The Newport Historical Society is home to an impressive collection of sheet music, manuscripts, and full scores from Newport’s early musical events. Tucked between these 19th and 20th century items, we recently found chant music dated to the mid-17th century. While religious chant was originally remembered and communicated orally, religious officials eventually saw a need to gather and transmit music in a more standardized way, leading to the first cohesive form of musical notation in the 12th century. Rather than the metered, five-line notation standard today, this early musical notation used four lines and a series of stemless, square and angled notes. While difficult to understand now, this concept of notation allowed for the copying and transmission of music throughout the European and North American continents. The music at NHS is in Latin with Germanic subtext, inscribed on vellum, animal skin, and is likely a copy of an earlier compilation of chants. The chant itself is Regina Cœli, a well-known Catholic hymn praising the Virgin Mary. Translated, the page reads:
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia,
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia,
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia,
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
This page serves as an interesting testament to the beauty and novelty of early musical notation and the music of Newport yet to be studied.