The Music Manuscripts of the Grey Collection in Cape Town and Their European Connections

By Steyn, Carol | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2011 | Go to article overview

The Music Manuscripts of the Grey Collection in Cape Town and Their European Connections


Steyn, Carol, Fontes Artis Musicae


The Grey Collection was a gift to the National Library (formerly the South African Library) in Cape Town from Sir George Grey, governor of the Cape from 1854 to 1861, who left his collection of 5,000 books to the Library when he was transferred to New Zealand. The 114 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts form one of the most valuable parts of the Collection, and certainly the most beautiful. Within the collection there are fourteen music MSS and they will be examined in this article.

Sir George had governed the Cape Colony for six years and had already left it for his second term of office as Governor of New Zealand when he wrote to Mr Justice E.B. Watermeyer from Government House, Auckland, on 21 October 1861, announcing his gift. In the letter he said,

   For three years one of the chief delights of my life has been to
   collect a Library, which I hoped would form the charm and
   recreation of my middle life and of my old age ... I believe South
   Africa will be a great country, that Cape Town, or its vicinity,
   will, for many reasons, be the point of chief education for its
   young men. There can, therefore, be no more fitting or worthy
   resting place for treasures, which I have accumulated with so much
   care. (2)

A year before, in 1890, Sir George had offered at least part of his library to the then-British Museum. They apparently declined the offer, and South Africa became the recipient of Grey's gift. (3)

The presence of these Western manuscripts in Africa, far removed as they are from African cultures and traditions, has often been noted as a curiosity And indeed there are very few other Western manuscripts from that period in Africa, even taking into account manuscripts in private possession. Yet the Grey Collection in Cape Town is well-known world-wide. Research on a number of the 14 music manuscripts in particular has established them among the known and cited sources of especially Western plainchant (4) and has succeeded in placing these manuscripts in the context of their European 'families'. There is much work that still needs to be done, however.

There has been no assessment of such research since 1995, when an article 'Manuscripts in the Grey Collection' by Carol Steyn appeared in the commemorative issue of the Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library celebrating its 50th anniversary. (5) Since it was an overview of the Grey Collection as a whole, this article dealt with the manuscripts, only cursorily with the music manuscripts. Although a catalogue, entitled The Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Grey Collection of the National Library of South Africa, Cape Town, appeared in 2002, (6) in which research up to that date was mentioned, there was no discussion of the content of the research as such.

The most recent research in which a manuscript from the Grey Collection was very successfully and firmly placed in a 'family' is Morne Bezuidenhout's Historia Sancti Ludgeri. (7)

Bezuidenhout edited the full Historia from eight manuscripts that include the entire corpus of chants for the Historia Sancti Ludgeri, the printed Antiphonale Monasteriense of 1537, (8) two manuscript breviaries, and the printed breviaries of 1518 and 1597. His bibliography lists 35 manuscripts as primary sources, all of them except for MS Grey 4.b.5 at present in libraries in the Munster region. MS Grey 4.b.5, dated the second half of the thirteenth century, is a composite book consisting of quires taken from a notated breviary (late thirteenth century) and an antiphonal (mid-thirteenth century). The antiphonal contains the complete rhymed office (text and music) for the feast of St Liudger on 26 March on ff. 48v and 99r. (9) The presence of St Liudger, (10) made it possible to determine the provenance of the manuscript as Munster in Westphalia. The antiphonal quires contain the historia chants for Matins, Vespers and Lauds for the feast of St Liudger (f. …

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