This study seeks to reconstruct the music for Boethius’s final and most widely read work, On the Consolation of Philosophy. Although a handful of neumations for Boethius’s thirty-nine poems have long been known, the almost complete absence of surviving pitched versions of the melodies has hindered the task of reconstruction. Following a systematic study of neumed manuscripts dating from the ninth to the eleventh centuries and identification of underlying principles of melodic design, it is now possible to attempt informed reconstructions. Even so, the leap from scholarship to modern performance remains substantial, involving a preliminary need to recreate melodies through experimentation.
Collaboration with members of the ensemble Sequentia over a four-year period (2014–17) provided an opportunity to explore ways in which creative practice might supplement scholarly knowledge, whether through posing new research questions, the formation and exploration of hypotheses, or recourse to memorized practices built up through sustained engagement with early medieval repertories and instruments. Taking a recovered mid eleventh-century leaf of the Cambridge Songs as a focus for investigation, songs from the first book of Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae were newly reconstructed. Although debate continues to surround the status of results obtained through creative practice, comparison with the way other disciplines have proceeded under similar conditions reveals acceptance of experimentation as a mode of inquiry. This essay proposes that performance can fruitfully supplement philology in seeking to reconstruct lost songs from notated traces.