony were the first coherent system of rhythmic notation developed in Western music since antiquity.

<i>Magnus Liber</i> 13th collection of music

The Magnus Liber or Magnus liber organi, written in Latin, was a repertory of medieval music known as organum. This collection of organum survives today in three major manuscripts. This repertoire was in use by the Notre-Dame school composers working in Paris around the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries, though it is well agreed upon by scholars that Leonin contributed a bulk of the organum in the repertoire. This large body of repertoire is known from references to a "magnum volumen" by Johannes de Garlandia and to a "Magnus liber organi de graduali et antiphonario pro servitio divino" by the English music theorist known as Anonymous IV. Today it is known only from later manuscripts containing compositions named in Anonymous IV's description. The Magnus Liber is regarded as one of the earliest collections of polyphony.

Byttering was an English composer during the stylistic transitional from medieval to Renaissance music. Five of his compositions have survived in the Old Hall Manuscript, where the musicologist Peter Wright contends they "form a small yet distinctive corpus of work notable for its technical ambition and musical accomplishment".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Winchester Troper</span>

The Winchester Troper refers to two eleventh-century manuscripts of liturgical plainchant and two-voice polyphony copied and used in the Old Minster at Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire, England. The manuscripts are now held at Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 473 and Oxford, Bodleian Library Bodley 775 . The term "Winchester Troper" is best understood as the repertory of music contained in the two manuscripts. Both manuscripts contain a variety of liturgical genres, including Proper and Ordinary chants for both the Mass and the Divine Office. Many of the chants can also be found in other English and Northern French tropers, graduals, and antiphoners. However, some chants are unique to Winchester, including those for local saints such as St. Æthelwold and St. Swithun, who were influential Bishops of Winchester in the previous centuries. Corpus 473 contains the most significant and largest surviving collection of eleventh-century organum. This polyphonic repertoire is unique to that manuscript.

In music centonization is a theory about the composition of a melody, melodies, or piece based on pre-existing melodic figures and formulas. A piece created using centonization is known as a "centonate".

Armenian chant is the melismatic monophonic chant used in the liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church.

The Saint Martial School was a medieval school of music composition centered in the Abbey of Saint Martial, Limoges, France. Most active from the 9th to 12th centuries, some scholars describe its practices, music, and manuscripts as 'Aquitanian'. 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. Adémar de Chabannes and his nephew Roger de Chabannes were important proponents of this school.

Celtic chant is the liturgical plainchant repertory of the Celtic rite of the Catholic Church performed in Britain, Ireland and Brittany. It is related to, but distinct from the Gregorian chant of the Sarum use of the Roman rite which officially supplanted it by the 12th century. Although no Celtic chant was notated, some traces of its musical style are believed to remain.

Theodore Cyrus Karp was an American musicologist. His principal area of study was Secular music, mainly mediaeval monophony, especially the music of the trouvères. He was a major contributor in this area to the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

(Thomas?) Damett was an English composer during the stylistic transitional from medieval to Renaissance music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music in Medieval Scotland</span>

Music in Medieval Scotland includes all forms of musical production in what is now Scotland between the fifth century and the adoption of the Renaissance in the early sixteenth century. The sources for Scottish Medieval music are extremely limited. There are no major musical manuscripts for Scotland from before the twelfth century. There are occasional indications that there was a flourishing musical culture. Instruments included the cithara, tympanum, and chorus. Visual representations and written sources demonstrate the existence of harps in the Early Middle Ages and bagpipes and pipe organs in the Late Middle Ages. As in Ireland, there were probably filidh in Scotland, who acted as poets, musicians and historians. After this "de-gallicisation" of the Scottish court in the twelfth century, a less highly regarded order of bards took over the functions of the filidh and they would continue to act in a similar role in the Scottish Highlands and Islands into the eighteenth century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music in Medieval England</span>

Music in Medieval England, from the end of Roman rule in the fifth century until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, was a diverse and rich culture, including sacred and secular music and ranging from the popular to the elite.

George Herbert Palmer was an English Anglo-Catholic priest, musicologist, organist, and expert on plainchant, particularly of the Sarum Use. Named after the priest and poet George Herbert, he was ordained a priest in Chester in 1871 and later was organist of St Margaret's Church in Toxteth Park, Liverpool, and St Barnabas, Pimlico, London. He helped found the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (PMMS) in 1888. The majority of his extensive editions of liturgical music and texts were produced by the PMMS and the Community of St Mary the Virgin at Wantage in Oxfordshire. He was notable and influential for his musically sensitive translations of Latin hymns into English.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frank Llewellyn Harrison</span> Irish musicologist, organist, and composer

Francis Llewellyn Harrison, better known as "Frank Harrison" or "Frank Ll. Harrison" was one of the leading musicologists of his time and a pioneering ethnomusicologist. Initially trained as an organist and composer, he turned to musicology in the early 1950s, first specialising in English and Irish music of the Middle Ages and increasingly turning to ethnomusicological subjects in the course of his career. His Music in Medieval Britain (1958) is still a standard work on the subject, and Time, Place and Music (1973) is a key textbook on ethnomusicology.



  1. 1 2 "Council". Charity Commission for England and Wales . Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  2. "The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society". Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
  3. 1 2 3 "Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society". Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hiley 2001, § para. 1.
  5. 1 2 3 Wilton 2011.
  6. The Musical Times 1899, p. 169.
  7. 1 2 3 PMMS 1896, "The Plainsong and Mediæval Music Society".
  8. Watson & Agnew 2012.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hiley 2001, § para. 2.
  10. Britannica 2020, § para. 4.
  11. Haar 2001, § para. 2.
  12. Backhouse & Jones 1987, p. 112.
  13. Wagner 1901.
  14. 1 2 "Journal". Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  15. 1 2 "Plainsong & Medieval Music". Cambridge University Press . Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  16. "Most Cited". Cambridge University Press . Retrieved 30 July 2022.


Further reading