In a project like ours, the method is built step by step, as questions and debates arise during the course of the project. From the outset, it was clear that we wanted to separately edit all existing sources for each motet in our corpus, but our ideas about the exact nature of these transcriptions remained somewhat vague. It soon became clear that we needed to be “diplomatic”, but the term itself was still confusing.

It is sometimes thought that a transcription in modern notation cannot be diplomatic, or, even worse, that to produce a diplomatic edition it is sufficient to resort to a more or less simplified mensural notation. Nothing could be further from the truth… In truth, “diplomaticity” is not a question of the notational system used for transcription, but rather of the precision with which an edition represents the manuscript it has transcribed. A diplomatic edition, taken from a single source, must above all refrain from “criticism” (another problematic term) and above all from “correction”, even if this means faithfully reproducing the most glaring errors.

Why, then, should we not be satisfied with good photographic reproductions of manuscripts? Because, as Pierre Jodogne wrote, they cannot be called editions: “the text produced is only shown, it is not read”. We do, however, intend to propose a variety of readings of Philippe de Vitry’s work. Reading means, first of all, looking at the “geographical” distribution of the ink on a folio in order to identify a small number of “signs” that are considered relevant. And it is in drawing up this list of signs that the main challenge of a diplomatic edition lies. If it is too detailed or too concrete, it will come to regard as different signs combinations of strokes that “say” the same thing; if it is too imprecise, it will miss elements that are indispensable for understanding musical and textual systems. In this respect, if traditional music engraving still leaves a small margin for the analogical imitation of a source, the transition to computer coding absolutely obliges one to resort to a fully circumscribed set of perfectly individualized signs, and thus to a continuous negotiation between the manuscript and its editors.

And what about notation? Since we have placed at the heart of our editions the computerized recording of the abstract signs that we identify in the manuscripts, all kinds of graphic representations can coexist without clashing. When we present a motet in score, we strongly prefer modern notation, as shown in this excerpt from a diplomatic edition of the motet Vos pastores, which can be compared with the manuscript fragment at the top of this page. In fact, the original mensural notation was not designed for the spacing imposed by the vertical alignment of several parts: it is thus torn apart, as if denatured.

However, it seems no less important to us to be able to produce a fine critical edition in separate parts, based on the same data, reproducing the original mensural notation. We believe that accomplished musicians who wish to deepen their knowledge of this repertoire must be able to confront the subtleties of its notation in real time, thus freeing themselves from a score that, by allowing the eye to navigate between parts, puts the ear out of work.