Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing

Archive for the ‘Composer Biography’ Category

Music During Times of Plague, Part I

with 3 comments

This topic turned out to be HUGE so I’ve broken into (at least) two sections:

  • Part I: General history of the plague, composers from England, Italy, and Belgium/Flanders
  • Part II: Composers from Germany/Austria, France, Russia/Poland, Czech Republic/Bohemia, and what was happening in other arts at the time. (I might break this down further if it gets out of hand once I start researching and writing it.)

As we face the seventh month of lockdown due to COVID-19, my thoughts rather naturally turn to the plague (which COVID-19 is not). A little research on the Internet turned out to be a whole other kind of rabbit hole, so before I get down to the interesting bits (the music), I need to give you a brief run-down.

Bubonic Plague (or the Black Death) has been around for a LOT longer than you probably think. The first DNA-proven incident was between 3500-3000 BCE (that’s right—5000 years ago), from a Swedish tomb that was excavated in 2018. In one form or another, it has circulated from China, Asia, Africa, Europe, back to China, back to India, the Middle East, and Europe, and through the New World and China, Europe, etc. Just round and round for 5000 years until the invention of antibiotics in the mid-20th century.

There were three major waves in “modern” times: The first wave was from 541-750 CE, spreading from Egypt to the Mediterranean (starting with the Plague of Justinian in Northwestern Europe); the second wave was from 1346-1840, spreading from China, through the Mediterranean and Europe (the Black Plague of 1346-1665 is considered unparalleled in human history, killing more than a billion people in Europe); and the third wave was between 1566 and the 1960s, again originating in China and spreading to India, killing 22.5 million people under British rule alone. Yes, the latter two waves do overlap.

In the 1890s, dead plague cells were used to create a vaccine, dramatically reducing the number of people who got sick, and in the 1940s, antibiotics were invented, reducing the number of deaths. Nonetheless, outbreaks continued to occur in developing countries: Roughly 40,000 cases were reported by WHO between 1987 and 2001, including 2850 deaths in 38 countries. Most deaths today are due to lack of treatment, around 200 people per year, mostly in remote African villages.

A Little Plague History

Between 1334 and 1403, plague was reported in China, all over Eurasia including Southern Russia, and in India, Constantinople (now in Turkey), and Italy.

Black Death arrived in England in 1348, reaching Scotland by 1350. The estimated death toll for the British Isles was 3.2 million. The rest of Europe went crazy. They began killing Jews in pogroms, burning homes and murdering the people as they ran out with clubs and axes, accusing Jews of having brought the plague to specifically kill Christians. (Funny, isn’t it, how the majority always thinks they’re the put-upon ones?) Burning Jewish communities alive in their own communities became the rage—it happened in Toulon, Savoy, Basel, and Freiburg, and in the Strasbourg massacre, 900 Jews were locked up and burned alive. Those who were willing to be baptized were given a reprieve, so it clearly wasn’t really about the plague.

Some of the murderous rage had to do with a change in power in the guilds from the master tradesmen to the patrician bourgeoisie—the uprising was a combination of fear of the illness and anger over social ills. (Sound familiar?) It took two papal bulls from Pope Clement VI to stop the violence against the Jews, claiming that the plague was the result of “an angry God striking at the Christian people for their sins,” not the Jews poisoning the wells or some such.

In 1351, the Black Death reached Russia, but the harsh Russian winter seems to have suppressed it a little. For ten years, it only showed up here and there in Europe, but by 1361, it was back, raging away until efforts to cure it started having an effect in 1374.

They tried all kinds of creative extreme remedies, such as eating cooked onions (!), ten-year-old treacle, arsenic, or crushed emeralds. They sat in the sewers and in very warm rooms, and they tried fumigating the house with smoldering herbs. Flagellants went on processions whipping themselves, thinking to save the innocent from punishment for their sins. It must have been a fun time, eh? In the 1360s, doctors discovered that popping the buboes (the inflammation of the lymph nodes) helped some patients recover.

In 1374, the Black Death re-emerged in Europe. In Sicily and Venice, they began to force ships to wait at sea for 30 days before coming ashore, to make sure that the plague was not with the men or their goods. By 1403, they began to think that 30 days was not enough, and they made them wait for 40 days—that’s where the word comes from: “quaranta giorni” or “quarantena.”

Through all of this strife and terror, they made music. What were they listening to, you ask? Let’s find out.

I’ll provide links to YouTube when they exist. If I can find CDs with recordings, I’ll name them, but I can’t copy tracks because I don’t want to violate copyright AND I think musicians should get paid for their work. There are some composers that I couldn’t find much at all on, whether it be their story or their music. I listed them anyway. Even so, it’s not a complete list.

England 1334-1403

Johannes Alanus (14th c, died c1373) (possibly also Johannes Aleyn or J. Alani and J. Alani Minimus) was possibly Edward III of England’s chaplain and a favorite of Queen Philippa of Hainault. His works in the Old Hall Manuscript include the motet Sub Arturo plebs/Fons citharizancium/In omnem terram, the lieds “Min frow, min frow” and “Min herze wil all zit frowen pflegen,” and a virelai called “S’en vos por moy pitie ne truis.”

  • CD:“Beneath the Northern Star” (Orlando Consort) includes Alleluia: Christo iubelemus, Sub Arturo plebs/fons citharizanium/In omnem terram
  • CD: “Music for the 100 Years War” (Binchois Consort) includes Sub Arturo plebs/fons citharizanium/In omnem terram

(Thomas) Byttering (fl. c1400-1420)has only six surviving compositions, all in the Old Hall Manuscript. Not much is known about him, although there was a canon at Hastings Castle between 1405 and 1408 and a rector in London in 1414 named Byteryng, and he could have been either or neither of them. His is the only offering of a Mass with the canon in all four voices in the Old Hall Manuscript.

John Dunstable (c1390-1453) (Dunstaple)was, with Leonel Power, one of the most prolific composers of his time—about 60 of his works survive. An epigraph after his death shows that he was also a mathematician and astronomer. He challenged and changed continental musical styles with new and unusual treatments of consonance and dissonance, and is largely responsible (so think some experts) for the new movement in polyphonic music to make every interval harmonic and every voice consonant with all the others. He used dissonance only as an ornament. This made a fundamental change from the Medieval style to the Renaissance: Medieval music emphasized the independence of superimposed individual melodies in each voice, and Renaissance shifted the emphasis to the “vertical” aspects of polyphony, dependent on melodic consonance rather than incidental consonance, which would all, one day, lead to the invention of chords and chordal composition. (Several VERY different interpretations of the same pieces follow.)

John Forest (1471-1538) was an English Franciscan friar and martyr, confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII’s first wife). While imprisoned for refusing to accept Henry VIII as the head of the church and awaiting a death sentence, Forest wrote a tract denouncing Henry VIII. He refused to swear the oath of loyalty demanded by Cromwell, so Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer worked to have him condemned for treason and heresy. Latimer preached a final sermon at the place of execution that urged Forest to recant, but he still didn’t. Forest was the only Catholic martyr to be burned at the stake during the English Reformation. Fuel for the pyre was said to have come from a statue of St. Derfel that had been prophesied to “one day set a forest on fire.” Oh, the irony.

  • CD: “Music for the 100 Years War” (Binchois Consort) includes Ascendit Christus super celos/Alma redemptoris mater and Guade martyr/Collandemus venerantes/Celestium contemplator

John Hanboys (c1320-c1380) may also be J. de Alto Bosco (fl. C1370) and was a music theorist and the author of a treatise on music notation called the Summa super musicum continuam et discretum. The only known source of the treatise is an early 15th century copy, but because of inconsistencies in the spelling of his name, it might not even have been the same person. It’s said that he wrote a volume of music, but it’s lost.

Roy Henry (fl. c1410) (also King Henry IV or V of England) wrote works that can be found in the Old Hall Manuscript. The music was most likely written between 1399 and 1413, when Henry IV would have been in his early 40s. By 1410, Henry IV was suffering from a disfiguring skin disease and struggling to retain his royal power, so some pieces were either written earlier or perhaps were falsely attributed to him. Henry V is thought to have been quite fond of music, taking his chapel choir with him on campaigns. Henry V reigned from 1413 to 1422. Only two pieces, a Gloria and a Sanctus from the Mass Ordinaries remain, both in three voices. Unusually, neither seems to be based on a chant—or perhaps the underlying chant was lost. I didn’t find any recordings.

Leonel Power (c1370/1385-1445), rather unusually, used intertwined (not independent) voices as descant. The cantus firmus is somewhat freer than other composers’, leaving out some notes or making skips to accommodate melodies in other lines. His work is strongly within the Ars subtilior style, enjoying a variety of meters and notational symbols.

Pycard (fl.c1410) has nine works in the Old Hall Manuscript, all strongly in the English style, although he may have been French. He uses the “usual” four-part style in his Gloria 26, but the text appears only in three voices, with an instrumental tenor. There’s an eight-minute introduction before the contratenor begins the canon, followed by the duplum a fourth above. Only the triplum has the complete text. In Gloria 27, Pycard wrote what might be the earliest example of simultaneous two-part canons (one in the tenor and countertenor and the other in the top two voices), with a free duplum producing the fifth voice. Pycard’s Gloria 35 is partly like Gloria 27, except the tenor and countertenor are now free, with only the two highest voices in canon. His works are in the Ars nova style and are particularly difficult to perform.

Queldryk (fl.c1400-15th c) has a Gloria in the Old Hall Manuscript that’s paired with John Tyes’ Credo (I found nothing on Tyes—or Dyes—beyond mentions that he’s in the Old Hall). It’s written in four voices—not pairs, but independent voices, with wildly varying isometric (matching rhythmic) organization; some are strictly isometric in all four voices, and others only match in the tenor and countertenor parts. Only two bits seem to come from known chants—the rest is freshly composed.

W. de Wycombe (fl.c1275-1279) (perhaps also de Wyc, Wicumbe, or Whichbury, or Willelmus de Winchecumbe, Willelmo de Wincheviumbe, William of Winchcomb) was a secular scribe employed briefly at a Herefordshire priory. Despite the fact that little is known about him, he left a collectarium (a book of introits), a precentor’s (layman who led the congregation in singing) workbook, two scrolls of music, a summary and treatise on music, a history that he added musical examples to, and other books, not to mention 40 settings of various pieces found in fragments here and there. Only one piece (from the Worcester Fragments—the Alleluia) is complete. It’s in four-part polyphony alternating with solo respond and verse sections. There’s another lengthy fragment in the Montpellier Codex. Occasionally, Sumer is acumen in, the earliest known English-language secular song to be written down, is attributed to Wycombe.

Italy 1334-1403

Bartolomeo da Bologna (fl1405-after 1427) wasn’t a prolific composer (only seven pieces survive), but he’s famous for inventing the parody as a type of music. Rather than a silly thing based on a serious one as it is in theater, a musical parody takes a secular piece and sets sacred texts to it. He wrote in the Ars subtilior style, which can be quite complex, but you can hear the influence of the more melodious Franco-Flemish style in his work, too.

Jacopo da Bologna (fl.1340-1360) has 29 pieces in the Squarcialupi Codex, placing him firmly in the very beginning of the Italian Ars nova period. He wrote a short music theory treatise called “Queste a l’arte del biscanto misurate,” which is largely about the music notation being developed in France. His “Non al suo amante piu Diana piacque” madrigal (featured in the links) was written in about 1350, one of the only known contemporaneous settings of Petrarch’s poetry.

Giovanni da Cascia (fl.1340) (also Jovannes de Cascia, or Giovanni da Firenze) is the earliest known composer of the Italian Ars nova. He was active in the Mastino Il della Scala courts (with Jacopo da Bologna, also in this list) in Verona and the Visconti court in Milan. He mostly wrote madrigals, cacce, and ballades (numbering 28 in all), which can be found in several sources in England and France. His portrait in the Squarcialupi Codex shows him in layman’s clothes, so he probably wasn’t a priest or cleric. He was fond of the hoquet device, which sounds like musical hiccups, and it’s clear that he wanted performers to improvise a fair bit. It’s possible that he and Maestro Piero, one of his great friends and also in this list, died of the Black Death.

Donato da Cascia (fl.c1350-1370) (also da Firenze and da Florentia) can be found in the Squarcialupi Codex in strictly secular works, even though he was a Benedictine priest. He wrote only for two voices (or rather, that’s all that’s been found and attributed to him), which was very much the epitome of the Italian Ars nova style. Usually, the upper part is the fancier of the two, and there’s occasional imitation (where the second voice repeats the melody, perhaps with different notes), and he’s somewhat humorous in his choice of texts.

Antonello da Caserta (late 14th-early 15th c)(also Anthonello de Casette, Antonellus Marot) is a bit of mystery. He was a monk, but it isn’t known to which order he belonged. He set his texts in both French and Italian, which makes scholars think that he was from northern Italy, and one of his texts was set to music by the great Guillaume Machaut. He used unusual mensuration signs that are found in few other manuscripts although he also used proportional rhythms in some ballades, which was more popular after his lifetime (perhaps he was an early adopter?). His works tend to be about courtly love.

Philippus de Caserta (also Philipoctu, Filipotto, or Filipoctus) fl.c1370-c1400) was an Ars subtilior composer and may have worked at for the antipope Clement VII, although he didn’t follow Clement to Avignon. Two of his pieces include fragments of text from Guillaume Machaut, and two of his own were borrowed by Johannes Ciconia. It’s possible that he wrote as many as five musical treatises (although it’s also possible that one was written by or co-written with Egidius de Francia) and there’s a piece (En remirant vo douce pourtraiture) in the Chantilly Codex.

Antonio da Cividale (Antonius de Civitate Austrie) (fl.c1392-1421) straddled the end of the Medieval period and the beginning of the Renaissance—there are very few surviving pieces from the early 15th century from Italy, so it’s wonderful to have them. He was a friar and wrote both sacred and secular music. Four Mass movements and six motets survive, and there are seven secular pieces, mostly in French. He was fond of musical tricks, such as writing a phrase to be sung first forward and then backward.

Andrea da Firenze (fl.c1375-c1415) (Andreas de Florentia, Andrea de’ Servi, Andrea degli Organi, Andrea di Giovanni, and Horghanista de Florentia) was a composer and organist working in the Italian Ars nova style. He was a Servite prior who built organs and hired Francesco Landini to consult on his first project, which was in his own monastery. The two of them took three days and copious amounts of wine to tune the instrument. <heh> Andrea got another commission to build organs for the Florence Cathedral, one in Rieti, and another (possibly) in Rome. All of the surviving pieces are ballatas (secular pieces)—there are 30 of them, mostly in the Squarcialupe Codex. He didn’t like a Benedictine monk named Gianni from L’Aquila because apparently, Gianni liked wine and money too much, so Andrea mocked him in a ballade it’s first in the list).

Ghirardello da Firenza (fl.c1375) (Gherardellus de Florentia, Ser Gherardello, and occasionally, Niccolo di Francesco) was an early composer in the Italian Ars nova style. He was a chaplain in Florence between 1345 and 1361, which was the worst of the Black Death period, and later he was a monk in San Remigio. His secular work can be found in the Squarcialupe Codex (16 pieces), and elsewhere, there are two Mass movements.

Lorenzo da Firenze (died 1372/1373) (Lorenzo Masini, Lorenzo Masi, Magister Laurentius de Florentia) was another member of the Ars nova movement, and he drew on the important poets of the day for texts, including Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron). He was a canon at San Lorenzo and probably studied with Landini there. He wrote 16 secular pieces that appear in the Squarcialupe Codex plus two Mass movements using the great innovations of the day such as melismas, imitation, part crossing, and ficta—including chromatic sections—heterophony, parallel fourths, and isorhythms. He was also one of the first Italians to use the new French music notation (neumes—for more on this, see my book or my blog).

Paolo da Firenze (c1355-c1436) (Paulo Tenorista, Magister Dominus Paulas Abbas de Florentia) was a composer and music theorist with quite a few attributed pieces. His portrait in the Squarcialupe Codex (which he supervised the compilation of) shows him to be a Benedictine monk, and later, he became an abbot in San Martin al Pino near Florence. All of his music seems to be vocal—13 madrigals and more than 40 ballate, along with two liturgical pieces—and at least one musical treatise, all in the Ars subtilior style. He used the Italian notation, rather than the new French style, although he borrowed from the French when it suited him.

Ugolino da Forli (c1380-1457) ( Ugolino da Orvieto or Urbevatano) was an Italian composer and music theorist (his Declaratio musicae disciplinae filled five books). Sadly, I didn’t find any music on recordings or YouTube, nor much about him in my usual sources.

Francesco Landini (c1325/1335-1397) (Franciscus caecus, Francesvo il Cieco, Francesco degli organi, and Ferancesco da Firenze) was the Big Cheese of the 14th century in Italy and beyond. He was so prolific (and well documented), that his works provide nearly a quarter of all Italian music that survives from that time. Landini was a blind musician and a scholar. He learned the organ from Jacopo da Bologna (earlier in this list) and was involved in politics and religious controversies as well as creating new music. He was buddies with the poets Francesco Petrarch and Franco Sacchetti, even featuring in Giovanni da Prato’s poem about Florence. Landini is often the link that connects other musicians from the period, so he must have been a likeable fellow. More importantly, he was a fine composer. I’m not going to make too deep a dive here, because you can read more about him in my blog and my book, and elsewhere on the Internet and in printed books. His music is easy to find on YouTube and Amazon.

Giovanni Mazzuoli (1360-1426) (Giovanni degli Organi) was an organist and composer, although many of his pieces are missing. The Squarcialupe Codex blocks out a whole section for him, but he either never delivered, or they never got around to drafting them in.

Bartolino da Padova (fl.c1365-c1405) wrote in the Italian Ars nova style. His work appears in the Squarcialupe Codex—37 pieces! There are a handful of pieces, including 11 madrigals, found in other places too. His work doesn’t seem to reflect French music that was so popular, but it occasionally (like in his La Fiera Testa) employs three languages: Italian, Latin, and French.

Grazioso da Padova (fl.c1391-15th c) (Gratiosus de Padua) didn’t leave a lot of work behind—only three fragments remain. There are three-voice Gloria and Sanctus (Mass) settings and a single ballata (Alta regina de virtutue ornate).

Matteo da Perugia (fl. 1400-1416) was the first magister cappellae of the Milan Cathedral. He seems to have written third lines to existing pieces, which caused some works to be erroneously attributed to him.

Niccolo da Perugia (c1370-1412) (Niccolo del Proposto) wrote in the style of the Italian Ars nova and was probably friends with poet Franco Sacchetti. Forty-one of his pieces have survived, all secular and all vocal, and mostly in the Squarcialupe Codex. One of his pieces, La fiera testa (in the list below), was probably written against the Visconti family during the war between Milan and Florence.

Maestro Piero (c1300-after 1350) (Magister Piero or just Piero) was one of the first trecento composers known by name. He was mostly known for his six madrigals, but he also wrote two cacce. He hung out with Giovanni da Cascia and Jacopo da Bologna (both on this list), and the three composed somewhat competitively, each setting the same madrigal text. It’s possible that he and Giovanni da Cascia died of the Black Death. Two of his works are in the Rossi Codex. His are probably the earliest canonic madrigals.

Nicolaus Ricci de Nuculla Campli (fl.1401-1425, d. after 1438) (also Ricci de Nucella Campli, Niccolo Ricci and Nucella). Some sources say that there’s only one known piece by Nucella, “De bon parole,” and others list “Un Fior Gentile” as well. He was part of the papal choir for Popes Boniface IX, Innocent VII, and Gregory XII, and also a priest and a scribe for Pope Innocent VII (during a schism, no less). His father lived to be 100 years old, which was pretty unusual at the time. It’s still unusual! He was part of the Ars subtilior movement

  • CD: Un fior Gentile (Micrologus) includes “Un Fior Gentile” and, according to Amazon, costs the ridiculous price of $902.81.
  • CD: Menando gli anni (Aquila Altera) contains “De bon parole.”

Vincenzo da Rimini (c1332-1373) (Magister Dominus Abess de Arimino, L’abate Vincencio da Imola, Prate Vincenco) appears in the Squarcialupe Codex six times. His madrigals are all in two voices, and his cacce are in three, which was representative of the time.

  • CD: SVSO in Italia Bella: Musique Dans les Cours et Cloitres de l’Italie du Nord (La Reverdie)

Andrea Stefani (fl.c1399-15th c) has works in the Lucca Codex including two ballate (Con tutta gentilezza and I senti’ matutino) and a madrigal (Morte m’a sciolt). He’s thought to have written five lauds, but the melodies are lost and only the text remains. There’s a will dated 1460 for him, and he no doubt lived longer than that. He lived in the Bianchi Gesuati monastery for 54 years and left his inheritance to them.

  • CD: Rose e Orticha: Music of the Trecento (Ensemble Syntagma) includes “Con tutto gentilezza”
  • CD: Ballate e Madrigali al tempo della Signoria di Paolo Guinigi (Cantilena Antigua/Concentus Lucensus) includes “Con tutto gentilezza” and “I senti’ matutina.”
  • CD: Tracce della tradizione orale in manoscritti Italiani del XIV, XV sec. (Pantrizia Bovi/Gilberte Casabianca) includes “I senti’ matutina.”
  • CD: Medieval and Renaissance Music (A Ricolta Bubu, Pavana publishers) includes “I senti’ matutina.”
  • CD: Canzoni e melodie (Toti Dal Monte, Rivoalto publishers) includes “I senti’ matutina.”

Zacara da Teramo (c1350-c1415) (Antonio “Zacara” da Teramo, Anonius Zacharius of Teramo, Antonius Berardi Andre de Teramo, Antonio Zacar, Zacar, Zaccara, Zacharie, Zachara, and Cacharius) is probably the Zacharias in the Old Hall Manuscript. He was most active around 1400, bridging the periods of Ars subtilior to the beginnings of the Renaissance. He must have been terribly short, as his nickname (Zacara) means a small thing of little value, and he produced nine ballate and a caccia, plus several Mass movements, plus a madrigal. He signed his own name as Antonio, and he appears in the Squarcialupe Codex and the Mancini Codex, and seems to be missing a few fingers and toes. He served at the anti-pope’s court during the Western Schism (1378-1417). His pieces occasionally had very dark –even satanic—texts.

Belgium 1334-1403

Johannes Ciconia (c1370-1412) changed Italian music from soloistic polyphony to polyphony for multiple voices—like choruses and consorts. This smoothed some edges and simplified things, so that less lithe or trained voices could manage it. He wrote at least two theoretical treatises and much of his music is lost. Even so, there are 11 Mass sections, 11 motets, and 20 secular pieces in both French and Italian. It’s super easy to find music from him, so I’ll just make a short list.

Egardus (fl.c1370-after 1400) (Engardus or Johannes Echgaerd) was part of the Ars nova movement, and only three of his works have been identified. Of the three works (a canon and two Glorias), two were found in Northern Italian sources, and the third has strong Italian connections. I only found the one recording listed below, but I found a reference to his music from Kurt von Fischer and F. Alberto Gallo, called “Italian Sacred and Ceremonial Music: Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century” (published in 1976 and 1987). I couldn’t find it online, but I suspect that it’s a discussion and not sheet music.

Thomas Fabri (c1380-1420) was probably choir master in Bruges. Only four of his works have been preserved: two are vocal parts in three voices; one is a Gloria; and the fourth is a ballade, probably for solo voice or solo instrument. Of the three offerings below, the “Ach” piece, a rondeau, is secular, and the “Sinceram” piece is an antiphon, meant for a church service.

Johannes de Limburgia (fl.140801431) (also Lymburgia also called Johannes Vinandi) worked in Liege and in Italy (possibly Venice, Vicenza, or Padua), and wrote motets about those cities. About 50 of his works survive as well as the Ordinaries of the Mass in the Trent Codices.

Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-1377) wrote poetry that was as stunning as the music he wrote. His style marks the end of the Medieval age, as composers turned away from monody (one melodic line) to polyphony (multiple melodic lines). His subject matter also marked the coming change from bible stories to romance, metaphors, and allegories. He was a master of the Ars nova style, again, the beginning of change from sacred modal music to secular and scalar music. Check out his book “Roman de Fauvel,” an allegorical work of fiction (before the idea of “novels” existed) meant to reveal the vices of mankind in stories, poetry, and song. There are six books of his works (collected by Machaut himself) and many more in various manuscripts.

Next time, I’ll look at other art forms and some more countries.

Don’t forget to buy my book, “Musical Innovators” from https://www.amazon.com/Musical-Innovators-Melanie-Spiller/dp/B088XQGVDM/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=musical+Innovators+Melanie&qid=1597687772&sr=8-1

Sources:

“Medieval Music,” by Richard H. Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1978.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960.

“Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music,” by Manfred F. Bukofzer. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1950.

“Music from the Earliest Notation to the Sixteenth Century,” by Richard Taruskin. Oxford University Press, Oxfort, 2010.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.

The Norton/Grove Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

“Music in the Medieval World, by Albert Seay. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1965.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claud V. Palisca. W.W. Norton, New York, 2010.

**Grove Music Online** Alanus (England), Jacopo da Bologna (Italy)

**Progeny of Old Hall **Margaret Bent**

**“Un leggiadretto celo’ ed alter cose petrarchesche” Rivista Italiana de Musicologia **Pierluigi Petrobelli**

Written by Melanie Spiller

August 17, 2020 at 11:25 am

Composer Biography: Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)

with one comment

Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre was a French composer and harpsichordist, considered the first female composer of instrumental music. She certainly had a very long name!

Jacquet de la Guerre’s precocious talent as a musician was first mentioned in 1677 in the Paris newspaper Mercure Gallant, where she was described as a “wonder.” She sight-read difficult music, accompanied herself and other singers on the harpsichord, composed pieces and transposed at the whim of onlookers, and, according to the newspaper, she had already been doing this for four years when she was 10 years old. (My math has her at age 12 in 1677, but it’s still quite an accomplishment.) The next year, the same newspaper declared her “the marvel of the century.” (Mozart wouldn’t appear on the scene to be called such things until the 1750s.)

Her accomplishment is representative of the rise of amateur musicians among the French aristocracy. Previously, noblemen and noblewomen played only for each other’s pleasure, and hired professionals for more formal entertainments. The few women who succeeded as professionals were usually the daughters of prominent musicians, as was Jacquet de la Guerre.

She was the daughter of organ builder Claude Jacquet (dates unknown) and his wife Anne de la Touche (b.1632), also a musician from a musical family. She grew up in the Saint-Louis-en-I’lle, in Paris with three siblings, all of whom received an excellent musical education. It was unusual, at the time, to give daughters the same high-quality musical education as boys, so we are fortunate that her parents had foresight and the intellect to recognize that girls could accomplish as much as boys if given the chance.

Because of her evident talent, Jacquet de la Guerre was singled out for special favor by King Louis XIV (1638-1715), who placed her in the care of his mistress, Francoise Athenais de Rochechouart de Montemart (1640-1707), the marquise de Montespan. She was possibly tutored by Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719), the governess of Madame de Montespan’s children and later the king’s secret wife. She moved into the castle in 1673 and stayed there until she married. Louis XIV encouraged her career, providing audiences and allowing her to dedicate publications to him.

When she married, she stayed true to her family origins. She married organist and harpsichord teacher Marin de la Guerre (d. before 1704) in 1684 and moved back to Paris. Marin was son of Michel de La Guerre (c.1605-1679), who’d been the organist at the Sainte-Chapelle. Once back in Paris, Jacquet de la Guerre maintained her connections with the court without having to live there.

In 1687, she published a book of harpsichord pieces that included several suites of French dances, unmeasured preludes, chaconnes, and toccatas. She united the French and Italian styles, much as her contemporary Francois Couperin (1668-1733) did. In the same year, she published a ballet, Les jeux a l’honneur de la victoire (1685), which is lost.

She later wrote an opera, Cephale et Procris, which was a tragedy in five acts. It was performed in Paris at the Acadamie Royale de Musique in 1694. After its disappointing reception, or perhaps because she didn’t receive further commissions, she limited herself afterward to the cantata form. The opera was revived in 1989 by Jean-Claude Malgoire (b.1940) and Daniel Ogier (dates unavailable) in Saint-Etienne.

Several manuscripts from the 1690s have survived, including solo and trio sonatas. In 1695, she wrote solo and trio violin sonatas within five years of the first of those styles appearing in France. She published more music, including another volume of harpsichord piece and a set of solo violin sonatas (both in 1707).

Both her son (name and dates unknown) and her husband had died by 1704. Her son was thought to be quite talented on the harpsichord too, and made his debut at age eight. He was dead by age ten. After the deaths of her husband and son, Jacquet de la Guerre stayed in Paris giving concerts in her home, and at the Theatre de la Foire, for which she composed a few songs and at least one comic scene. All the great musicians and local music fans went to hear her. She was famous for her gift at improvisation and extemporaneous fantasias.

She found a champion in Sebastien de Brossard (1655-1730), a Paris-loving provincial ecclesiastic who collected and composed music. He performed her opera with the addition of a few of his own compositions at the Strasbourg Academie de la Musique.

Perhaps her most significant accomplishment, she published three volumes of cantatas as part of the first wave of cantata production. The first cantata collection in France appeared in 1706 (published by Jean-Baptiste Morin, 1677-1745, Nicolas Bernier, 1664-1734, and Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, 1667-1737), and Jacquet de la Guerre’s appeared in 1707, 1708, and 1711. Uniquely, her cantatas have texts from the Old Testament, and three of them tell stories of Biblical women (Esther, Susannah and the Elders, and Judith). The third volume of cantatas reflected French tastes and used mythology as its subject. One is written for soloist and symphony (violin or violins in unison and an optional flute in the second aire) in addition to the basso continuo.

She never left France but her music was known in Germany. She performed for Maximilian Emanuel II (1662-1726), Elector of Bavaria in 1712 when he visited Paris and he brought her works home with him. She dedicated her mythological cantatas to him.

She retired from public performance in 1717 and moved a little further out of the center of town. In 1721, she wrote a Te Deum to celebrate the recovery of Louis XV (1710-1774) from smallpox, a commission of real significance. Sadly, the music is lost.

Walther’s German Lexicon of 1732 includes a longer article on her than on François Couperin (1668-1733), her much more famous—at least into our times—contemporary. Although her rediscovery took longer than Francois Couperin’s, today, she is the most likely female composer from the period to be known to modern audiences.

Jacquet de la Guerre’s parents and her brother Nicolas died in the early 1710s. After her own death in 1729, a commemorative medal was struck in her honor. She was also included in the listing by Titon du Tillet (1677-1762) in his Parnasse francais of 1732, one of only seven musicians listed, and the only woman.

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1995.

“Women Making Music, The Western Art Traditions, 11-50-1950,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“Women and Music, A History,” edited by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“The Pelican History of Music, Book 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010.

Composer Biography: Francesca Caccini (1587-1638/40)

leave a comment »

Also Francesca Raffaelli, Signorini, Signorini-Malaspina, and La Cecchina

Francesca Caccini was an important Italian composer and singer of the late Italian Renaissance. The first female composer of opera of record, she was possibly the most prolific female composer of her time. She was among the earliest women to travel for her art, which later became common for professional musicians, much as it is today.

During her lifetime, her gifts as a singer, teacher, and composer were universally remembered as remarkable but reviews of her personality are mixed. One account calls her proud and restless, but she was a strong and intelligent woman, so it’s hard to know if that was merely misogyny or sour grapes, or perhaps she really was a bit haughty. Others refer to her as always gracious and generous with the loan of her manuscripts. For a number of years, she was involved in a feud with court poet Andrea Salvadori (1591-1634) over his alleged seduction of female singers, so she was clearly a woman prepared to stand up for others.

Born in Florence to a very musical family, she was the daughter, sister, and wife of singers and composers, and was immersed in a musical world from earliest childhood.

Her father, Giulio Caccini (1551-1618), was one of the creators of the “new music” (ars nova), which was dominated by solo singing and marked the beginning of the Baroque era. Both of his wives (Lucia and Margherita—dates for both unavailable, but the former was the mother of all of Giulio’s children) were also musicians, possibly students of Giulio. Both of Giulio’s daughters (Francesca and Settimia, 1591-c1661), a son (Pompeo, 1577-1624), and at least one granddaughter (Francesca’s Margherita, b.1622) were also musicians.

All of Giulio’s children received a literary education in addition to singing and composition. Records show that Francesca wrote poetry and played the harpsichord, lute, and harp. I found some sources that say it was a guitar instead of a lute, but that seems unlikely as that instrument wasn’t popular in Italy at the time (they were a big hit in Spain, but the Italians were more interested in the lute and would stay so until well into the Baroque era).

Francesca was one of “Le donne di Giulio Romano” (The ladies of Roman Giulio) who performed in Jacopo Peri’s (1561-1633) Euridice and in Giulio’s own Il rapimento di Cefalo in 1600. The group consisted of Francesca, her sister Settimia, her step-mother Margherita, some of Giulio’s pupils, Giulio himself, and his son Pompeo. Notice the ratio of women to men—this is going to come up again later when discussing Francesca’s compositions.

Sister Settimia (1591-c1661) made her first public appearance in 1600 or in 1602 in her father’s opera. She sang mostly with Giulio’s family consort until 1609 when she married Alessandro Ghivizzani (d.1632). She and her husband found work as composers and performers at various courts and were on friendly terms with the most famous composer of the time, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).

The family travelled to France to sing for English King Henry IV (1553-1610) and Marie de Medici (1575-1642) in 1604 to 1605. Francesca received her first independent job offer from Marie to be a salaried court singer with a dowry of 1000 scudi. Letters from Giulio intimate that Grand Duke Ferdinand I (1549-1609) refused to release her from his service back home in Florence, so Francesca came back with her family in 1605, spending the autumn in Modena, where she was tutor to the Princess Giulia d’Este (1588-1645).

At a time when women were barred from singing in church, Francesca and her sister were soloists in the church of San Nicola in Pisa during Holy Week, directed by their father. Francesca soon gained a reputation for virtuosity and had students from among the nobility whom she trained for court performances. That she was a teacher to the high and mighty is indication of both her skill and her significance in musical circles.

In 1606, Giulio tried to negotiate a position for Francesca with Princess Margherita della Somaglia-Peretti (d.1613), sister-in-law of Cardinal Montalto (1571-1623) and Virginio Orsini (1572-1614) in Rome. The offer included both a salary and a dowry, along with the assumption that a suitable husband would be found. But negotiations dragged on, and in 1607, the deal was off and Francesca took a post at court in Florence, having been promised in marriage to Giovanni Battista Signorini (d.1625), whom she married later that year. Although Francesca signed letters with her married name, she remained Francesca Caccini in the Medici court records. There may have been some truth to the rumor of her being proud, eh? She was certainly independent and strong!

Francesca was more sought after as a performer than either of her siblings, and she had no trouble marrying well. With her dowry of 1000 scudi (about $50, roughly $3200 in today’s money), her husband (more on him in a minute) bought two adjoining houses in the via Valfonda near Sainte Maria Novella in 1610. They lived there until he died. They had one child, Margherita (b 1622), who grew up to become a singer and a nun.

The family dominated the polychoral singing of the Offices during Holy Week. Giulio and the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine (1565-1637) worked to ensure that Francesca didn’t outshine the group, but when Settima left for Mantua with her husband in 1611, the group disbanded. It was replaced by a group described in court diaries as “Francesca and her pupils” and they continued to perform chamber music for women’s voices until the late 1620s.

Court duties included singing the Office for Holy Week and singing at receptions given by the archduchess. She was also music tutor to the princesses, ladies in waiting, and at least one nun. In 1616, she was among those who traveled with Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici (1595-1666) to Rome, and there, she was cast as La Bellezza and Venus opposite her husband, who played Adonis.

In 1617, she and her husband toured Genoa, Savona, and Milan, winning the praise of Italian poet Gabriello Chiaberra (1552-1638, sometimes called Pindar).

By the 1620s, she was the highest-paid musician at court. Clearly a woman who could land on her feet, when Signorini died at the end of 1625, she soldiered on as a single mother on the strength of her well-established reputation. Francesca left the Medici payroll two years later when she married Lucca aristocrat and patron Tomaso Raffaelli (d.1630). Their marriage only lasted three years, when she was widowed again. This second marriage left her a wealthy landowner and mother to a son, Tomaso (b.1628).

After being quarantined in Lucca during the plague for three years, she returned to the Medici payroll in 1633. Between 1633 and 1637, she appeared often at the Grand Duchess’s court. She and her daughter Margherita (b.1522) performed as chamber singers during those years, and she composed and directed entertainments.

In 1637, Francesca forbade young Margherita from singing on stage at the Grand Duke’s command, because she feared that the 15-year-old’s chances of an honorable convent placement or suitable marriage contract might be at risk. She also feared that the social position of her son Tomaso would not only be tarnished, but that it would violate the terms of Raffaelli’s will. So Margherita entered the convent of San Firolamo in Florence instead of rising to shine her own light at court.

Court documents tell us that Francesca was still in Florence in 1638 and that she had probably died by 1645, when guardianship of her son, now a teenager, passed to his uncle, Girolamo Raffaelli (dates unavailable).

Compositions

In 1607, Francesca’s first composition for the stage, a torneo called “La stiava,” was performed at court. This was a setting of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s (1568-1646, the grandnephew of the artist by the same name) poetry. Buonarroti was a family friend and the Medici court poet. Letters from her papa reveal that Francesca composed the piece by singing to the poetry, writing out what she’d sung, and then her father corrected her notation. The piece was written for castrati to sing, and according to court diarist Cesare Tinghi (fl. 1600-1625), it was pretty darned good. The piece was performed again in 1626, but sadly, none of the music survives. Giulio considered the commission—and likely income—for his entire household rather than specifically for Francesca, which probably accounts for the lack of credit for other pieces that she composed to Buonarroti‘s poetry. If we look closely at Giulio’s works, we may find hers tucked in there, too.

From an early age, Francesca composed incidental and improvisational music for herself and her students, but the next documented work after “La Stiava” was incidental music for the 1611 Carnival entertainment of the masked ball. She also set Buonarroti‘s rustic comedy “La Tancia” that same year and in 1615, she set Ferdinando Saracinelli’s (1587-c1640) balletto “Il ball delle Zingane.”

In 1618, her father published some of Francesca’s compositions in a book called “Il primo libro delle musiche,” which is how they came to be preserved until modern times. The collection is one of the largest and most varied collections of early monody. One of its most striking features is how it’s organized, grouping the music into four different tables of contents: by poetic form, by possible uses, by genres (such as motets, hymns, etc.), and a collection of homophonic ensembles (all one type of voice, like soprano) with a bass. There are 19 works set to sacred texts, seven of which were in Latin, and 17 secular works, four of which are duets for soprano and bass.

Nearly all the songs in the Primo libro are variations of other pieces, even the sonnets and madrigals. In the arias, Francesca sticks closely to the integrity of poetic lines and reserves ornaments for accented words, internal pauses, and penultimate syllables. She uses silence and pauses to break poetic lines into syntactical units.

Francesca carefully documented vocal ornaments, which was unusual for the time. She also unleashed the ornaments in secular music much more than in sacred. Her notation is finicky, especially regarding rhythm and the placement of syllables. She often displaced syllables placed on a short upbeat, which allowed her to document the rhythm of Italian speech with rare precision.

She may have written the poetry herself for 12 of the devotional pieces in Primo libro. The anthology represents the largest collection of early monadic music by a single composer up to that time. Despite this accomplishment, we have only one other piece from her, the opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina about which you’ll hear in a moment.

During Carnival in 1619, Francesca’s setting of Buonarroti ‘s La fiera, a satirical comedy, was performed at court. It caused a scandal because it portrayed women in “unseemly” conditions, such as during pregnancy and labor, and it also affirmed capitalist and republican values over those of royalty.

In 1622, she collaborated with Giovanni Battista da Gagliano (1594-1651) in setting Jacopo Cicognini’s (1577-1631) Il martirio di Sante Agata, and it’s thought that the parts of Agatha and Eternita were played by her.

During his time in Rome with the Medici in 1623-1624, the poet Giambattista Marino (1569-1625) and her father Giulio compared the skills of Francesca and the singer-composer Adriana Basile (c1580-c1640). Marino said that Francesca’s musical understanding was deeper but that Basile had the better and more agile voice. Members of Marino’s academy wrote poems in praise of both women.

Francesca sang for Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) in 1624. Later that year, her one surviving opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina was in rehearsal in Florence. It was performed in 1625 at the Villa Poggio Imperiale during Carnival in front of visiting Polish royalty, Prince Wlayislaw IV (1595-1648). The piece was commissioned by Archduchess Maria Maddelena (1589-1631) and allegorically explores women’s roles in the wielding of power via a plot that contrasts a good and androgynous sorceress with an evil and sexually alluring one. Francesca uses different musical textures for the two main characters, and as a whole, the music is rich and varied.

The piece was originally billed as a ballet, but it had all the trappings of an opera, including a prologue, symphonies, recitatives, arias, choruses, instrumental ritornellos, and elaborate staging and sets. There were dances performed to music sung by the chorus or to instrumental music that weren’t included in the published score.

The cast for La liberazione included six sopranos, two altos, seven tenors and one bass, an indication of the 17th century’s fondness for high voices. The number of natural male voices and the absence of castrati used in the performance was unusual for the time as castrati and counter-tenors (men singing in falsetto) were the rage. Accompaniment included continuo, recorders, several short five- and six-part choruses, a brief chorus for six sopranos, and a double chorus madrigal in eight parts. The work was revived in the late 20th century in Europe, Asia, and the US.

Maybe it’s time to revive the other pieces too.

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1995.

“Women and Music, A History,” edited by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“Women Making Music, the Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

Composer Biography: Clement Janequin (c1485-1558)

with one comment

Also spelled Jannequin

Clement Janequin was a French composer with a huge reputation across most of Europe, including as far north as Sweden, Poland, and east to Spain and even England. Along with Claudin de Sermisy (c1490-1562), he was probably the most influential composer in the development of the Parisian chanson (a song in a particular courtly style, not necessarily French).

Janequin was born in Chatellerault, near Poitiers, but I found nothing about his family or whether his musical talent was inherited, nor whether he was of noble birth or otherwise. He held a succession of minor positions with important patronage, but he never held an important Cathedral position. The church may have paid his wages, but it wasn’t where his passion resided.

In 1505, Janequin was a clerk in Bordeaux to Lancelot du Fau (d. 1523), who eventually became Bishop of Lucon. When du Fau died, Janequin went to work for the Bishop of Bordeaux. Around this time, he became a priest.

He then held a series of posts in Anjou, beginning as a singing teacher in the Auch Cathedral (about 120 miles southeast of Bordeaux) in 1531. He also studied at the university there, presumably either music or theology. From 1534 until 1537, he was master of the choir at Angers Cathedral.

In 1548, he was curate at Unvere (near Chartres), apparently because Charles de Ronsard, brother of the poet Pierre de Ronsard, pulled some strings and got him the post. He was also a protégé of the Cardinal of Lorraine, Jean de Guise (d. 1550), who was also the patron of Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536, a Dutch humanist), Clement Marot (1496-1544, a French poet), and Francois Rabelais (1494-1553, a French humanist and fantasy writer).

In 1549, Janequin moved to Paris. In 1555, he was a singer at the royal chapel there, and later “composer in ordinary” to the king (which meant that he wrote the movements of the Mass that changed, such as the Introit, the Gradual, and so on). He was the first recipient of this title according to most sources, and the second to hold it (the first was Pierre Sandrin, 1490-1561) according to one source. Sadly, Henry II’s (1519-1559) coffers were emptied by war, and Henry’s successors (his three sons in turn), didn’t continue the arrangement.

So Janequin found some new employment. Starting in 1555, Janequin was protected by Francois, Duke of Guise (1519-1563), the nephew of the Cardinal of Lorraine he’d worked for in 1548.

His appointments were lucrative by the standards of the day, but he complained about money for the whole of his life. Janequin died a pauper in the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1558, leaving a small estate to charity.

Janequin was more of a specialist than most Renaissance composers. He wrote a LOT of chansons, plus 150 psalms settings, and a handful of chansons spirituelles. The chansons far overshadow his two Masses and single surviving motet in both quantity and quality.

He wrote 286 chansons, mostly in four voices, and was considered a leader of the Paris school of Parisian chansons (courtly song of a particular form). Pierre Attaingnant (c1494-c1552), the first French music printer, published a collection of his works that were considered the ideal manifestation of the French Renaissance for their wit, charm, and lyricism.

His chansons vary in texture from chordal to imitative, and have a characteristic “pattering” declamation. Many tell a story, but his most celebrated pieces are the descriptive or “programme” chansons (e.g., La guerre, Le chant des oiseaux, L’alouette, and La chasse—all printed by Attaingnant in 1528) in which onomatopoeic effects create a realistic atmosphere for whatever is being described.

His works vary from sweet to exquisite, from florid counterpoint to pure homophony (such as in his Ce moys de may). He also wrote spiritual chansons and French psalm settings and, in 1540, he published an Italian madrigal. He wrote a lone motet. (You’ll remember that a motet is like a madrigal but in Latin and with a sacred text, to the madrigal’s vernacular and secular text.)

His church music is considered (by some) to be unremarkable. Only two of his Masses have survived: an early one, La Bataille, which borrows the non-onomatopoeic sections of La guerre (his most famous chanson written about King Francis I’s victory over the Swiss at Marignano in 1515 and that Janequin witnessed), and a later one on his own chanson L’aveugle dieu.

In the mid 1500s, both Janequin and composer Pierre Certon (c1510-1572) became involved in another form of religious but not liturgical composition, called chansons spirituelles, sparked by the Reformation. The Reformation encouraged compositions of vernacular works, such as hymns, spiritual songs for domestic devotion, and metrical translations of the Psalms. Janequin and Certon rode this wave to accolades in their own lifetime. It’s not clear whether Janequin and Certon met, but Certon dedicated several pieces to Claudin Sermisy (c1490-1562), who was considered, with Janequin, to be the best and most prolific of the Parisian chanson composers. Janequin certainly knew Sermisy’s work.

Janequin’s chansons are based on short and simple musical formulas that create a mosaic of superimposed fragments. Often the music is harmonically static, depending for effect on rhythmic invention and witty superimposition. In addition to programmatic chansons (most written early in his career), he also wrote shorter, pithier ones.

Janequin’s genius lay in his witty narrative and programmatic pieces, which are filled with onomatopoeic effects, such as fanfares, birdsong, drum beats, rallying cries, galloping horses, cannon fire, and the cries of the wounded, and he symbolizes the confusion of fighting by mingling duple and triple rhythms and street cries.

Singing one of these programmatic pieces is fun for the performer, but might be a little dull for the listener, as they often possess little melodic or harmonic interest, according to once source. I disagree.

In work published posthumously in 1559, in the dedication, Janequin mourns both his “age and poverty.”

Sources:

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“The Norton Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1959.

“Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century,” by Richard Taruskin. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010.

Composer Biography: Maddalena Casulana (c1540-c1590)

with 7 comments

Also known as Signor Maddalena Casaulana de Mezari or Maddelena Mezari dette Casulana.

Maddalena Casulana was a composer, lutenist, and singer of some repute, and was probably the first woman to declare herself a professional musician and composer.

By 1568, when her piece was conducted at a royal wedding by Orlando di Lasso (c1530-1594), she was already known to be a woman of notable pride and confidence. In the same year, Antonio Molino (c1495-1571), a Venetian merchant, actor, and whimsical writer thought to be one of the founding fathers of the commedia dell’arte movement, dedicated his book of four-part madrigals to Casulana. He said that the work was a product of old age and of studying music with her.

In 1569, the Vicentine poet Giambattista Maganza (c1513-1586) dedicated a canzone to her. In the following year, Maddalena dedicated her second book of madrigals to Dom Antonio Londonio (dates unavailable), a highly placed official in Milan, whose wife, Isabella (dates unavailable), was a noted singer.

She was probably born in Casole d’Elsa near Sienna. Her name implies origin in Casole, but no one knows for sure. Author and astronomer Alessandro Piccolmini (1508-1579) claims her for Sienna, but tells us nothing else about her.

She trained in Casole and then moved to Florence, where her patrons were the first to hear her own compositions. From there, she went on to Venice, where she gave private lessons in singing and composition from around 1568. She was also known to play the lute for private entertainments. She visited Verona, Milan, and Florence, and probably met her husband as she traveled. Nothing is known about her husband. (Isn’t that a switch? Usually nothing is known about the wives!)

In 1568, she published her first collection of madrigals for four voices in Venice. The next two collections were published in 1570 and 1583, and her last was published in 1586. Her works also appeared in anthologies in 1566 and 1567.

As I mentioned at the start, one of her secular Latin pieces was played by Orlando di Lasso (c1532-1594) at the marriage of Archduke Wilhelm V of Bavaria in 1568, along with that of another female composer, Caterina Willaert, a relative (but not offspring) of the famous master, Adriano Willaert (c1490-1562). Sadly, the music hasn’t survived, but it was called Nil mage incundum. It was a five-part madrigal.

Her personal writings indicate that in her early 20s, Casulana set out to be a professional musician, and to support herself with her art. Despite this unusual assertion, she was regarded well by the upper echelons of society.

Not much is known about her activities after 1570, but the poet Giambattista Crispolti (dates unavailable) describes a banquet in Perugia where Casulana sang for her supper in 1582. In that same year, publisher Angelo Gardano (1540-1611) dedicated his collection of madrigals to her, begging her to favor him with her own contributions to the neglected genre.

She performed at a meeting of the Acadamia Olimpica in Vincenza in 1583, which, at one time, owned a portrait of her. In her 1583 publication, her name was Madalena Mezari detta Casulana Vicentina, which suggests that she married at some time after 1570 and settled in Vicenza. Perhaps it was her marriage that kept her out of the public eye. It isn’t known whether she had children or not.

Compositions

Casulana wrote three books of madrigals, the first published musical works ever by a woman. The first collection, printed in 1566, was called Il Primo libro di madrigal.

In total, there are 66 madrigals, of which five previously appeared in anthologies. Another is found only in an anthology (Primo libra de madrigal a Quattro voci, Venice 1568). It was dedicated to Isabella de’ Medici Orsina (1542-1576), a noted patron of the arts and an amateur musician. Casulana made a comment in her dedication to the effect that men don’t hold a monopoly on efforts of intellect.

Her madrigals reveal originality and personal style, but they suffer from being a kind of catalogue of word-painting devices. She doesn’t seem to have had a specific teacher, and some of the stock elements are missing, or are over- or underused. For instance, there are few examples of imitation, and themes are repeated at too close an interval to contrast with the generally homophonic texture. She overuses chromatic alteration and uses such mannerisms as excessive voice crossing (where a low voice ends up higher than a high voice), awkward ranges, strange chord inversions, and too-frequent parallel fifths and octaves.

These weaknesses are eclipsed by original and stunning effects. Textures, sometimes monotonous and cramped, at other times provide effective contrast, such as in passages with dramatic opposition between high and low registers, or passages in the fauxbourdon style (parallel fifths, sixths, or octaves). Her harmonic effects are often striking.

Sometimes, a long melodic line is created where one voice makes a slow and dramatic chromatic rise, culminating at the climax of the piece. Her use of dissonance is also masterful and modern, often sprinkled with dominant seventh chords, approached and resolved in the usual way, at a time when this chord could hardly be found elsewhere, except in the music of such composers as Cipriano Rore (c1515-1565), Adrian Willaert (c1490-1562), or Orlando di Lasso (c1530-1594).

Her texts include some of her own poetry and some by Petrarch (1304-1374), Annibale Caro (1507-1566), Luigi Tansillo (1510-1568), Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530), Serafino Aquilano (1466-1500), Vincenzo Quirino (dates unavailable), Bernardo Tasso (1493-1569) and Giulio Strozzi (dates unavailable, but adoptive—and probably natural—father of Barbara Strozzi).

Composer Philippus de Monte (1521-1603) tried to enlist her help in reviving the three-part madrigal, and referred to her as “the muse and siren of our age.” But then she disappeared.

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1995.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northwestern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“The History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“Women & Music, A History,” by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1959,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1997.

Composer Biography: Trobairitz, The Female Troubadours

with 2 comments

Only a few women are known to have produced troubadour music. As a species, they’re called the trobairitz, and there are probably more women among the unattributed troubadour music that haven’t yet been identified. The truth is, we don’t know who wrote most of the poems and songs.

There are 2100 troubadour pieces preserved, only 1400 of which include the music. Only 460 troubadours have been identified, and so far, the one who produced the most music (45 pieces) is Bernart de Ventadorn. That means that loads of the remaining pieces could have been written by women; we just haven’t identified them yet. Certainly, most of the pieces are ABOUT women. Which doesn’t preclude women from having written them.

The term trobairitz wasn’t used by these female troubadours themselves, but came up in 13th century Flamenca, which is now in Spain. Trobairitz comes from the same word as troubadour, “trobar,” which means “to compose” or “to find.”

The trobairitz composed, wrote poetry, and performed for the Occitan noble courts. They were part of courtly society—some of the troubadours, such as Bernart de Ventadorn, were of lower class, but the trobairitz weren’t. They were all nobility. They were also the first known female composers of western secular music.

Women at court were expected to sing, play instruments, and write poetical debates. And noblewomen in southern France had more control than elsewhere regarding land ownership because so many of the men were away on the Crusades. That led to the existence of the (somewhat) free-spirited trobairitz—educated, monied, and uncommitted.

We have records of their lives from something called vidas, which were loosely based the hagiographies called vitas. It’s interesting that most of these vidas were produced after the troubadour period ended. They’re pretty unreliable sources, as they often consisted of romanticized extrapolations from the poetry that the trobairitz (and troubadours) produced. But they name 23 female poets with 32 works attributed to them, so we have to be grateful for that.

The number of songs attributed to trobairitz is somewhere between 23 and 46, depending on your sources. There are many reasons for the discrepancy. It’s hard to know from the poetry itself whether or not it was written by a woman, a man speaking as a woman, or a woman speaking as a man. Some songs were presumed to be written by a certain person regardless of whether they were or not. Others were part of an exchange where two people wrote back and forth and perhaps only one got credit, or credit was given to two men when one of the writers was female. Some modern editors attribute the exchange only to the originator, male or female. And of course, many were anonymous.

The most famous trobairitz was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia, but you should know some other names, too.

Alamanda (fl. late 12th century)

Not much is known about Alamanda, but it’s thought that she was from Castelnau (near Montpelier).

She exchanged a tenso (argument song) with with Giraut (or Giraut) de Bornelh (c1138-1215) called S’ieus quier cossella bel ami Alamanda. The music survives in one manuscript and is the only example of her work that exists. Giraut wrote love songs to her.

Alamanda was considered fictitious until recent efforts revealed three other troubadours’ mention of her, including the trobaritz Lombarda (see below) from Toulouse.

Azalais de Porcairages (fl. mid12th century)

Also Alasais de Porcaragues

Nothing is known of Azalaiz’s dates but it’s thought that she came from the village of Portiragnes, just east of Beziers and about six miles south of Montpellier, close to the territories owned by the man she loved and his brothers.

Only one of her poems survives. The music is lost. The poem has 52 lines but the text varies considerably between manuscripts, so we only know for sure about the subject matter. The poem is nominally about the 1173 death of Raimbaut of Orange (c1147-1173). Raimbaut was the son of William VII and Tibors, who are going to come up again in a minute, in the Tibors discussion.

At any rate, the poem mentions Ermengarde of Narbonne (1143-1197), a well known patroness of troubadour poetry. The third strophe of the poem contributes to an ongoing debate begun by Guilhem de Saint-Leidier (c1150-c1200). The question was whether a lady was dishonored by taking a lover who was wealthier than herself. According to her vida, she was the lover of Gui Guerrejat (1135-1178), brother of Guillaume VII of Montpellier (1158-1202). Gui Guerrejat (1135-1178) returned her affections, but then he fell ill, became a monk, and died within the same year.

Castelloza (fl. early 13th century)

Castelloza was a noblewoman from Auvergne. She was the wife of Turc de Mairona (dates unavailable), probably the lord of Meyronne. Turc’s family participated in a Crusade sometime between 1210 or 1220, which was the origin of his name (meaning “Turk”). Castelloza was thought to be in love with Arman de Brion (dates unavailable), a member of the house of Breon and of greater social rank than her. She wrote several songs about him.

Castelloza’s vida says that she was very cheerful and fun as well as learned and beautiful. Three, possibly four, of her songs survive, all about courtly love, and all without the music. This number makes her the second most prolific of the trobairitz after Beatriz de Dia. Castelloza is a more conservative poet than Beatriz, and although she remained committed to absolute fidelity, she talks at length about conditional and unconditional love.

Garsenda de Proença (c1180-c1242)

Garsenda was Countess of Provence and Countess of Forcalquier. She was the daughter of Rainou (or Renier), who was Lord of Caylar (dates unavailable), and Garsenda (dates unavailable), daughter of William IV of Forcalquier (1130-1208). After her mother died, Garsenda inherited Forcalquier from her grandfather. The Crusades had eaten away at the males in the family.

Garsenda was only 13 years old when William IV and Alfonso II (1157-1209) signed the Treaty of Aix in 1193, which allowed Garsenda to inherit William’s whole county. They also agreed that Garsenda would marry Alfonso II, who was in line to become Count of Provence. They married at Aix-en-Provence the same year and had at least two children, Raymond Berengar IV (1198-1245) and Garsenda (dates unknown).

In 1209, both Garsenda’s father and her husband died, and Garsenda became the guardian of their son and heir. Her brother in law, Peter II of Aragon (1178-1213), assigned the regency of Provence to his own brother Sancho (dates unavailable), but when Peter II died in 1213, Sancho became regent of Aragon and passed Provence and Forcalquier to his son Nuno Sanchez (c1185-1242).

Dissension broke out between the Catalans and the partisans of the Countess, who accused Nuno of trying to supplant Garsenda’s son, Raymond Berengar (1198-1245). The Provencal aristocracy allied themselves with Garsenda. Overwhelmed, Nuno high-tailed it back to Catalonia. The regency passed to Garsenda and a regency council was established from among the local nobles. She brought Forcalquier to the House of Barcelona and united it to Provence.

During her tenure as regent (c1209-c1220), Garsenda became the focus of a literary circle. The vida of troubadour Elias de Barjols (fl.1191-1230) refers to his patron as Alfonso, but Alfonso was long dead, so it was likely Garsenda.

There’s a tenso (an argument or debate in song) between Garsenda and an anonymous troubadour. In the poem, the lady declares her love for her interlocutor, who responds rather carefully. Some experts think that the unidentified troubadour is Gui de Cavailon (fl.1200-1229), whose vida includes the rumor that he was the countess’ lover. Gui was at the Provençal court between 1200 and 1209, so it’s possible.

Garsenda was a patron of Occitan literature, especially the troubadours, as well as writing her own poetry and songs. One of Garsenda’s poems survives in two different manuscripts, without music.

She was also the subject of a few songs. Aquitainian troubadour Elias de Barjois (fl. 1191-1230) fell in love with her during her widowhood, and for the rest of his public life, wrote songs about her. He entered a monastery with his love unfulfilled. Raimon Vidal (c1196-1252) also praised Garsenda’s patronage of troubadours.

In 1217 or 1220, Garsenda ceded Forcalquier to her son and retired to the monastery of La Celle (about 140 miles northeast of Limoges and about 75 miles from Forcalquier) in 1225. In 1242, she left the monastery to visit her newly born great granddaughter, Beatrice of England (1242-1275) in Bordeaux. Beatrice’s father, Henry III of England (1207-1282) was engaged in a war in France, and Garsenda brought 60 knights to help his cause.

She may have lived until 1257, when someone named Garsenda made a significant donation to a church in St. Jean (in the Pyrenees) on the condition that three priests pray for her soul and that of her long-dead husband.

Gormonda de Monpeslier (fl. 1226-1229)

Gormonda was from Montpelier in Languedoc. Only one piece has been attributed to her, but it was called the first French political poem by a woman.

She wrote a response to the famous anti-papal songs of Guilhem Figueira (c1208-after 1244), called Greu m’es a durar, imitating Guilhem’s poem in meter and rhyme for about 20 stanzas. Instead of blaming the papal legate Pelagius of Albano (c1165-1230) for the failure of the Fifth Crusade, she laid the blame on the foolishness of wicked people. She approved of the Crusade against the heretics at home, saying that heresy was more dangerous than Islam, and that the hearts of the heretics were false. She expressed an interest in watching Guilhem being tortured to death; she was probably not as fun to be around as Garsenda or Castellosa.

Little else is known about her, but it seems likely that she was closely associated with the orthodox clergy of southern France, Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), the French monarchy, and many other troubadours because of her political stance.

Lombarda (c1190-1262)

Lombarda is known only from her vida and a short tenso (argument song). She was probably from a banking or merchant family, and possibly from Gascony. According to her vida, she was noble, beautiful, charming, learned, and skilled at composing songs about fin’amors.

She was probably married and in her early 20s at the time of her poetic activity. Before 1217, when Bernart Arnaut (d.1226) claimed Armagnac, Bernart’s brother Geraud V (d.1219) visited and befriended Lombarda. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye when he left and sent a short poem to her house. Lombarda’s response is her only surviving work.

Her one attributed poem is in the trobar clus style (a “closed” style enjoyed by a scant few and perfected by Marcabru c1099-1150), one of the few women to do so. Her only surviving work is included in her vida.

Maria de Ventadorn (c. 1165-1222)

Also Maria Ventedorn, Marie de Ventadour, Marie de Turenne, Marguerite de Turenne.

Maria was the daughter of Raimon II Viscount of Turenne (1143-1191), and the wife of Eble V (d. after 1236), Viscount of Ventadorn. Along with her two sisters, she, according to Bertran de Born (c1140-before 1215), possessed “all earthly beauty.” She was the beloved patron of many troubadours.

She had a son, Elbe VI (dates unknown), who married Dauphine de la Tour d’Auvergne (1220-1299), and a daughter, called Alix or Alasia. Elbe V, Maria’s husband, was the grandson of Eble III (d.1170), who’d been a patron of the early troubadour Bernat de Ventadorn, and he was the great-grandson of Eble le chanteur (after 1086-1155), believed to have been among the creators of the troubadour genre.

Maria exchanged a tenso (debate song) with Gui d’Ussel (fl.1195-1209). This one poem is the only surviving example of her work, and no music survives. The song dates from around 1197. She and Gui alternated verses, debating whether becoming a lady’s lover elevates a man to be her social equal or whether he remains her servant. Maria argued the servant side.

She was mentioned in the works of several troubadours, including those of Gaucelm Faidit (c1170-c1202), the Monk of Mantaudon (fl 1193-1210), Gausbert de Puicibot (fl.1220-1231), Pons de Capduelh (fl. 1160-1220), Guiraut de Calanso (fl.1202-1212), Bertran de Born (1140s-c1215), and Gui d’Ussel (fl.1195-1209). She may also have had her own knight, Hugh IX of Lusignan (c1163-1219).

Tibors de Sarenom (c1130-after 1198)

Tibors was the sister and guardian of the troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange (c1147-1173) and the wife of the troubadour Bertrand des Baux (c1137-c1183). She was the earliest known trobairitz during the classical period of medieval Occitan literature, at the height of troubadour activity.

Only one poem and no music of hers survives. It’s the earliest surviving trobairitz poem, from 1150, called Beis dous amics and is included in her vida. Her name is in an anonymous ballad dated between 1220-1245, wherein she acts as the judge of a game of poetry.

She was a lady of Provence, from a castle of En Blacatz, called Sarenom, about 110 miles northeast of Marseille, and 40 miles from Forcalquier, where Garsenda (see above) lived near the end of Tibor’s life. Tibor was courtly and accomplished, gracious, and very wise. She knew how to write poems, and she fell in love frequently and had suitors. She was greatly honored by all the men in her circle, and she was admired and respected by all the worthy ladies, according to her vida.

Her history is hard to parse. Most of the vidas were more hypothetical than factual, and Tibors was a very common name in Occitania. Her mother (Tibors d’Aurenga, dates unavailable), and her two daughters (yes, both of them) were also named Tibors.

Her father was Guilhem d’Omelas (d.c1156), and he came to own the castle of Sarenom (possibly present-day Serignan-du-Comtat in Provence or maybe Serignan in the Roussillon) through his marriage to Tibors d’Aurenga. Tibors d’Aurenga’s minor son (our Tibors’ brother) Raimbaut d’Orange (c1147-1173) inherited the castle when Tibors d’Aurenga died, so Tibors (our Tibors) and her second husband Bertran dels Baus (c1137-c1183) took it over.

Tibors had three sons by Bertran, Uc, Bertran, and Guilhem, also a troubadour. Tibor died shortly after Bertran. Documents about her are confusing (for obvious reasons).

Sources:

“Music in the Medieval West; Western Music in Context,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014.

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1995.

“Women Writers of the Middle Ages,” by Peter Dronke. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1984.

Composer Biography: Bernart de Ventadorn (c1130-c1200)

with one comment

Also Bernard de Ventadour, Bernat dei Ventadorn, and, in our times, the Master Singer.

Bernart de Ventadorn was one of the best-known troubadour composers, partly because so many of his works survive intact, partly because of his influence on the music of both troubadours (southern France) and trouvères (northern France), and partly because of the company he kept.

About 2600 troubadour poems survive, and only a tenth of those have music. Trouvère numbers are better—2100 poems with 1400 pieces of music. We have 45 of Bernart’s works, 18 of which have music, which is the largest number from a single (identified) composer.

The origins of troubadour music are unclear, although it seems possible that sources or influences include Arabic songs, which was known in France as early as the 9th century. Bernart is often credited with being the most important influence in the development of the trouvère tradition in northern France as well as that of the troubadours. He was well-known there and his melodies were widely circulated.

Bernart also had some impact on Latin literature. Boncampagno (c1165-after 1240), an Italian scholar, wrote about him in Antiqua metorica in 1215. Some of his songs survived in German texts, translated by Minnesingers such as Friedrich von Hüsen (c1150-c1190) and Dietmar von Aist (c1115-c1191). Some must also have been in English, because some of his best works were written at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s husband’s court, Henry II of England (1133-1189), during Bernart’s short visit there in the 1150s.

Troubadours flourished until the horrors of the Albigensian Crusade of 1209-1229, which ferociously extinguished the high culture of Provence and Languedoc, destroying most of the troubadour music and poetry, and scattering the troubadours northward. Troubadour art had already spread north, thanks in part to the influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), who took Bernart with her, first to the French court and then to England (from 1154-1155). Eleanor’s son, Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199), was a trouvère, which simply means that he was a troubadour who wrote in French rather than Provençal.

There are many stories about where Bernart came from, and the most likely is that he was born to a servant at the court of the Viscount of Ventadorn (now called Correze). Other stories are that he was the son of a kitchen scullion or a baker, that he was the son of a soldier rather than a nobleman.

He first worked for Viscount Eble II of Ventadorn (c1086-1155), from whom he learned the art of singing and writing, and then for the Duchess of Normandy (1105-1152).

Bernart composed his first poems to Eble II’s wife, Marguerite de Turenne (c1120-c1201). He declared his love for Marguerite and was forced to leave Ventadorn. He traveled first to Montluçon (about 90 miles northeast of Limoges, and perhaps 120 miles from Ventadorn) and then to Toulouse, another 30 miles west.

In Toulouse, he met Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), who hired him. He followed her to England, staying in England only a year. He then returned to Toulouse, where he was employed by Raimon V (c1134-c1194), the Count of Toulouse.

Bernart ‘s preserved work dates from 1147 to 1180. There are 45 poems attributed to him, 18 of them with complete melodies, which is more than any other 12th century poet. Some of his songs, including his most famous, Quan vei l’aloete, show the melodic influence of Gregorian chant.

The fame of Quan vei l’aloete is what brought that same song change and mutilation—more than it might have suffered had it been obscure. But we have to be grateful because it’s due to these variations that modern scholars can piece together how the original might have sounded. For instance, we know that it originated in Occitan and there was also a version in Old French. A later generation knew it by its melody with another text, Plaine d’ire et de desconfort.

The initial melodic phrase of the song recalls the opening of a Kyrie (from the Vatican IX Mass Cum Jubilo). That’s interesting because the tune was given Latin words by Chancellor Philippe (c1160-1236) of Paris under the title Quisquis cordis et oculi, and the words change to detail the famous argument between the heart and the eye. This Latin version was sung all over Europe in monasteries.

There was also a French translation of the Latin text, Li cuers se vait de l’uiel plaignant, and a sacred version in the Mystery of St. Agnes, Seyner mil gracias ti rent. So many legends grew up around this song that Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) mentioned it in the 20th canto of Paradiso.

The song’s lyrics from Bernart are about love’s despair in the guise of a lark:

I see the lark in joy rise on its wings in the rays of the sun and then, oblivious, let itself fall. Because of the gladness that fills its heart, such great envy comes upon me to see it so joyful, and I wonder then that I do not rave and that my heart does not melt with desire.

Bernart formalized the chanson song form to allow sudden changes and ornaments. He popularized the trobar leu style, which was a delicate and cheerful style of song popular among troubadours. It defined the genre of courtly love poetry, and was imitated and reproduced throughout the 150 years of troubadour activity.

Bernart was known for portraying his idealized woman first as a divine agent and then suddenly as Eve, the original cause of mankind’s downfall. He often portrays this woman as clever and witty along with wicked. Remember how he got kicked out of Ventadorn? It’s nice that he was able to romanticize his experience. It could have gone rather badly wrong had he been less talented.

Bernart’s popularity has persisted into our times. There was a BBC television series called The Devil’s Crown in the late 70s that featured Bernart. Ezra Pound (1885-1972), the American expatriate poet, had a lifelong fascination with the trouvères and troubadours of Provence and southern France, and quoted from Bernart’s Can vei la lauzeta.

Late in his life, Bernart went to Dordogne (about 180 miles north of Toulouse, perhaps 90 miles east of Bordeaux), where he entered a monastery. He probably died there.

Sources:

“A History of Western Music,” by J.Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” edited by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1960.

“Early Medieval Music up to 1300,” edited by Dom Anselm Hughes. Geoffrey Cumberledge imprint of Oxford University Press, London, 1954.

“Medieval Music,” by Richard H. Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1978.

Composer Biography: Comtessa Beatriz de Dia (c1140-c1200)

with 3 comments

Also Countess of Dia, Comtess de Dia, and Beatritz

Pretty much all the press goes to male composers during the Middle Ages, but every now and then, a woman sneaks through their defenses. One of these was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia. She was a troubadour—or rather a trobairitz, which is the name for a female troubadour.

Troubadours were, for the most part, of noble blood, but were perhaps third (or fourth, etc.) sons (or a daughter) and not expected to inherit the family castle or join the priesthood. This left them with considerable funding and a lot of free time on their hands. Playing a musical instrument was considered suitable employment for the long and languorous hours, and a few found themselves wandering among various estates, entertaining as they went.

It was also popular at the time (12th through 14th centuries) to woo the mistress –married or otherwise—of the castle you were visiting, and the vast majority of troubadour songs are about this kind of courtly—and unrequited—love. Every now and then, like there were women troubadours, there were married noblewomen willing to stray for the sake of a little romantic poetry. Husbands looked the other way just as the wives were expected to look the other way about their own dalliances.

Beatriz was the wife of Guillem of Poitiers (dates unavailable, but possibly the grandson or great-grandson of Guillem IX, 1071-1176, the earliest of the troubadours whose works survive). Beatriz was also the lover of the famous troubadour Raimbaut d’Orange (1146-1173).

In most contemporary documents, Beatriz is known only as the Comtessa de Dia, but she was likely the daughter of Count Isoard II of Dia (dates unavailable), which is north of Montellmar in southern France. The names of these towns seem to have changed, but if Montellmar is the same place as Montelimar, it’s about 90 miles south of Lyon and halfway between Toulouse and Turin (Italy). A town called Die is about 60 miles east of Montelimar. These could just be towns with similar names and in about the same place as the troubadours hung out, though. I’m totally guessing.

It was fashionable at the time to write the lives of saints in biographies called vitas. Troubadours found that appealing and wrote secular versions called vidas. Some friend or relative wrote these things, and the details can’t be verified. This makes it entirely possible that Beatriz is a fictional character, according to one source. Or just embellished a bit. It’s hard to know.

Regardless of whether she was real or fantasy or whether anything known about her is true, her shadow reveals a lot about the women troubadours and their lovers through her poetry.

There are five pieces attributed to Beatriz, one of which is a tenso (debate). Incidentally, most of the songs attributed to trobairitz are argumentative. (History is written by the victors, and men have been the ones documenting music until the 20th century, for the most part. If you could slough off all your bad moods to the losers in a battle, wouldn’t you?)

At any rate, of the five pieces, only one has music associated with it, A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria. This is a canso of five strophes plus a tornado, with each strophe having the musical form ABABCDB. The music was preserved in Le Manuscrit du Roi, collected by Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), the brother of Louis IX (1214-1270). Le Manuscrit du Roi contains over 600 songs, most composed between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Music notation was a slippery thing (for more about this, read The History of Music Notation) at the time, and whoever wrote down Beatriz’ surviving piece wrote it in tenor clef, as if a man would sing it, even though the pronouns that reveal gender are unequivocal. Let’s look at it!

A Chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria (translation by Meg Bogin)

Of things I’d rather keep in silence I must sing:

So bitter do I feel toward him

Whom I love more than anything.

With him my mercy and fine manners are in vain,

My beauty, virtue and intelligence.

For I’ve been tricked and cheated as if I were loathsome.

 

There’s one thing, though, that brings me recompense:

I’ve never wronged you under any circumstance,

And I love you more than Seguin loved Valensa [hero and heroine of a lost romance]

At least in love I have my victory,

Since I surpass the worthiest of men.

With me you always act so cold,

But with everyone else you’re so charming.

 

I have good reason to lament

When I feel your heart turn adamant

Toward me, my friend: it’s not right another love

Take you away from me, no matter what she says.

Remember how it was with us in the beginning

Of our love! May God not bring to pass

That I should be the one to bring it to an end.

 

The great renown that in your heart resides

And your great worth disquiet me,

For there’s no woman near or far

Who wouldn’t fall for you if love were on her mind.

But you, my friend, should have the acumen

To tell which one stands out above the rest.

And don’t forget the stanzas we exchanged.

 

My worth and noble birth should have some weight,

By beauty and especially my noble thoughts,

So I send you, there on your estate,

This song as messenger and delegate.

I want to know, my handsome noble friend,

Why I deserve so savage and cruel a fate.

I can’t tell whether it’s pride or malice you intend.

 

But above all, messenger, make him comprehend

That too much pride has undone many men.

 

There are recordings of this:

  • Studio der Frühen Musik on the album “Chansons der Troubadours”
  • Hesperion XX on “Cansos de Trobairitz”
  • Clemencic Consort on “Troubadours, volume 2”
  • French Anonymous on “Medieaval Banquet”
  • Montserrat Figueras on “Demina Nova: Canco—Estat Ai En Greu Cossirier”
  • Elizabethan Conversation, Andrea Folan, and Susan Sandman on “The Medieval Lady”
  • Giraut de Bornelh on “Troubarouds/Trouveres/Minstrels”
  • Catherine Bott on “Sweet is the Song: Music of the Troubadours & Trouvères”
  • Martin Codax on “Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman—Lover, Poet, Patroness, and Saint”

It’s important to note that this isn’t just the only piece to survive by Beatriz. It’s the only piece by a trobairitz to survive with the musical notes.

The rest of her poems were set to flute music, according to the vida. Her usual subject matter includes optimism, praise of herself and her true love, and betrayal. In one poem, Fin ioi me don’alegranssa, she makes fun of the alusengier, a person known for gossiping, comparing those who gossip to “a cloud that obscures the sun.”

East-German Irmtraud Morgner (1933-1990) uses Beatriz as the subject of a whole historical novel series. Some are available in English, but most are in German.

I find it interesting that only one of my sources written by men mentioned Beatriz. When there are only a few handfuls of music from a particular time and culture, why would they choose to leave one individual out, especially as she is the exception (being female) and not the rule?

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. The Macmillan Press Limited, New York, 1995.

“Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996.

“Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987.

“Women & Music, A History,” edited by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001.

“Music in the Medieval West,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

Composer Biography: Francesco Guerrero (1528-1599)

with 2 comments

Also Francisco Guerrero

Francesco Guerrero was often called El Cantor de Maria because his Marian compositions figure prominently among his works. Guerrero’s style is more tender and graceful than that of his teacher, the dour Cristóbal Morales (c1500-1553). His diatonic, singable melodies made his music popular throughout Spain and his works were sung in the New World, along with those of Cristóbal Morales (c1500-1553), Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611), and the Italian Guillermo Pierluigi da Palestrina (c1525-1594).

Guerrero was born in Seville, Spain, and his first teacher was his older brother Pedro (c1520-after 1560). Pedro was also a composer, but he didn’t gain the same kind of following as his younger brother. Francesco taught himself to play the vihuela (a six stringed guitar-shaped instrument popular in 15th and 16th century Spain, Portugal, and Italy), harp, cornetto, and organ. Francesco was talented enough to earn the attention of Cristóbal Morales, and soon became his student.

When he was 15 years old, Guerrero was a choirboy at Seville Cathedral under Pedro Fernandez de Castilleha (1485-1574), who was a composer himself. In 1545 at the ripe old age of 17, Francesco was appointed maestro de capilla at Jaen Cathedral, about 150 miles northeast of Seville. He stayed until 1549.

Guerrero was much in demand as both a singer and a composer, and established quite a reputation well before his 30th birthday. He returned to Seville Cathedral as vice-maestro in 1551, and in 1554, he succeeded Cristóbal Morales as choirmaster at Malaga Cathedral. When Castilleha retired in 1574, Guerrero became maestro at Seville Cathedral. He held that position until 1590.

At Seville, one of the posts he occupied was master of the boys, succeeding Castilleha in the position. The group of boys was popularly known as the seises (meaning the six), and were officially designated as the boy choristers. This group was organized at Seville in the 15th century, and was sanctioned by Pope Eugene IV in 1439. The sieses were a group of six boys, all under 10 years of age, to be set apart from the main body of choristers, with the duty of reciting and singing certain prayers for the Divine Office. They also performed ceremonial dances on certain feast days, notably that of Corpus Christi.

A master of the boys, including Guerrero, had the responsibility of lodging the children in his home, educating them, instructing them in music, feeding, and clothing them. This last was a rather troublesome and expensive item, because they wore elaborate costumes, which had to be frequently altered for the growing boys. It’s said that Guerrero gave away most of his money to the poor, and there were complaints that he didn’t spend enough to keep the boys dressed properly.

It’s curious that the number of dancers, despite the name, is not known ever to have been only six. At first there were eight, then 11, 12, 16, until in 1565, the number was fixed at ten by Guerrero’s predecessor and mentor Castilleha.

The history of the seises goes back to Visigothic times (5th through 8th centuries), and Toledo probably set the precedent that Seville and other places followed. In the Mozarabic rite, the role of the boys was an active one, including the Song and Dance of the Sybil and the Dance of the Shepherds. In the 15th century, Cardinal Ximenez de Cisneros (1436-1517) revived the old rites, having the dancers perform before communion was taken. The dancing of the seises was reformed by Cardinal Palafox in 1699, suppressed in 1780, and later restored again. A Toledo school for seises was opened by Cardinal Siliceo (1486-1557) in 1545.

But I digress. Despite his responsibilities, Guerrero’s popularity allowed him to do some traveling and he published several collections of music while abroad. He worked for Austrian Maximilian II (1527-1576) and traveled with him, visiting Lisbon in 1556 to present his first book of Masses to John III (1502-1557) of Portugal.

John III was a liberal patron of the arts, and, inspired by Guerrero, a long list of Portuguese composers resulted. Antonio Pinheiro (d. 1617), director of the chapel of the Dukes of Braganza, was one of Guerrero’s students and became one of the most famous. John IV of Portugal (1604-1656) would also be a staunch patron of the arts, writing music himself and defending Palestrina’s artistry in print.

Between 1581 and 1582, Guerrero visited Rome, where he published two books of his own music, returned to Spain for a while, and then went on to Venice and the Holy Land between 1588 and 1589.

During this last trip, he stopped off in Damascus, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. He was having a pretty good time, but on the return trip, his ship was attacked by pirates twice. They threatened his life, stole his money, and held him for ransom, which must have been paid, because he returned to Spain alive but penniless.

It wasn’t all peaches and cream back in Spain, and he suffered a sequence of unfortunate events that led to doing time in debtor’s prison. Finally, his old mentor from Seville Cathedral, Castilleha, rescued him, and he began to work for the Cathedral again. He published a memoir about his travels in 1590. It was a popular book, and there’s a theory that Cervantes knew it well and perhaps borrowed a detail or two. Guerrero planned another trip to the Holy Land in 1599, but died of the plague before he could go.

Compositions

Guerrero’s style was less intense than that of Morales or Victoria, but he displays a superb mastery of counterpoint with a gentle lyricism that makes him the equal of those great Spanish polyphonists. He created a wide array of moods in his music, from ecstasy to despair, through longing, joy, and devotional stillness. His music remained popular for hundreds of years, especially in cathedrals in Latin America. Happily, the resurgence of interest in early music in the late 20th century brought him to the attention of performers and audiences all over again.

He produced homophonic music (one melodic line with the other voices providing supporting chords rather than their own interesting melodies, as in polyphony), which was the fashion in Spain at the time. His melodies were particularly singable.

Unlike Victoria or Morales, he wrote both sacred and secular music.

He published 18 Masses and about 150 motets in 1555 and 1559 and a collection of spiritual secular songs in 1589. Because of their singable, diatonic lines (using a do-re-mi scale), his works were performed in Spanish and Spanish-American cathedrals for more than two centuries after his death.

Two of his Masses were Requiems, both dedicated to Mary. Their gravity is in sharp contrast with the somber terror of Morales’ Requiem. Two of his Masses are based on secular music (parodies), and five are on Marian chant themes. He inserted the name of Mary into all three sections of the Kyrie (traditionally, Kyrie eleison is repeated three times, then Christe eleison is repeated three times, and the Kyrie eleison is repeated three more times). He dedicated his Book II of Masses (published in 1582) to the Virgin Mary.

He produced four books of motets, several volumes of psalms, a volume of eight Magnificats, music for Vespers, and two Passions, one each to St. John and St. Matthew. He wrote an Office for the Dead that he published in 1589.

His volume of Magnificat settings (1563) contains one in each of the eight modes (for more about the modes, see Musical Modes, Part 1: Church Modes). The even-numbered verses were in four-part polyphony—the mode appears in each of the four voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), with a second alto in verse 12 singing the tone in canon with the first alto.

His reputation for writing Marian works is not only because he wrote them, but also because they’re lovely. In his Ave Virgo sanctissima for five voices (printed 1570), he uses familiar melodies from the chant to highlight certain words, such as Ave Maris stella. There’s considerable use of imitation in the piece, and the upper voices form a canon.

A minor but interesting part of Guerrero’s works is somewhat or completely secular. He wrote some spiritual madrigals meant to be used in a secular context, set to Spanish texts that reflect Counter-Reformation fervor. (Luther’s Reformation had taken hold of Northern Europe by the end of the 16th century, and Rome took strong measures to counteract them.) In 1589, he published a collection of canciones and spiritual villancicos to Spanish texts, some of which are religious parodies. They illustrate his ability to be elegant without being pretentious.

Some of his secular compositions were printed in instrumental transcriptions by vihuelists Miguel de Fuenllana (c1500-1579), Esteban Daza (c1537-1596), and Alonso Mudurra (1510-1580), as well as in purely vocal form.

Francesco Guerrero died of the plague in Seville in 1599.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York., 2010.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

Composer Biography: Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611)

leave a comment »

Also Tommaso Ludovico da Vittoria (the Italian version of his name)

When people think about the 16th century, there are three names that come to mind: Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), Orlando de Lassus (1532-1594), and Tomas Luis de Victoria. It’s interesting to note that the other two are Italians—Victoria was a Spaniard, although he spent time in Italy and may have studied under Palestrina.

Sometimes called the “Spanish Palestrina,” Victoria had a very polished style, and his Masses, along with those of Cristobal de Morales (c1500-1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1589, biography coming shortly), and Palestrina, were popular in the recently colonized New World. It’s no coincidence that three of those four composers were Spanish.

Victoria was born into a distinguished family in the province of Avila, possibly in the town of Sanchidrian. His parents, Francisco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suarez de la Concha, married in 1540. He was the seventh child of eleven children.

There were important relatives on both sides of the family, including three cousins on his mother’s side—Cristobal was a naval commander, Hernando was a Jesuit pioneer in Mexico, and Baltazar was a merchant in Florence who became a nobleman when he married Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici’s sister-in-law. An uncle on Victoria’s father’s side (and after whom Tomas was named) was a lawyer who pled cases before the royal chancery at Valladolid. This uncle entered the priesthood after his wife’s death and in 1577 was installed as a canon of Avila Cathedral. Avila Cathedral is going to come up frequently in this story.

Victoria’s father died in 1557, and another priest uncle, Juan Luis, took charge of the orphaned family.

Victoria’s classical education took place at Saint Gil, a school for boys in Avila that was founded by Jesuits. It was a school of such high reputation that St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582) insisted that her own nephews attend the school

In Avila, Victoria was choirboy at the Cathedral. You’ll recall that his namesake uncle was a canon there. After his voice broke, Victoria was sent to the Jesuit Collegio Germanico in Rome, around 1563, although some sources suggest 1565. The school was a German seminary in Rome, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) to combat Lutheranism.

At the Collegio Germanico, there were two kinds of students: those in training for the German missionary priesthood, and a larger group of English, Spanish, and Italian boarders, whose fees helped to maintain the college. Victoria was among the latter and was specifically enrolled as a singer.

At the college, young Victoria achieved fluency in Latin, and had a very rewarding time there. In his first collection of motets in 1572, he acknowledged his debt to one of the chief benefactors of the college. Victoria surely knew Palestrina, who was maestro di cappella of the nearby Seminario Romano, and may have been taught by him. He succeeded Palestrina there as choirmaster in 1571 and held the same post at the Collegio Germanico from 1573 to 1578.

He was a singer and organist at Saint Maria di Monserrato from 1569 until at least 1574 and he joined a chaplaincy at Saint Giralamo della Carita in 1578 and stayed until 1585. During those years, he published five sumptuous volumes containing hymns, Magnificat settings, Masses, an Office for Holy Week with 37 pieces in it, and an anthology of motets. In the last of these five collections, there were also two motets by Guerrero and another by the Italian Francesco Soriano (c1548-1621).

By the time he was 20, it was time for Victoria to start earning a living. From 1568 until 1571, he may have been maestro at the private chapel of Prince-Bishop of Augsburg, Otto Truchsess von Waldburg (1514-1573).

From 1569 until 1574, Victoria was a singer and organist at Saint Maria di Monserrato, the Aragonese church in which the two Spanish popes are buried. He earned a single scudo (worth about $0.06) for one month’s salary.

In 1571, he was engaged to teach music at the Collegio Germanico to interested boarders at a salary of 15 giulios (a giulio was about 1/100th of a scudo). In 1573, college authorities decided to separate the Italian boarders from the German seminarians, and there was a parting ceremony. Victoria composed a piece for it, Super flumina Babylonis, and Victoria’s pupils and others sang the eight-part psalm. (The psalm, number 137, speaks of the sadness of Jews exiled from Jerusalem.) After the separation, Victoria taught the German seminarians, with Latin as their mutual language. He was appointed maestro di cappella and paid two scudi a month, increasing to three in 1574 (from $0.12 to $0.18).

In 1574, the college was given the Apollinare and the adjoining church as their new home, on the condition that the student body sing the entire Office on at least 20 days of the church year. Victoria stayed until the end of 1576. He graduated into the priesthood and was ordained deacon by the last pre-Reformation English bishop, Thomas Goldwell (d.1585).

From 1579 until 1585, his income came largely from five Spanish benefaces conferred by Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), which earned him 307 ducats a year (a ducat is worth 1.09 scudi, so $20.08). He further increased his income by occasionally serving at Saint Giacomo degli Spagnoli, who gave him four scudi ($0.24) for Corpus Christi services. In 1579, he received six scudi ($0.36), and 60 baiocchi (not quite $0.04) and in 1580, nine scudie and 60 biaocchi (about $0.58). In 1582, he and a number of choristers received nine scudi ($0.54) for singing at the celebration of the victory by Spanish naval forces at the Battle of Terceira in the Azores.

In 1577, he was ordained as a priest and joined the Oratory of Saint Filippo Neri. He also took up a chaplaincy at San Girolamo della Carita. In the dedication to Philip II in his Missarum libri duo (1583), Victoria expressed a desire to return to Spain and lead a quiet life as a priest. In response, the king named him chaplain to his sister, the Dowager Empress Maria, daughter of Charles V, wife of Maximilian II, and mother of two other emperors, and who, from 1581, lived in retirement with her daughter, Princess Margarita at the Monasterio de las Descalzas de Sainte Clara, in Madrid.

The convent was established in 1564 by Juana de la Cruz, sister of Saint Francisco de Borja, and was liberally endowed by Charles V’s daughter Juana, who married John III of Portugal. The 33 cloistered nuns there heard Mass daily in an elegant small chapel, attended by priests who were required to be accomplished singers of plainchant and polyphony. Victoria served the dowager empress at the convent from 1585 until her death in 1603, with an annual salary of 120 ducats ($7.20). He stayed on, serving the Empress’ daughter and as maestro of the convent choir until 1604.

Life at the convent was pretty good and no cathedral job could tempt him. In 1587, he turned down invitations to Seville and Saragossa. But that doesn’t mean that he lived in ignominy. The elite in Madrid often went to services at the convent, where Victoria’s works were a regular feature.

In 1591, he became godfather to his niece, Isabel de Victoria, his brother’s child.

In 1592, he was granted an extended leave to supervise the printing of his Missae liber secundis in Rome, which he dedicated to Empress Maria’s son Cardinal Alberto.

In 1593, his motet Surge Debora et loquere canticum was performed by his alma mater, the Collegio Germanico, in his presence during Mass and Vespers at Saint Apollinare to celebrate the defeat of the Turks at Sisak. He joined the cortege at Palastrina’s funeral in 1594 and returned to Madrid in 1595.

In 1598, he engaged a man to produce 200 copies of a collection of polychoral Masses, Magnificat settings, motets and psalms in partbooks, all of which eventually appeared in 1600. The printer was paid 2500 reales (about $188 in today’s money—a reale was a “piece of eight” and worth roughly the equivalent of a Colonial dollar), in three installments, was allowed an additional 100 copies to sell, 12 months after publication. The Masses of this collection were very popular at the time, but are rarely performed today. The nine-part Missa pro Victoria was a favorite work of Philip III, the eight-part Missa Ave regina coelorum and Missa Alma Redemptoris mater were so popular in Mexico City that, by 1640, they had to be recopied by hand because the original part books had worn out.

When Empress Maria died, she bequeathed three chaplaincies to the convent, one of which went to Victoria. Most of his income derived from numerous simple benefices, which had grown, by 1605, to 1227 ducats ($73.62) through the addition of pensions from the dioceses of Cordoba, Segovia, Siguenza, Toledo, and Zamora.

From 1601 until his death, Victoria held the less arduous post of organist at the convent chapel. As a chaplain, he enjoyed a luxurious life, including a personal servant, meals served in his private quarters adjacent to the convent, and a month’s holiday every year. Chaplains were required to participate in the daily singing of two Masses. When Victoria first arrived, the choir had 12 priests (three to a part) and four boys. Instrumentalists were engaged for special celebrations, like Easter and Corpus Christi. In 1604, a royal decree provided for a bassoonist, who was to play in all musical services, and for two clergymen chosen for their excellent voices and to replace three of the foundation’s 12 chaplains. At the same time, the number of choirboys increased to six. They were required to practice daily and to learn plainsong, polyphony and counterpoint from the maestro–Victoria.

Victoria or his agents sent sets of his music to such distant places as Graz, Austria, Urbino, Italy, and Bogota, Columbia. In accompanying letters, he asked for contributions to cover printing costs and in at least one instance, solicited money to secure the release of a younger brother from prison! His strong family ties were especially evident during the last years of his life when two of his brothers and two of his sisters also lived in Madrid. One of the brothers, Agustin, had one of the three chaplaincies of the Descalzas convent.

Victoria wrote 20 Masses, of which 11 are parody Masses on his own motets. He didn’t write any parodies on secular motets, not even the very popular L’Homme arme, like most of his contemporaries. There are 16 Magnificat settings, eight that begin with Anima mea and include only the odd-numbered verses, and eight beginning with Et exultavit and include only the even-numbered verses—the other verses are to be performed in their plainchant form. Six of the 16 Magnificats were in print by 1576 and the rest by 1581.

He wrote 32 hymns in four voices, in which, the opposite of in Palestrina’s works, he leaves the odd-numbered stanzas in plainsong and writes polyphony for the even-numbered ones. Although he didn’t write any madrigals (secular motets), his motets show the influence of them. He also wrote about 50 motets (sacred madrigals), 13 antiphons, eight psalms, and three sequences. (Antiphons, psalms, and sequences are movements of the Ordinary of the Mass—not the Kyrie, Sanctus, etc., which are the Propers of the Mass—that are sung to punctuate various activities during the Mass service, such as before and after the Gospel readings.)

Victoria wrote exclusively Latin sacred music. Most was printed in his lifetime. In 1600, a sumptuous collection of 32 of Victoria’s most popular Masses, Magnificats, psalms, and motets was printed in Madrid.

When Mendelssohn sang Victoria’s St. John’s Passion on Good Friday in 1831, he wrote to his teacher and complained. He really didn’t like the scene where the crowd calls for Christ’s execution, thinking it not energetic enough. This same music has been criticized more recently as being too dramatic.

Like Palestrina, Victoria wrote in a serious, devotional style, often responding emotionally in the texts with dramatic word-painting. Some of his more poignant pieces are characterized by a sort of mystical fervor. Also like Palestrina, Victoria strove to write religious music that truly served the purpose of the liturgy, providing a stimulus to prayer and an accompaniment to ritual while remembering that music was not the most important part of worship. This attitude endured in Rome long after the rest of the Catholic world yielded to the brilliance of Baroque church music in the next century.

His hymns often use soaring contrapuntal lines against a plainsong cantus firmus (where the chant melody is produced by the tenor line in a long drawn-out manner while the other parts flutter around), while the Masses are mostly of the parody type. (For more on parody, see Composer Biography: Bartolomeo da Balogna.)

Victoria was less prolific than Palestrina or Lassus, with a habit of reissuing works that he’d already published. He succeeded in publishing the entirety of his work, unlike Palestrina and most other composers of the period.

Poignancy and mystical fervor weren’t the only hallmarks of Victoria’s work, although they are the predominant ones. He was the master at overlapping and dividing choirs with multiple parts and a gradual lessening of rhythmic distance. Not only does he incorporate the voices in an intricate way, but the organ is treated like a soloist rather than accompaniment or support. King John IV of Portugal (1604-1666) mentioned Victoria’s liberal use of instruments doubling vocal parts, and confirmed that the practice was widespread in Spain.

Victoria claimed that he composed his most creative works under his patron Otto, Cardinal von Truchsess (1514-1573). During his years with King of Spain Philip II (1527-1598), Victoria expressed exhaustion from composing. Most of the works he dedicated to Cardinal Michele Bonelli (1541-1598), Philip II, or Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585) weren’t properly paid for. All of these may account for his somewhat small output.

Victoria doesn’t use counterpoint, like many of his contemporaries, keeping his lines simple and with homophonic textures (the melody predominantly in one line), but still including rhythmic variety and occasional intense and surprising contrasts. He uses dissonance more freely than Palestrina, sometimes using intervals that are prohibited by the strict application of 16th century counterpoint, such as ascending sixths or diminished fourths. He sometimes uses dramatic word painting, like that usually found in madrigals.

His use of chromatic harmonies lies in the direction of what later periods called passing modulations (changing from one key or modality to another by using notes common to both) rather than sudden chordal contrasts. Another striking characteristic is his use of repeated notes, which was a quasi-dramatic device used effectively much later, by early 17th century composers, particularly Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), to stress the importance of a word. Victoria’s best-known motet O vos omnes contains many examples of this practice.

His music moves by step more often than leaps, and he uses spaced harmonic euphony that produces a sense of timelessness by only gentle dissonance and the absence of marked rhythm. Joquin dez Pres’ (c1440-1521) Mass Pange lingua used this too, but in Victoria’s work (and Palestrina’s), it’s all-pervading, incantatory—some might say it is the ideal music of mystical faith, totally purged of human emotions and vanity.

There are 20 authenticated Masses by Victoria, all published in his lifetime. Fifteen of these are parodies and four are paraphrases (Ave maris stella, De Beata Maria, Pro defunctis of 1583, and the Mass sections of the Officium defunctorum). He modeled eight Masses on his own motets, but sparsely, rather than treating it as a theme. He also based Masses on his own antiphons and psalms.

His most famous work is the Office of Holy Week (1585), which includes polyphonic settings of all the Proper chant texts from Palm Sunday to Easter. Much of this music displays a mystical passion that has been compared with the writings of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).

Victoria wrote three Masses based on his own Marian antiphons, Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris, and Ave Regina, and he wrote the Missa Laetatus sum based on his own psalm.

Three other parody Masses were based on works by Guerrero, Morales, and Palestrina. Probably his most famous Mass, the Missa pro Victoria is one of several Spanish battle Masses based on Frenchman Clement Janequin’s (c1485-1558) motet La guerre (The War). Victoria wrote the piece in 1600, breaking from traditional church music by using an organ as one of the voices.

The remainder of his masses are imitation masses, based on his own motets, including Missa O magnum mysterium’s Kyrie, which is based on his own O magnum mysterium motet. At the opening of the Kyrie, Victoria preserves the paired entrances of the motet but changes them from almost exact imitation into a dialog between two subjects. Compared to Palestrina’s work, Victoria’s Kyrie is remarkably brief. In the other movements of the Mass, Victoria reworks material from his motet in a new way, exemplifying the high value placed on variety that was a consistent feature of polyphonic Mass cycles.

Victoria’s “swan song” as he himself termed it, was a six-voice Officium defunctorum, written for the funeral of the Empress Maria in 1603 and published in Madrid in 1605 with a dedication to Princess Margaret.

Victoria’s Passions were performed in the Sistine Chapel during Holy Week for over 300 years. They’re probably the most known polyphonic settings of the Latin words. (I can hear you screaming “What about Bach’s settings????” You have to remember that Bach was a Lutheran. Things might have relaxed a little nowadays, but back then, it was a very clearly drawn line. Only music written by Catholics were performed in Catholic churches and at the Vatican.)

Victoria is considered the first Spanish composer to master Palestrina’s style of polyphony, but his music departs from it in several respects: Victoria’s tends to be shorter, with fewer florid melodies, more frequent cadences, more chromatic alterations, and more contrasting passages in homophony and triple meter. All of these characteristics are evident in his best known work, the Magnificat, O magnum mysterium.

Despite their perfection, Victoria’s Magnificat settings never found as much favor in Spain or its colonies as did those of Morales or Guerrero. They were, however, quite popular in Italy long after their printed copies were exhausted.

Victoria’s Lamentations are aptly sorrowful, and reveal his Spanish sensibilities. In accordance with both Spanish and Roman traditions, they’re mainly chordal, but Victoria varied the textures and contrasted high and low voices with great ingenuity. The responsories are mainly homophonic (with a single voice carrying the melody and the rest providing supporting chords), but the St. Matthew Passion, for Palm Sunday contains some contrapuntal writing, including canon.

His Holy Week Offices contain the famous Tenebrae Responsories that have heartrending and intense melodies while the text repeats.

Victoria’s posthumous reputation has largely rested on some of his earliest motets, and on the Officium defunctorum, composed on the death of Empress Maria. O vos omnes and Vere languores nostros have a poignancy rarely encountered in other music of the period.

Despite his ability to create a somber mood, his reputation was sunny. Victoria reveals his cheery disposition in the parody Masses that he based on his own motets. There were seven like this: Ascendens Christus, Dum complerentur, O magnum mysterium, O quam gloriosum, Quam pulchri sunt, Trahe me post te, and Vidi speciosam. The Masses are parodies of the motets for Ascension, Pentecost, the Circumcision, All Saints, the Conception, any Lady feast, and the Assumption. Five of these end with joyful Alleluias.

He composed four settings of Salve Regina (two for four voices, one for six voices, and one for eight), and two each of Alma Redemptoris, Ave Regina, and Regina caeli (one on five and one in eight voices for each). Yay! I love the Marian plainchant antiphons the best, and it’s clear that Victoria did too. How different the four settings of the Salve Regina are from each other is also noteworthy because they are all in the same mode, based on the same plainsong. They were popular in their own day and continued to be popular into the 17th century. They were also popular in Italy in his own lifetime.

Like his Magnificats, Victoria’s hymns have been less popular than they deserve to be. He provided polyphony for the even-numbered strophes where Palestrina did the same for the odd ones. Victoria, unlike Guerrero and Palestrina, never used canon. In fact, sometimes, he’d reduce the number of voices from four to three, and then bring the fourth voice back for a full sound at the conclusion.

Victoria didn’t begin the development of psalm settings or antiphons for two choirs, but he certainly furthered its popularity. All of Victoria’s published psalms are polychoral. The Laetatus sum is for three choirs and is also unique in that it begins in triple meter, where other psalms only end with triple. His Liber primus of 1576 contains Nisi Dominus (Psalm 126) and Super flumina Babylonis (Psalm 136), two of his most often-performed works. He set all the verses in polyphony (the fashion of the time was to alternate with plainchant), and to avoid any monotony in these through-composed pieces, he also alternated choirs. In the longer psalms, he included some verses for a single choir of soloists.

When he reprinted his psalms in 1600, he added an organ part that duplicates, and on occasion simplifies, the vocal parts for the first choir. The substitution of the organ for the first choir made it possible for smaller musical establishments to perform it. For larger venues, the organ added an extra bit of flavor.

Victoria died near the convent in the chaplains’ residence in 1611. He was buried at the convent, but his tomb has not been identified.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Encyclopedia of Music,” by Max Wade Matthews and Wendy Thompson. Lorenz Books, Leicestershire, 2012.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York, 2010.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 1: Ancient Forms to Polyphony,” edited by Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1960.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“The New Grove High Renaissance Masters,” by Jeremy Noble, Gustave Reese, Lewis Lockwood, Jessie Anne Owens, James Haar, Joseph Kerman, and Robert Stevenson. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1984.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.