Haines (2014 Congress)

John Haines
(Faculty of Music and Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto)
“The Musical Hand of Knowledge”

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2014)
Session on “Visualizing Learned Magic and Popular Magic through Talismans, Images, and Objects”
Co-sponsored by the Societas Magica and the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by David Porreca (University of Waterloo)
2014 Congress Accomplished

[First published on our first website on 1`9 March 2014]

When compared to other medieval traditions of hand symbolism, namely, chiromancy and computus, it is clear that diagrams of the hand for music, known collectively as ‘the Guidonian hand’, represent a profound and intentionally obfuscated knowledge.  Almost always shown as the left hand, the musical hand of knowledge represents the key (clavis) to the ‘science of the art’ (scientiam artis) of moving from one hexachord to another; nothing less than perfect song, and the very ‘knowledge of the property of music’ (musicae proprietatis cognicio).  The single surviving right-hand diagram for music (Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France, f. lat. 7203, fol. 5v) confirms this.  Rather than the usual jumble of syllables and signs, it gives only the sixteen letters of the gamut, in a lucid version of the left hand’s impenetrable science of hexachord mutation.

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