26 September 2018 from 16:15 to 17:15

Promotion Leo Lousberg on neumes, semiotics and rhetoric in Romano-Frankish liturgical chant

On 26 September Leo Lousberg (University College Roosevelt) will defend his dissertation Microtones according to Augustine. Neumes, semiotics and rhetoric in Romano-Frankish liturgical chant. 

Leo Lousberg

The discovery of microtonal pitches on positions concurring with those of the Greek enharmonic genus (five symbols in MS Montpellier H159, in 1846) led to a discourse which some musicologists still consider as open-ended. The present analysis strengthens previous confirmative views about this phenomenon by revaluating the central arguments of the discourse and by adding new evidence.

why were microtones applied

The crucial research question was why microtones were applied. Chronicles and treatises mention their performance from 400 up to 1400. Music notation exists from the ninth century onwards. How could a tradition survive for at least a millennium without an underlying function? Previous research (Jacques Froger, 1978) unsuccessfully tried to unravel formal melodic rules that could explain the occurrence of the symbols in Montpellier H159. For Andreas Pfisterer (2006) the lack of melodic systemacy was one of the main reasons not to take microtones into consideration in his analysis of the early transmission of Gregorian chant.

microtones and rhetoric

The findings strongly suggest that microtones are triggered by text and channelled via rhetoric, not by formal melodic considerations, which explains previous failures to contextualize the phenomenon from a musicological point of view. A sample of more than 500 cases from seven manuscripts, based upon the same sources Manuel Pedro Ferreira analysed for his PhD thesis (1997) confirms this hypothesis for all cases tested. The performer/scribe could accentuate words by microtones ad libitum; this amongst others explains the observed lack of melodic systemacy. Rhetorical ductus (“the way(s) that a composition, realizing the plan(s) set within its arrangements, guides a person to its various goals, both in its parts and overall”, Mary Carruthers 2010) is the underlying principle for choosing the words. In its turn, the ductus is supported by affect, logic and loci aimed at convincing the audience by affect (movere) and arguments (docere). On the one hand, the performative choices are constrained by the rhetorical consideration of avoiding overkill by too many repetitions of the same effect. On the other hand, it appears that the diatonic core melody prescribes whether microtones can be inserted or not. The occurrence of a (preceding) c or f apparently was a conditio sine qua non for modulare recte.  


Comparative analysis points toward identical or very similar rhetorical workings of a number of melodic tools observed in the sources consulted, which are presented under the common denominator “museme”: non-diatonic semitones, quilismas, litterae significativae, liquescent notes, emphatic phrases and modal shifts. Revaluating sémiologie grégorienne as proposed by Eugène Cardine (1970), the conclusion is that its terminology is insufficient to describe the essence of the processes bridging the meanings of text and melodic expressions as observed in the sources. A number of new semiotic terminologies is proposed.

Start date and time
26 September 2018 16:15
End date and time
26 September 2018 17:15
PhD candidate
L. A. J. Lousberg
Microtones according to Augustine. Neumes, semiotics and rhetoric in Romano-Frankish liturgical chant
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. A. A. ClementProf. S. Klöckner
Dr A. M. J. Zijlstra