New Western Libraries acquisition - Elephantine chant book dates to 1600

Library archivists at Western have purchased and unboxed an elephant of a story – a hugely important volume of sacred vocal music that dates to 1600.

The antiphoner, bound in calf leather and weighing 20 kilograms, is a trove of choral chants with early musical notations that mark Roman Catholic saint days throughout the year.

The one-of-a-kind book – requiring two people to carry it and dubbed an ‘elephant antiphoner’ because of its size – was first used in churches in southern Spain in 1600 during the bishopric of Don Francisco de Reynoso, bishop of Cordova, said Deb Meert-Williston, special collections and rare books librarian at Western Libraries archives and special collections.

For medieval music scholar Kate Helsen, a professor at the Don Wright Faculty of Music, the antiphoner is less a frozen-in-time artifact than it is confirmation of a book well-used; and of music well-sung.

“I love how there is evidence of use throughout the centuries,” said Helsen, “It’s got the fingerprints of 400 years of human beings having used it. You can see it was used as a tool, a living thing. It’s not a museum piece.”

Read the full Western News article for more background, and to see a video of highlights and to hear Kate Helsen’s sung excerpt from the antiphoner.

Read full article (via Western News, September 16, 2021)

Related Links

Music Library at Western University

Early Music Studio

Music Research and Composition Department