Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Zayaruznaya, Anna


The late-medieval style that is characterized by complexity of rhythm, notation, and pitch is commonly referred to as the ars subtilior, the “more subtle art,” a term coined by Ursula Günther in 1963. Along with its stylistic attributes, the scope of this repertory has been defined chronologically and geographically, associated with Southern France and Northern Italy during the period c. 1380–1420. In recent years, scholars such as David Catalunya, David Fallows, Karl Kügle, Jason Stoessel, Anne Stone, and Anna Zayaruznaya have argued that the so-called ars subtilior style should be expanded to incorporate a wider chronological and geographical purview. Responding to this work, this dissertation offers a solution to the problems associated with the ars subtilior style by presenting a “conceptual genealogy” (Dutilh Novaes) of complex notations. Eschewing the chronological and geographical boundaries that are typically ascribed to the ars subtilior, as well as the term itself, this dissertation interrogates the ideas that underscore late-medieval notationally complex repertory. In doing so, it argues that a consideration of the constituent ideas of music-theoretical and practical representations of time in notation can provide glimpses into the mental habits of past people. These habits can reveal that notational systems that appear complex or unintelligible to a modern eye may have posed few challenges to a medieval reader. Chapter 1 provides historical background to the late-medieval notations discussed throughout the dissertation. Problematizing the idea that there was a strict dichotomy between “atomistic” and “divisibilist” theorizations of continua of musical time in early–mid fourteenth-century theory, it suggests that the plurality of ways of theorizing continua of musical time in this period provided a conceptual background to the notationally and rhythmically intricate repertory that would be written down in the decades to come. Chapters 2 and 3 provide the first in-depth consideration of the work of the Italian theorist Johannes Vetulus de Anagnia, author of Liber de musica, whose treatise is translated into English in an appendix to the dissertation. Providing a new interpretation of Vetulus’s hierarchies of musical time, Chapter 2 illustrates that Vetulus synthesizes and exhausts a number of fourteenth-century music-theoretical systems. It argues that he provides a primarily speculative theory of music that nevertheless contends with some of the problems of the representation of musical time that would be explored in practice using complex notations. Chapter 3 expands on this work by discussing the theological and philosophical grounding of Vetulus’s theory. Revealing his mystical project to use music to describe a world in which all parts of reality were interconnected, it provides evidence for hitherto unknown connections between Vetulus’s work and that of Augustine of Hippo, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and Ramon Llull. The final two chapters provide analyses of complex repertory. Chapter 4 argues that reading complex notations entails a distinct pattern of looking that prioritizes the observation of longer spans of notation. When such a reading habit is put into practice, some notations that appear inscrutable to a modern analyst arguably facilitate ease of reading. Detailing a new, emic understanding of mensuration, Chapter 5 provides evidence that medieval notations were at times chosen that could instruct musicians to count temporal units that were thought, but not uttered aloud. Through this, it argues that some late-medieval notationally complex repertory that has historically been described as “music for the eyes” may also productively be considered “music for the mind.”