The Chester Mystery Cycle: Essays and Documents

By R. M. Lumiansky; David Mills | Go to book overview

3.

MUSIC IN
THE CYCLE

Introduction

ANY STUDY O F T H E M U S I C in a mystery cycle must be based on secondary material, for the actual musical remains are negligible. There is a fragmentary Gloria in one of the Chester manuscripts, six settings of Latin texts in the York cycle, and the two famous "carols" in the true Coventry plays, but not a note of music survives in the N-Town and Towneley cycles, nor in the various plays that seem to belong to cycles now lost. If the musical remains are small, however, there is plenty of evidence to show that music made a significant contribution in performance of the plays, for the cycles contain SDs for music and a number of musical references in the text. The Chester and N-Town cycles are comparatively rich in this sort of evidence, and the Chester plays have in the past attracted much more attention than the other cycles when musical use has been discussed. Indeed, Chester is the only one of the English cycles to be the subject of a separate musical study. i.

Because of this paucity of notated remains, the study of music in the cycles has been undertaken by specialists in literature and drama rather than by musicians. Much of the early work, indeed, underestimated the role of music in the play-cycles and treated the music as essentially emotive, underlining the dramatic effect of the play at certain points in the

____________________
i.
Carpenter, "Chester Plays."

-111-

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