Tractatus de umbra manus (1447) is a concert-installation that examines the history of mystical spatial composition during the turn of the renaissance. It is a part of a larger ongoing project in speculative medievalism. It consists of a growing body of forged compositions that explore magical and occult musical practices originating in the pre-modern era. Above all, the work is inspired by conductor-musicologist Björn Schmelzer’s proclamation of the monstrosity of early music — that its practice might be best understood as a form of sounding necromancy.
What follows is an excerpt from Tractatus de Umbra Manus (1447):
“…at the request of his holiness Eugene IV, on the occasion of the consecration of the Florence Duomo, Guillaume Dufay of the papal choir composed the motet Nuper Rosarum Flores in the 1436th year of our Lord. The most perfect relations of the Temple of Jerusalem as described in the First Book of Kings — that of six to four to two to three — were used by DuFay to compose the work’s taleae and color, thus instantiating a celestial order present but unseen. As the voices resounded throughout the cathedral, divine proportion and sounding number sang in concord as the Temple of the Israelites was summoned within the just proportions of the building. The most Holy of all spaces became incarnate once again. All of the cathedral was filled with the sounds of harmonious symphonies as well as the concords of diverse instruments, so that it seemed not without reason that the angels and the sounds and singing of divine paradise had been sent from heaven to earth. The papal delegacy and the congregation were so possessed by ecstasy that all seemed to enjoy the life of the Blessed in those sacred moments. For this most venerable service rendered to the Lord and his florentine flock, Dufay was declared canonciate of Cambrai, by both motu proprio and papal bull.
As word of his holiness’ praise and Dufay’s new title spread throughout Christendom, one Æneas Infretim, a young composer placed in a backwater Abbey in Germania, known only for his stubborn adherence to the obtuse practices of the Ars Nova, set upon himself to compose a new work. Reading the visions of the prophet Ezekiel that foretold the appearance of a new Temple complex in Jerusalem, with numerations for great courtyards, buildings and liturgical structures, Æneas set the biblical proportions to music inspired by DuFay’s success. But, despite the detailed measurements given by the Prophet, Æneas found the setting to be difficult: it resulted in a work of musica ficta even more strange and obtuse than any he had heard before. (Little did he know that centuries earlier Gregory the Great had argued that the vision could only be understood as a spiritual allegory, and that any literal exegesis should be viewed as heretical. After all, one measurement suggests a door wider than the wall to which it is attached!). When the organ, voices, and fifes finally sounded, and the last bell was tolled, the monks, who had gathered to hear the new work, were so disturbed by the great cacophonous noise that the Abbot banned Æneas from ever composing for the monastery again. A great melancholy fell upon that place. The abbey was dissolved shortly thereafter. Facing ecumenical censure and excommunication, Æneas soon became a wandering fool, scrawling the measurements of Ezekiel’s temple on parchment as he roamed. It was rumored that his lute was tuned to a temperament capable only of strange discordant sonorities.
All that remains of Æneas Infretim’s work are a few scattered manuscripts and the legend of his work’s strange power…”