L’incarnacion & natiuite de nostre saulveur et redempteur Jesuchrist. LE MYSTÈRE de l'Incarnation et Nativité de Nostre Saulveur et redempteur Jesus Christ.
L’incarnacion & natiuite de nostre saulveur et redempteur Jesuchrist.

L’incarnacion & natiuite de nostre saulveur et redempteur Jesuchrist.

[Rouen or possibly Paris, Baptiste Bourguet] about 1495/6.

Folio (271 x 192 mm.). CCxxviii leaves. Two sizes of Bâtarde type and one of Gothic, woodcut calligraphic L with a grotesque face (69 x 40 mm.).

Blind-ruled brown morocco over heavy boards (Francisque Cuzin, short crack at the top of the front hinge), four-line gilt-lettered title on the front panel in a blind cartouche, old blue edges.

            With some 15,000 verses, the performance lasted two days and included at least twelve musical pieces. The drama mixed spectacle and faith. Realistic illusion, dazzling display and pedantic edification jostled burlesque, violence and the sublime. The seventy-eight amateur actors came from all strata of Rouen society — lawyers, clerks, aristocrats, merchants, craftsmen, clergy and possibly women. The church choir and town minstrels supplied the music. Signs above the primary performance platforms of Paradise, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Syria, Rome, Hell and Limbo assisted spectators.
            “THIS PLAY…GIVES MORE DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS FOR PERFORMANCE THAN ANY OTHER” (Brown). Often several per page, the stage directions specify the actors’ movements on stage and their positions relative to each other and to the painted backdrops. The sets and secondary scaffolds are carefully described along with the type, color and location of fixed furniture and the effects of elaborate stage machinery. Paradise, shaped like a throne, opened to reveal God on a gilt throne, surrounded by his Four Daughters and a choir of nine angles, all in golden radiance. Limbo was fashioned as a prison and Hell as an immense dragon’s head, its jaws opening and closing for the damned. In one scene, serpents and flames spew from its nostrils, eyes and ears as cannon sound, fireworks explode, drums roll and smoke billows.
            THE MYSTÈRE’S POSITION IN MUSIC HISTORY IS THE MOST REMARKABLE. “HERE IS THE EARLIEST DESCRIPTION I HAVE ENCOUNTERED THAT IS CERTAINLY OF VOICES AND INSTRUMENTS WORKING TOGETHER IN WHAT ARE CLEARLY POLYPHONIC CHANSONS” (Fallows). The printer left space for the musical notation of the songs to be supplied in manuscript. The text and incipits for tenor and countertenor are laid out as in contemporary chansonniers, confirming that the music belonged to that repertoire. In addition, the detailed performance notes that precede the songs suggest the vocalists took at least their pitch from the instrumentalists, if they did not perform simultaneously with them. In one scene, two shepherds sang a duet (tenor and dessus), and, in another, three apparently sang a three-part chanson accompanied by two of their fellows on instruments. Elsewhere, pagans amused the audience with A CHANSON IN A NONSENSICAL LANGUAGE.
            This is the only known Rouen mystery play to be printed in the 15th century. It had two distinct audiences. By far the largest was made up of primarily illiterate townsfolk and farmers and traders from the surrounding countryside, who paid their admission to participate in two days of “living history”. The printer, however, speculated that the educated wealthy, also likely local, would find this substantial folio an attractive, if luxurious, purchase. To entice these buyers, he placed in the margins the anonymous author’s explanatory references in Latin to the sources underpinning the plot and dialog. It is unclear how commercially successful this venture proved, as only two other complete examples survive (BnF, La Vallière-Ste.-Genéviève; the Soleinne-Vienna copy has the first leaf in facsimile). None has the manuscript music.
            Seven editions are known from Baptiste Bourguet’s press (fl. 1495/6-99), six in unique examples, all in Paris. That offered here is by far the most substantial (one hundred twenty-four edition-sheets against seven for the next and one each for the others). Both Claudin and the British Museum Catalogue favor Rouen as its place of activity.
            In good condition (oil spots on nine leaves, slightly foxed, one bifolium more so). The present copy comes from the library of the passionate collector Ernest Daguin (1817-92; Catalogue 4e pte. (1905) 1291 “Livre des plus précieux” & pl. 51) for whom the book was bound and who traced its provenance to Ferdinand Columbus.
¶ISTC im00884100; GW M25773; CIBN M-560; Claudin, Histoire de l'imprimerie en France au XVe et au XVIe siècle II: 336-40 “fort précieux”; Frère, Manuel du bibliographe normand II: 335; Brunet II: 432 “très-rare”.
Brown, Music in the French Secular Theater, 1400-1550 18, 42-53, 98; Douhet, Dictionnaire des Mystères 523-29; Fallows, “Specific Information on the Ensembles for Composed Polyphony, 1400-1474” in Studies in the Performance of Late Medieval Music ed. Borman 109-159; Ferrari et al., The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the later Middle Ages 6-7, 80, 90, 92, 157-158; Frank, The Medieval French Drama 172-73 & 189-91; Handschin, “Das Weihnachts-Mysterium von Rouen als musikgeschichtliche Quelle” in Acta Musicologica 7 (1935) 97-110 (groundbreaking); Happé, Cyclic Form and the English Mystery Plays…and their Continental…Counterparts 165-66; Runnalls, Les Mystères français imprimés 1484-1630 8a & pp. 12-15, 31, 61-63; Soleinne, Bibliothèque dramatique (1844) 533 “Rarissime”, now ÖNB); Tydeman, The Medieval European Stage, 500-1550 9-12, 282-84, 291-92, 310-11, 320-21.

Item #10978

Price: $135,000.00

Status: On Hold