Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The Devotio Moderna movement stood at the center of religious life in 15th-century Europe, yet its music has remained on the periphery of musicological scholarship. Perhaps this is because its simple, plainchant style does not fit into narratives that prize stylistic ingenuity. This project demonstrates the importance of the Devotio Moderna’s musical contributions by linking music to their spiritual program, highlighting their influence on liturgical music, and showcasing the creativity of their song-making.

Founded as informal pious gatherings, the Devotio Moderna grew into an influential network of religious houses with important scriptoria, as exemplified in the history of one branch of the movement, the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life, in Germany. The movement’s spirituality focused on meditation and what Nikolaus Staubach has termed “pragmatische Schriftlichkeit” (practical writing), a variety of writing activities aimed towards personal spiritual growth. For adherents, this included copying manuscripts and compiling prose selections into personal devotional collections called rapiaria. I tie the movement’s literary spirituality to their copying of liturgical music manuscripts and their cultivation of a devotional song repertory.

My investigation of thirty liturgical manuscripts from Münster, Cologne, and Hildesheim shows that the Brothers of the Common Life in those cities generally followed the local liturgical practice of their dioceses. At the same time, through their prolific production of prestigious liturgical manuscripts, the Brothers of the Common Life influenced the content of the standardized diocesan liturgies that emerged in Western Germany during the 15th century. The Brothers helped promulgate new diocese-specific items like the “Alleluia Clare flos” and the sequence “Inclite psallamus,” both sung for the feast of St. Ludger in the diocese of Münster.

One important Devotio Moderna paraliturgical songbook, Wien 12875, contains 44 Latin songs that have received little attention from musicologists. By identifying the source materials that underlie these songs, I reveal that the Devotio Moderna employed highly creative processes of compilation and adaptation, like those that informed the production of rapiaria, to make devotional songs. Using compositional strategies well-known from the polyphonic song repertory of the 15th century, including contrafact and quotation, they turned pre-existent materials – liturgical chant, scripture texts, spiritual prose, and selections from their own devotional song repertory – into song texts and music for use in their spiritual program. I provide detailed analyses of examples ranging from relatively straightforward contrafacts to complex compilations that combine several strategies at once. This study, by thoroughly investigating Wien 12875 and examining other, recently edited Devotio Moderna song collections, emphasizes how musical creativity pervades the movement’s monophonic repertory and underscores the ongoing, significant cultural and devotional role of simple musical idioms in the 15th century.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Dolores Pesce

Committee Members

Clare Bokulich, Daniel Bornstein, Craig Monson, Grayson Wagstaff,


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Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2119

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