Graduale Albiense

Graduale Albiense – La Linea Editrice – MS Latin 776 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Probably Abbey of Saint-Michel de Gaillac, Albi (France) — 11th century

Formerly in the possession of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's Minister of Finance: one of the finest examples of Aquitanian notation and of essential importance for the transmission of Gregorian chant

  1. The Aquitanian notation specifies the pitch of notes and the finesse of the articulation

  2. Pope Sylvester II (r. 999–1003) may have written it while a monk at Saint-Géraud d'Aurillac

  3. 33 decorative initials including 1 full-page initial and a miniature of a labyrinth adorn the work

Graduale Albiense

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Graduale Albiense

The Graduale Albiense is an 11th century gradual originating from France, likely from the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Gaillac near Albi. The main part appears to have been completed in the third quarter of the 11th century with another section added sometime after 1079, when Gaillac was attached to the Abbey of Chaise-Dieu, a subsidiary of the Abbey of Saint-Géraud d'Aurillac, whose influence in the manuscript has been discovered by researchers. The manuscript would have fallen out of use in the 15th century and was thereafter preserved in a local library before coming into the possession of notable bibliophiles like Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a minister of King Louis XIV. It is considered to be one of the best examples of Aquitaine notation, which preserves and perfectly respects the form of the Gregorian gradual. A drawing of a labyrinth, numerous multicolored decorative initials, and a full-page historiated initial adorn the work.

Graduale Albiense

Gregorian chant is one of the most lasting and beautiful legacies of the Middle Ages and the Graduale Albiense is a precious witness to its development during the 11th century. Four-line notation was developed ca. 1030 by Guido d'Arezzo (ca. 991/992 – after 1033) but remained imprecise for Gregorian chant with the notable exception of the Graduale Albiense. The Aquitanian notation found in the manuscript specifies the pitch of notes and the finesse of the articulation has been preserved thank to the high quality of the neumes. Therefore, the manuscript is essential for the preservation of Gregorian melody in addition to being one of the finest specimens of Aquitanian notation.

Written by a Pope?

Most of the manuscript was created sometime between 1050 and 1075, with a tonary – a liturgical text listing by incipit various Gregorian chants according to the tonus of their melodies within the eight-mode system – added sometimes after 1079. It is believed to have originated from the Abbey of St. Michel-de-Gaillac in southern France, near Albi, and thus is also known as the Graduale di Gaillac or the Graduale di Albi. It is adorned with 33 decorative, often zoomorphic initials, including one full-page initial, as well as a miniature of an O-shaped labyrinth. Why the labyrinth was added remains unclear, but it has been theorized that the author of the manuscript was Gerbert d'Aurillac (ca. 946–1003), who ruled as Pope Sylvester II from 999 to his death and was known as an exceptionally intelligent man. Gerbert must have had his own motives for adding the labyrinth to the manuscript that are lost to us today.

A Coveted Musical Manuscript

After falling out of use in the 15th century, the manuscript was preserved in a library in the region before being eventually acquired between 1665 and 1670 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–83), who held various ministerial positions under King Louis XIV (1638–1715). Colbert rebound the manuscript and added it to his library, which is attested to by the shelf mark “Cod. Colb. 873” written at the top of fol. 1r. His entire collection was eventually incorporated ca. 1732 in the Bibliothèque du Roy, which evolved into the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it was properly studied.


Alternative Titles
Graduale di Albi
Gradual of Gaillac
Graduale di Gaillac
11th century
Previous Owners
Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 Il cod. Paris Bibliothèque Nationale de France lat. 776: Graduale di Gaillac

La Linea Editrice – Padua, 2001

Publisher: La Linea Editrice – Padua, 2001
Commentary: 1 volume by Nino Albarosa, Heinrich Rumphorst and Alberto Turco
Language: Italian
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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