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An important treatise on medieval music theory was written in the 13th century. His or her name was lost to history, and a 19th-century French historian later dubbed him/her "Anonymous IV". This styling implies that there were at least three other Anonymouses (Anonymi?) discussed in the same work, but I have been unable to find any information about them. Who were they, and what contributions did they make to music theory & history?

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  • Wouldn't that make the current anonymous "Anonymous V"? I don't know if anything could make them happier. :P
    – Dedwards
    Jul 21, 2016 at 15:20
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    Are you talking about de Coussemaker's books? I think they're only in French, but quite a few seem to be on the internet archive. (My apologies if I'm referring to completely the wrong person.)
    – Andy
    Jul 21, 2016 at 15:30

2 Answers 2

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There were others. Some one (or some authors) called the authors of several treatises "Anonymous #" for various numbers (#).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_music_theorists lists quite a few and assigns each a work, that one wrote. There are also some who did not have a number but a location instead.

Anonymous 4 seems to be the most commonly referenced.

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According to Wikipedia:

The term originated in Edmond de Coussemaker's compilation Scriptorum de musica medii aevi, Volume 1, where the treatise appears fourth in a series of anonymous writings. He heads it "ANONYMI IV," which could mean "by Anonymous IV" or "by anonymous[:] IV". Richard Taruskin, in the Oxford History of Western Music, has insisted that the designation apply only to the treatise and not to the author. However, Taruskin's suggestion goes against common usage and has not, at least yet, gained popular support.

Frankly, if there aren't multiple treatises somehow attributed to the same anonymous author, it doesn't much matter whether the designation identifies the author or only the treatise, though there isn't much need to identify the author separately in that case. In any event, this may explain the apparent disappearance of I through III.

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  • I find the random Wikipedia footnote in this case hilarious. As someone who actually knows a bunch of medievalist musicologists and who has gone to medievalist conferences, let me just say -- everyone in the "biz" knows this comes from Coussemaker and that it refers to that treatise. It's true that casually in a lot of history sources scholars will reference "Anonymous IV" as a person, but again all medievalists know this is actually a reference to a specific treatise (presumably written by someone). Taruskin can be excessively opinionated, but he's not really wrong here.
    – Athanasius
    Feb 14 at 18:51
  • Oh, and there's no "disappearance" of Anonymous I through III. They're just other treatises in that Coussemaker collection. Several of the treatises in that collection have been subsequently identified with specific historical authors (off the top of my head, I can't remember which ones) and are thus no longer referenced in the literature as "Anonymous X." But many are. It's just that Anonymous IV has some interesting bits that are cited in undergraduate history texts frequently and there was an all-female singing group a couple decades ago that chose to use the name... creating popularity.
    – Athanasius
    Feb 14 at 18:56
  • @Athanasius thanks for your comments. The singing group took the name "Anonymous 4," an often overlooked subtlety. I wrote of the "apparent" disappearance -- if I remember correctly -- precisely to acknowledge the possibility that (contrary to the terms of the question and accepted answer) there never were any people designated Anonymous I to III or IV or beyond. (Though frankly using "Anonymous III" as shorthand for "the author of the treatise designated 'Anonymous III'" seems reasonable enough, and that designation would more or less disappear if the author were subsequently identified.)
    – phoog
    Feb 15 at 11:34

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