[Michael] Cuthbert's senior thesis is a highly professional piece of work in the field of late medieval studies, demonstrating remarkable care and insight in its presentation and discussion of the music contained in a group of fourteenth-century manuscript fragments from Padua. This work stands at the level of a traditional master's thesis, yet surpasses many of these in its command of subject, attention to details, and mastery of the notation of the period. It goes far beyond what I would normally expect a graduating senior to have done in a field of music history as complex and distant from the current perspectives of a majority of undergraduates as is the Italian Ars Nova. Cuthbert is a true scholar, a genuinely dedicate and thoughtful student, who has accomplished a truly remarkable piece of work at a stage much earlier than might be expected under the most ideal circumastances. For its quality of control, style, and insight I am certain that it qualified with ease for a Hoopes Prize, and hope very much that it may receive one.
Fanny Peabody Professor of Music
April 29, 1998
This exceptional thesis seeks to understand a culture through its written remains. It is the result of sophisticated philological research far beyond the range of most undergraduate researchers, and it reaches conclusions which add substantially to our knowledge of the milieu of the manuscript fragments examined. Cuthbert has devised a methodology which combines substantial work in a number of fields--codicology, paleography, philology, musical notation--and he has extracted from an unpromising group of manuscript fragments a substantial body of information which will contribute to our knowledge of musical and artistic currents at the cultural intersection represented by the city of Padua in the years around 1400.
Cuthbert's thesis arises from a scholarly curiosity about the life of a particular place and time, combined with his fascination with the complexities of Italian musical notation of the fourteenth century--a remarkable system which was gradually giving way to the French musical notation from which our modern system is descended. He makes a careful selection of a group of musical fragments that are known, but which have been little studied; he has traveled to Padua to make a thorough codicological examination after careful preparation with facsimiles. Not the least of the accomplishments of this project is the musical transcription, an elegantly-presented anthology of some of the most difficult musical notation that Western culture has produced. Cuthbert studies each fragment in dazzling detail; then, by considering the fragments together, and in relation to related repertories, he is able to reach significant conclusions about scribal practices, repertories, and transmission. Cuthbert's work is independent and original; although I consulted with him in early stages, and made comments on a draft, he has done the body of the work, from conception through photocopying on his own (I have in fact been on leave and away from Cambridge this semester). It is a project of which any musicologist would be proud, and one that makes substantial contributions to knowledge. I have not seen an undergraduate research project to rival it.
Thomas Forrest Kelly
Professor of Music
April 27, 1998
This is a rare, if not unique case of scholarship. An undergraduate is engaging in philological research of the highest sophistication: dealing with a body of rather complicated works of late medieval music; working with the original fragmentary sources and a variety of difficult codicological problems; facing an intricate system of musical notation to be viewed against the background of historical changes from Italian to French notational principles and complicated by specific scribal practices; tracking ways and modes of transmission and the relation of the works to other repertories in and outside medieval Padua; transcribing the works into modern notation and thus making them accessible outside the circle of mere specialists; analyzing into great detail preservation, form and style of the works; placing the fragments into the context of music and patronage in late medieval Padua; and--last not least--stepping boldly and successfully into the territory of musicological experts who are engaged in establishing a revisionist picture of the period in question and of composers such as Ciconia in particular. That the Harvard undergraduate Michael Cuthbert establishes himself as an equal partner in this professional dialogue is the highest praise I can think of.
Cuthbert's thesis is a significant contribution to the interpretation of this structurally and historically complicated repertory, correcting existing assumptions, adding new insights to the understanding of the music and its sources, in short--this thesis is an independent and original study. I have never encountered an undergraduate thesis on this level of philological scholarship. My role in advising was to partly substitute during the spring term for Professor Kelly who is currently on leave doing research in Paris. My advising was limited to questions of writing and of shaping the argument, the research itself is completely Cuthbert's. I will try to help with a publication of Cuthbert's results, the best (though most costly) form would be a facsimile edition of the fragments with transcriptions of the music, editiorial commentaries including interpretational and socio-historical reflections.
James Edward Ditson Professor of Music
April 24, 1998