Haskins Medal Citation, 2015
Committee Members: Robert E. Bjork, Annemarie Weyl Carr, Kathryn A. Smith (Chair)
In his masterful The Critical Nexus: Tone-system, Mode, and Notation in Early Medieval Music, Charles M. Atkinson charts the transition from ancient Greek music theory to the early medieval tonal, modal, and notational systems. Explicating and synthesizing a formidable body of primary sources, including ancient, Byzantine, and medieval musical treatises, tonaries, glosses, and pedagogical works, as well as a vast array of secondary literature, Atkinson crafts a meticulous, compelling account of the development of western chant and musical thought and notation. The book weaves together highly specialized materials, but does so with a deftness and clarity that make it rewarding to the interested yet uninitiated as well as the specialist reader.
The Critical Nexus traces nine centuries of intellectual and creative activity. It begins with the transmission of Greek music theory to the Latin world in the writings of major figures such as Boethius, Martianus Capella, and Cassiodorus, and moves to the Frankish reception and adaptation of these texts in the context of Carolingian liturgical reform, the emergence of the system of the eight modes and forms of music notation, the contributions of the multi-author compilation known as Alia musica, and the achievements of key Frankish, south German, and Italian scholars and composers of the tenth through early fourteenth century. A central theme of The Critical Nexus is the relationship between music theory and grammar. Atkinson elucidates that relationship’s far-reaching implications through his close readings of the sources, lucid explications of terminology, and vivid, succinct portraits of the medieval schoolmasters and theorists who labored to reconcile the harmonic writings of antiquity with the practices of their own age. Important, too, is the evolving visualization of musical systems in modes of notation. Beautifully designed and generously equipped with charts, figures, and illustrations, The Critical Nexus illuminates with erudition and wit the long process of theoretical, performative, and visual convergence that yielded one of western Europe’s signature cultural forms.