© Debra Lacoste, 2011. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence
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The Cantus database is a well-established project devoted to the creation and distribution of electronic indices of manuscript and early printed sources of Latin chant for the liturgical Office. As of January 2011, there were over 379,000 records in the database, each of which is an individual chant in one of the 134 manuscripts which have been indexed to date. For over a decade, this research tool has been growing and adapting to the needs of chant scholars, musicologists, hagiographers, art historians and researchers in other fields. In addition to the basic search functions and downloading options, there are now several analytical tools available on the website, including a textual concordance and an interactive dendrogram-creation tool. The latter, an example of data-mining, allows the user to select a series of chants which will form the basis of a comparison among the numerous manuscripts whose contents are recorded in Cantus. Similarities in chant series can be interpreted as affinities among manuscripts, and so, the dendrograms which are created (through the calculations of similarity matrices) can assist researchers in identifying related chant repertories, in studying the origins and dissemination of saints' feasts, in providing evidence for the provenance of manuscript sources and, undoubtedly, for numerous other research applications.
As of January 2011, the Cantus database contained complete indices of 134 manuscript and early printed sources, a total of 379,206 individual chants.
The most popular features on the website continue to be the search and download functions, and it is mainly for these aspects of Cantus that the website has received an average of approximately 15,000 visits per month over the last few years from users all around the world. In addition to these basic functions, Cantus has begun to offer several online, interactive analytical tools which utilize the data in a variety of ways. The current offerings include a textual concordance, programmes which compare series of chants in order to identify regional or widespread traditions, and a dendrogram-creation programme which provides a visual display of the degree of similarity or difference among medieval sources of chant. More analysis programmes are being proposed. These applications of the data housed in Cantus demonstrate the research potential of this relatively large mass of information and illustrate the flexibility and usefulness of indices of chant manuscripts in a digital medium.
Cantus was developed in the late 1980s by Ruth Steiner at the
Catholic University of America. The first files were created on a mainframe computer
and distributed in the post on floppy diskettes. By the mid-1990s, the database had
been posted to the Internet first with a Gopher protocol and then, eventually, to the
World Wide Web where it has remained with open access for all interested users. From
1997 until 2010, the base of operations was at the University of Western Ontario
(UWO) under the leadership of Terence Bailey; during these years, there was
tremendous growth in the database and it became firmly established as an effective
and reliable research tool. On 1 December 2010, following the retirement of Bailey,
Debra Lacoste entered into a collaboration with MARGOT at the University of Waterloo,
Ontario and Cantus became one of the partners in their cluster of medieval, online,
digital humanities projects. After years of support from the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council of Canada and The University of Western
Ontario, the Cantus database (
After years of support from the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council of Canada and The University of Western
Ontario, the Cantus database (
In the Cantus database, each record is an individual chant in
a manuscript. Each record contains such information as the folio number on which the
chant is found, the liturgical occasion or
The database was created to assist scholars who work with medieval chant manuscripts. A formidable challenge in the study of the medieval Office is the very large number of surviving sources and the variability in arrangement of their contents. Each hand-copied manuscript, which regularly may contain thousands of chants, is unique and testifies to the tradition of a specific time and place. Although the liturgy in the various antiphoners and breviaries is often similar from one book to another, the ordering, selection and placement of specific chants can differ substantially. Scholars regularly use the data provided free-of-charge in Cantus to locate particular chants on which they are working and to navigate through microfilms or digital image libraries.
Although the original purpose of the database was the creation
One of the first applications of Cantus data beyond its
usefulness in locating individual chants on particular folios was the creation of
tonaries. A tonary is a listing by mode of the antiphons which were sung in medieval
worship. A tonary was often copied as part of a medieval service book, and the church
cantors could refer to these lists when preparing their psalm tone recitations.
However, not all medieval service books were copied with a tonary, and some tonaries
have been separated from their service books. Furthermore, we do not know if existing
tonaries are complete or 100% accurate without first comparing their lists of chants
with the actual contents of related manuscripts. For purposes of comparison and
study, a tonary can easily be created from the Cantus index of a manuscript with a
simple database query: this involves merely sorting the antiphons by their modes and
differentiae. The eight medieval church modes to which the
freely-melodic antiphons were assigned are entered into the database as the
numbers 1 to 8. Differentiae are the sometimes numerous cadences for the eight
formulaic psalm tones that correspond to each mode. The grouping of antiphons
whose accompanying psalm recitations employ the same differentia often
demonstrates familial melodic relationships among those antiphons; this
organization of melodies by mode and differentia simulates the listings in
existing medieval tonaries.
The eight medieval church modes to which the freely-melodic antiphons were assigned are entered into the database as the numbers 1 to 8. Differentiae are the sometimes numerous cadences for the eight formulaic psalm tones that correspond to each mode. The grouping of antiphons whose accompanying psalm recitations employ the same differentia often demonstrates familial melodic relationships among those antiphons; this organization of melodies by mode and differentia simulates the listings in existing medieval tonaries.
Many chant scholars have an interest the relationships between
chants in different melodic modes. For example, Ike de Loos was interested in
chants with multiple melodies or melodies which could be interpreted and
reinterpreted in different modes. She engaged in a comparison of modal (i.e.,
numerical) assignments in de Loos
For example, Ike de Loos was interested in chants with multiple melodies or melodies which could be interpreted and reinterpreted in different modes. She engaged in a comparison of modal (i.e., numerical) assignments in de Loos unpublished.
Also aiding the study of chant melodies is one of the more
recent developments in Cantus: the inclusion in some indices of the melodic incipits
or the complete melodies of the chants in a form of letter notation which presents as
a series of Arabic letters and dashes in a data-string, and as round note-heads on a
five-line musical staff when the font
Chant melodies encoded in Volpiano font are searchable and sortable data-strings in Cantus records, as shown in Figure 3.
The data-strings in a Cantus record display on the
For more on the benefits of the use of this font in chant scholarship, refer to Helsen and Lacoste 2011.
Another use of Cantus data is in the textual
concordance. The textual concordance is available from the UWO Cantus
The textual concordance is available from the UWO Cantus website.
Previous studies have successfully shown that a similarity in the usage and ordering of particular items of the liturgy can be interpreted as an indication of affinity among sources (Hesbert 1963-79); the more the manuscripts resemble one another with respect to the chants they contain and the order in which those chants occur, the more likely there is to be a common tradition linking them together. One could presume that the data housed in Cantus is an ideal resource for such comparisons. A featured programme on the UWO Cantus website is the interactive database
Although the information contained in the Responsory Series database shares a similar format with Cantus data with respect to chant ID numbers, normalization of spelling, genre identification codes, etc., the Responsory Series website tool accesses a separate set of database tables. These tables contain only the series of responsory chants for specified Sundays for over 900 sources, whereas the Cantus tables contain full indices of all the chants in, as of January 2011, 134 sources.
These are: 1. Matches/Pairs, 2. Edit Distance, and 3. Longest Common Sequence. For an explanation of these methods, see Lacoste and Stafleu 2009.
One can see with only a few clicks of the mouse which chant
traditions are similar to the source that is the
Establishing relationships between manuscript sources can lead
to new hypotheses regarding the transmission of chant, the development or retention
of local customs and numerous other topics. Expanding on the
Since it is difficult to know how to interpret and utilize
lengthy lists of numbers, the comparative calculations from both the Responsory
Series and Cantus Series programmes can be represented in the visual format of the
For more explanation, see Lacoste and Stafleu 2009. The dendrogram tool is available from the UWO
For more explanation, see Lacoste and Stafleu 2009.
The dendrogram tool is available from the UWO website.
Notice the diagonal of zeroes showing self-similarity in the matrix, much as a distance table on a road map shows the number of kilometres or miles between cities. The calculations for the similarity matrix can be transferred into a clearer visual representation through the use of the dendrogram shown in Figure 8.
The liturgical occasion (that is, the Sunday) is listed in the
first of the columns on the right-hand side; for this example, the chant series
involved in this comparison are taken from the fourth Sunday of Advent (A4). The
manuscript sigla are after the cursus (monastic or secular Each manuscript
record contains a The sigla represent: The sigla represent:
record contains a
The sigla represent:
The sigla represent:
Series of chants within a cluster are more similar to each other than they are to series outside the cluster. Therefore, the series from Boulogne and Fritzlar are more similar to each other than either is to the series from Paris, Padua or Bohemia. It is important to note that from the dendrogram we cannot determine exactly how close the series from Paris is to either Boulogne or Fritzlar; we can only see how close the Paris series is to the cluster formed by the other two. These conclusions are, obviously, only valid within the group of these five series. What are interesting and often enlightening are the dendrograms involving hundreds of sources from various regions and liturgical traditions of medieval Europe. The Cantus data awaits the eager users of this online comparative tool.
Through its previous two decades, as Cantus has both grown and
transformed to serve an increasing base of users, the integrity of and respect for
the project have remained strong owing to collaboration within the academic
community. A few of the manuscript indices in the Cantus database have been produced
by junior research assistants on the Cantus staff but many others have been
contributed by scholars worldwide; Contributed files as well as those
produced by Cantus staff are thoroughly proofread before being uploaded into
the web-database. The proofreading process involves a complete manual pass by
an experienced indexer followed by electronic proofreading which employs
forty-nine customized queries within Microsoft’s Access.
Contributed files as well as those produced by Cantus staff are thoroughly proofread before being uploaded into the web-database. The proofreading process involves a complete manual pass by an experienced indexer followed by electronic proofreading which employs forty-nine customized queries within Microsoft’s Access.
The usefulness of Cantus as a chant research tool is proven both by the number of visits to the website and by the praiseworthy testimonials of chant scholars from around the world. Amid such affirmations of importance, the database continues to expand and seek new directions in an effort to serve scholars, assist in the development of new research and establish the study of chant firmly within the scope of the digital humanities.