Research Stream


Kathleen Nelson (2016)
The University of Sydney

Interrogating Twelfth-Century Notation for the Eloi Eloi Segment of the Passions

'Eloi eloi lama sabachthani. Deus meus, Deus meus ut quid dereliquisti me', cries out Christ in the passion text from the gospel of Mark. This short segment towards the end of these passion texts is a powerful and emotionally evocative moment.

Interrogating 12th-Century Notation for the Eloi Eloi Segment of the Passions

Before the thirteenth century, simple instructions for the recitation of the lengthy passion texts for use in Holy Week were often recorded in manuscripts through the use of significative letters. Giving some minimal instructions for performance, these letters also seem to be associated with a sense of dramatisation of the text. Full neumatic notation of the recitation tones must have normally been considered unnecessary, with only a very few sources known to have full notation of the tones dating from the twelfth century. Another small group of twelfth-century manuscripts employed significative letters in the passions of Matthew and Mark, but neumatic notation was provided for the Eloi Eloi (or Eli Eli) segment in one or both of the passions from the gospel of Mark or the gospel Matthew. Thus within the several pages of a passion utilising significative letters, the reader can be surprised to find a short neumed passage recording melodic material for the segment. By reserving neumed treatment solely for the highly charged cry by Christ from the cross, these words immediately stand out for the reader. For the medieval listener the change in the recitation that seems indicated must also have been audible and striking. This treatment is surely a response to the importance and meaning of the words. The aim of this project is to investigate the neumed settings of these words in manuscripts from the century before c.1200 and to ask whether these settings can shed new light upon musical expression in the middle ages.


Image: Heloy heloy lama sabachthani, by Kathleen Nelson.