Understanding the Jena Songbook

Faculty member Dr Henry Hope, Lecturer at Magdalen College, is a co-convenor of the forthcoming two-day interdisciplinary conference, Didacticism, Satire and Song: Understanding the Jena Songbook. The conference takes place at Somerville College, 30–31 may 2014. Free registration is now open.

Didacticism, Satire, and Song: Understanding the Jena Songbook seeks to bring together established researchers and graduate students from across national borders in an interdisciplinary environment. It aims to submit the 14th-century Jena Songbook (J) to a wide array of analyses by literary scholars, musicologists and performers. The speakers will approach J through individual songs or sets of songs, through author corpora, studies of musical or textual typologies, or J’s performative aspects and reception.

The manuscript offers complete musical notation for 91 songs, and therefore represents not just the largest, but the most significant corpus of musically notated medieval German vernacular poetry (Sangspruchdichtung). In the context of its comprehensive restoration in 2007, J was digitised and has since been made freely accessible to scholars online. The restoration works were accompanied by close codicological scrutiny conducted in the framework of a conference jointly organised by philologist Jens Haustein and musicologist Franz Körndle. The conference’s proceedings were published in German in 2010, and have contributed much to the reassessment of J’s provenance, design, and conception.

The recent resurgence of interest in J notwithstanding, a detailed, interdisciplinary study of the manuscript’s contents and their meaning has not been attempted – the manuscript’s most recent complete musico-textual edition dates back over a century (Holz/Saran/Bernoulli, 1901). The Songbook’s diverse material has proven challenging to scholars from otherwise distinct disciplines, each field focusing on aspects of the material most familiar to them. The repertoire’s Middle High German language and the absence of critical English literature on the subject have further meant that the manuscript’s songs have so far largely remained confined to discussion within German-language scholarship. This conference hopes to transform this pre-existing research through a joint investigation of the musical and literary syntax of J’s Sprüche in order to address the ethics and aesthetics of medieval (German) song, and to open the field to wider participation from English-based researchers.

The conference webpages contain full details.