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Geisslerlieder and Flagellant Music

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During my research about music during the Black Plague in the 14th century, I’ve tripped over quite a few interesting tangents. Probably the most intriguing is that several groups thought that they could either cure the plague or prevent it by publicly self-flagellating. Crazy, eh?

Part of the reason for this movement was a superstitious and extreme belief in the Catholic religion. And the other part was that it was generally felt that the Catholic Church wasn’t doing enough to help believers. Pre-science, there was no way to know what was causing the plague, and evil spirits were just as likely an explanation as tiny organisms that destroy people’s innards.

Different strokes, eh? (See what I did there?)

A Little Flagellation History

Before you get all huffy that the Catholic Church was horribly cruel, they didn’t come up with the idea of flagellation, whether imposed as a punishment or as an act of personal worship. The Romans used flagellation as a prelude to crucifixion and the ancient Greeks used it as a test for manhood in Sparta. Whipping was a severe form of punishment for the ancient Jews, with only the death penalty more severe. Whipping as a punishment has slowly been outlawed around the globe; Saudi Arabia only made it illegal in 2020 and it’s still legal in a few places, such as Singapore and Syria. I’ll just leave that right there.

In Ancient Rome during the festival of Lupercalia, young men ran through the town wielding thongs of goat skin and women who wished to conceive took blows on their hands. Eunuch priests of Cybele in ancient Rome self-flagellated during certain festivals. Greco-Roman mystery cults employed ritual flagellation.

So it wasn’t a leap when, in the 13th century, Roman Catholic flagellants went from town to town, beating themselves and each other while preaching repentance. It’s a hobby that’s carried on to the present day.

Pope Clement VI approved self-flagellation as a method for preventing or curing the Black Plague in 1348. Later authorities often tried to suppress these demonstrations, but they kept popping up until the 16th century.

This is going to come as a surprise: Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, was a self-flagellant. So was Congregationalist writer Sarah Osborn (1714-1796), as were members of the Tractarian (or Oxford) movement within the Anglican Church in the 19th century. St. Therese of Lisieux practiced self-flagellation in the 19th century, while preaching that God smiled on people who fostered loving relationships and showed patience during difficult times.

Opus Dei, that cultish lay organization within Catholicism made famous by Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” were self-flagellants. Pope John Paul II (late 20th century) was a self-flagellant, and there are still some communities in Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, Spain, and Peru where it’s common practice.

In Shi’a Islam, it’s no longer allowed to cut the body with knives or chains as a form of self-flagellation, so some adherents use blood donation and flailing to satisfy this urge. In some communities in the west, the rituals are coordinated with the Red Cross, so the blood doesn’t go to waste.

We can’t ignore the BDSM community. This sexual practice seems to date back (documented, anyway) to the 14th century. There’s art depicting sexual flagellation from the 1600s, and of course, there it is in fiction, starting with John Cleland’s “Fanny Hill,” in 1749, which set off a whole flurry of documents, both frivolous and academic. Ladies who offered this service advertised in the 18th century in London. Movies have contained scenes of flagellation (seldom self-flagellation) since 1905, although some of the earlier of these involve children being spanked, including kids from the Little Rascals series. By the 1940s, the violence is much less moderate. Even Star Trek had Captain Kirk receiving lashes from Nazis in S2:Ep21, in 1967. Of course, to switch back to the whole music theme (you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you), there’s Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” These guys are singing from the Requiem and clubbing themselves with a plank: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4q6eaLn2mY. They’re singing the words on a psalm tone, which makes a nice rhythmic way to stay together, and they carry a blank banner.

I had a hard time finding specific groups that practiced self-flagellation—most reports seem to be about individuals. The few I found were Tractarians (Anglicans), White Penitents (Catholics), Benedictines (Catholics), the colonial Spanish Hermanos Penitentes (Catholics) in the Americas, Brothers of the Cross (Germany and the Low Countries), and a group of Roman Catholics just called Flagellants. Initially, the Catholic Church tolerated them, but the tide began to turn in the 12th and 13th century, and by the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, they were against it all together and made futile efforts to suppress it; it’s still being practiced today. There were Jews and Muslims doing this too, don’t forget. (I didn’t find evidence of eastern communities doing this. Perhaps it’s a One God phenomenon.)

Tools of the Trade

The main instrument of self-torture is a cattail whip, called a discipline. It’s a collection of knotted cords that the participant flings over his or her own shoulder. Fancy ones have little diamond-shaped metal or leather bits attached at the ends.

Italian Confraternities

Starting in the 10th century, lay people gathered together for religious reasons into groups called confraternities. They weren’t directly affiliated with the Church (the Catholic Church was pretty much the going concern—there were followers of other faiths living in the same towns, like Jews and Muslims, but they were the minority)—and offered a faith-based community for people who couldn’t afford to or weren’t interested in becoming monks, priests, or nuns. In fact, they were often very much the pillars of their communities and had busy and productive lives as part of the town’s economy.

Some confraternities were based on doing good acts (specifically the Seven Acts of Corporal Mercy that are listed in the New Testament—Matthew 25: 31-46). In some communities, such as Bergamo, they collected money for dowries and to ransom captured soldiers, and they helped those affected by natural disasters. Others emphasized personal mortification of the flesh as a way to salvation, beating themselves bloody thinking that they or others would be saved because of it. These folks, called battuti or disciplinati in Italian, flagellated themselves at public gatherings or during religious processions.

As I mentioned, this started in the 10th century, but during the height of the plague years, convinced that the Catholic God was punishing His followers, they thought that mortifying their flesh would appease a grumpy God despite their personal failures. You’ve got to remember that the Church was selling indulgences and (sometimes fake) saints’ relics to forgive sins, and it was pretty commonly thought that virtue was transactional: Be bad, buy an indulgence, be forgiven.

Frankly, the fear brought to the population by the seeming randomness of the Black Plague caused them to turn to just about anything as a possible remedy. Flagellation was as likely a cure as anything else, and the church sanctioned this “work,” at least during the plague years.

I found scholars who think that the flagellation practice originated in Italy, spread through Switzerland to Germany and France, to Poland, Britain, and on to Scandinavia (although it’s hard to follow the trail anthropologically). Self-flagellation was particularly common in the 14th century, as mentioned, as a possible cure for the plague. And the Geisslerlieder were written down by clerics who found the practice both inspirational and terrifying. There’s the music at last!

On to the Music

Someone self-flagellating in private worship might punctuate the words of a prayer with a strike, but it was desirable for public groups to stay together. Thus arose the need for a whole new species of music.

Remember that during the 13th and 14th century, sacred music didn’t have rhythm—it was basically Gregorian chant. Although polyphony was starting to welcome some sort of regular beat (a tactus), it wasn’t really essential until the middle and end of the 15th century, and even then, it was performed by music specialists, not lay people or ordinary monks and nuns.

Geisslerlieder (the German for Flagellant Songs) were simple pieces, sung in the vernacular, not Latin. In this way, they were closer to secular music than to sacred. They were often call-and-response (like an antiphon). They were always sung, with instrumental accompaniment strictly prohibited. Remember that last bit when you’re listening to the examples below.

Some flagellant songs survived into the 17th century as folk songs, probably through the Minnesinger tradition, but I have some more research to do on this particular topic.

The first recorded Geisslerlieder are from 1258, when the breakdown of civil order resulting from wars, famine, and plague in Northern Italy sent the superstitious scurrying after some cure for their ills. In general, the songs pled with God for relief. Initially, it was nobility and merchants who participated, but as the movement spread outside of Italy, everyone got into the act. You could even sponsor someone to flagellate for your benefit. There’s transactional virtue again.

Very few songs have survived intact from that 13th century movement. There are several collections that include lyrics, but few melodies were preserved, possibly only one. Music notation wasn’t really a thing lots of people knew.

During the Black Death outbreak of 1349, there was a resurgence of interest in self-flagellation and the music that went with it. This time, more of it was preserved. Hugo Spechtshart of Reutlingen (1285-1360) transcribed a bunch of it, and his work is one of the earliest examples of collecting folk songs. His treatise was the Chronicon Hugonis sacerdotis de Flutelinga (1349). It contains largely monophonic verse and refrain, call-and-response-style. Interestingly, Hugo wrote variations among the verses sung by the leader, which was not at all common in sacred music but was common in secular music. This lends credence to the melodies being more like secular music than sacred. This 1349 resurgence of flagellants spread even further, reaching England, Poland, and Scandinavia.

Eventually, the movement was suppressed by the church. Imitators, such as those in Switzerland, used different texts with the familiar melodies to make bawdy drinking songs. They probably thumped their tankards on the table instead of swatting themselves with a switch, though.

In some flagellant songs the leader sang “kyrie-eleis” (not a typo) and the flagellants responded by repeating it. Here’s one of the ones with more interesting words:

The words mean (my translation): “Now the final journey is here, Christ enters Jerusalem. He leads from the cross in His hand, now the savior helps us.” I think it’s from the story of Christ carrying his cross through the town.

Here’s another:

This one means (according to Hoppen): “Now approaches the deluge of evil. Let us flee from burning Hell. Lucifer is an evil companion. Whomever he seizes, he besmears with pitch. Therefore, we want to shun him.” It’s thought that the flagellants prostrated themselves in the shape of the cross during the refrain. Rhymed couplets form the words and the music repeats (AABB) or alternating (ABAB).

Hugo Spechtshart of Reutlingen documented six songs: three processional or traveling songs, and three for a flagellation ceremony. One of the processional songs is 57 stanzas long!

Here’s ONE stanza of that long one:

According to Hoppin, this one means: “Mary, our Lady, Kyrie eleison. Who [is] in godly sight, Alleluia. Praise be to thee, Maria.”

I found some music and verses for the song that appears three times in the Listening Posts section in Reese, if you want to research that on your own.

The songs slightly followed the form of laudes (or lauda, as the plural should be), which were songs of worship that followed the call-and-response and vernacular hymn rules. Of course, they were monophonic (no harmonies), until polyphony became more popular in the 15th century. Melodically and structurally, they somewhat anticipate the Lutheran Chorale form, you know, the one Bach made so famous.

Listening Posts:

My French barely even qualifies as minimal, so I may have misunderstood what I read, but it’s possible that the only surviving piece is the “Maria Muoter reinu mait” from 1349. Someone with better French than me, please read a book by Claude Abromont and tell me about it.

If you go searching for music on YouTube, be forewarned. There’s a lot of heavy metal and doom band music out there (some by a band called Flagellant), including videos with disturbing content. I have only provided links to less disturbing videos. They might still bother you though—they’re about people beating themselves.

I’ve ordered another book (in German), so there may be a follow-up post.

Sources:

“The New Grove Dictionary of Music,” ed. Stanley Sadie. Online.

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

“The Black Death; The Great Mortality of 1348.” By John Aberth. St. Martin’s, New York, 2005.

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

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

“Early Medieval Music up to 1300,” by Dom Anselm Hughes. Oxford University Press, London, 1954.

“Music in the Middle Ages,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton, New York, 1940.

Written by Melanie Spiller

September 21, 2020 at 8:56 am

Music During Times of Plague, Part I

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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

Music Notation Explorations: The Dasia System

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I’m obsessed with the history of music notation. I’ve got a whole shelf of books on the subject, and I’m always boring anyone whole listen and sketching on random scraps of paper and paper napkins.

Recently, I tripped over a form I hadn’t seen before, and on closer inspection, I find that it had been quietly hiding in the dark recesses of several of my own books! I’m determined to make it a secret no more, so here it is. The story of the Dasia system.

Guido D’Arezzo (990/991-after 1033) was a scholarly monk credited with creating Do-Re-Mi and putting the neumes that were being used to represent musical gestures on the staff. He’s kind of a big deal, in his own quiet way. In his Micrologia, Guido attributed the system of Daseia (that’s the plural form of Dasia) to Odo of Cluny (c878-942). Odo is credited for naming the notes after the letters in the alphabet, although he used ALL the letters, first the capitals and then the lower cases, and only found 52 notes in the scale, which was admittedly more than they thought they’d ever need at the time. Most instruments, even the organs of the time, didn’t go much further than the two octaves (or so) of a human singing voice.

The reason Guido attributed Dasia to Odo was that Dasia notation was discussed in the 9th century treatise Musica enchiriadis (occasionally attributed to French Odo of Cluny, and sometimes to Frankish Hucbald, c840-930, and also sometimes to German Abbot Hoger, d. 906). This treatise illustrated the earliest known forms of polyphony (multiple lines of melody meant to be sung simultaneously).

Unlike the systems for notating chant, which is monody (one line of melody, sung or played by all involved), Dasia was based on the tetrachord principle of Greek music theory (in its most basic form, two tetrachords—four notes each—plus a whole tone, equals an octave), and Greek symbols were used. The Dasia system is only a little bit different. (Mostly, it seems that the whole tones were piled at the top of the tetrachords. So two tetrachords plus a whole tone is an octave, but four tetrachords in a row plus two whole tones in a row at the top end are two octaves.)

The system covers a two-octave range of notes in a series of tetrachords (a tetrachord is four step-wise notes of a scale), each of which is granted one of four signs to represent the specific note. Three of the signs are based on the letter F (I didn’t find any explanation for why an F was used). The fourth sign is like the accent sign of Greek grammarians, called an acutus, and it signifies the half-step between it and the sign below it. This is just like the two pairs of white notes on the piano that don’t have black notes between them.

Here’s what it looks like on a modern five-line staff.

DasiaNotation2

In this image, modern-shaped notes are on a modern staff to give you a point of reference. I used this image (from Wikipedia) so you can understand the principles.

In the first and lowest tetrachord, the signs are turned backward; in the second tetrachord, the most commonly used notes, the signs are forward; in the third tetrachord, the signs are upside-down; and in the fourth and highest, they’re turned both upside-down and backward. A different accent sign is used in each of the tetrachords so that you knew where you were in the scale—remember, they didn’t have a staff yet. The N stood for inclinum, the I for iota, the V (it looks like a lower-case N) for versum, and the cross for iota transfixum.

This is what the music written using this system looked like.

Dasian Polyphony

This is a bit of polyphony, in roughly parallel movement. Both lines (the clumps of symbols connected by lines on the right), were meant to be sung at the same time. You can see that the gesture of “up” and “down” was understood in terms of the notes relationship to each other, but marking off how great or small the interval was took the Dasia.

The words—lyrics—are all piled up neatly on the left. The Dasian tetrachords involved are in that nice vertical dividing box, and the melody is on the right, with certain syllables at relevant points pinned to their relevant places. You had to already know the words, pretty much, in order to read this, and the two singers sang different words from each other. It’s rather probable that it took a few tries for the singers to shape it into something they liked.

It’s like a new secret language, isn’t it?

The use of Dasia symbols was brief—less than 50 years and not widespread, mostly in Italy. By Guido’s time, neumes were in common usage, and that’s what evolved into modern notation.

Sources

  • “The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900-1600,” by Willi Apel, The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953
  • “Music in the Middle Ages,” by Gustave Reese, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1940
  • “Temperament, The Idea the Solved Music’s Greatest Riddle,” Stuart Isacoff, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001
  • “Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture, from Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer,” by Bruce W. Holsinger, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2001
  • “The Notation of Medieval Music,” by Carl Parrish. Pendragon Press, New York, 1978
  • “Music in Medieval Manuscripts” by Nicolas Bell. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2001
  • “A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2010.
  • “Medieval Music,” by Richard Hoppin. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1998.

 

Written by Melanie Spiller

October 10, 2017 at 9:21 am

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

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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)

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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.

The Faenza Codex (c1400)

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The Faenza Codex, or the Codex Bonadies as it’s sometimes called, is an Italian manuscript of the 15th century. It contains some of the oldest known keyboard music and some vocal pieces. It’s thought to contain some of the earliest pieces arranged for keyboard instruments (not composed for them).

The codex that was at the Biblioteca Comunale in Faenza (near Ravenna) until the middle of the 20th century was possibly an Italian copy from the early 15th century. There are facsimiles elsewhere in Italy and a few other places (described as “overseas” in one of my sources, which I don’t find terribly informative).

The Faenza Codex contains repertory from the papal court at Avignon and of the Aragonese and Navarese courts, including motets, ballades, rondeaux, and virelais, some in the complex Ars subtilior style.

The original collection contained keyboard intabulations (not notation, but numbers and letters expressing the locations of notes), and was copied in northern Italy in the first decades of the century. It may have been prepared by or for a church organist because the codex contains a lot of liturgical church music, including an arrangement of the Kyrie Cunctipotens genitor. The organ arrangement of the Kyrie is in a score, with the lower staff (for the left hand) confined to the plainsong melody—the tenor part—and the upper part (for the right hand) in florid counterpoint.

The codex is comprised of 96 pages of parchment in 10 fascicles of irregular structure (usually, after the pages are folded together, they’re trimmed to be even). Some of the pages contain keyboard arrangements of vocal works and liturgical cantus firmus settings (where the chant is sung slowly, usually in the tenor voice). There are also 22 pieces in white mensural notation (for more about notation, see The History of Music Notation) in the Bonadies copies, which include sections from the Mass Ordinary (the Kyrie Gloria, etc.), Magnificats, and some motets.

The collection was prepared within a single scriptorium by four scribes and copied between 1400 and 1420. In 1473 or 1474, part of the manuscript was erased (scraped clean) and rewritten by musician and music theorist, Johannes Bonadies (dates unavailable), who was a monk at the Carmalite monastery of San Paolo Ferrar. Bonadies added 22 polyphonic compositions from around 1467-1473, perhaps from Lucca, including Mass movements, Magnificat settings, motets, and a few secular works.

Music

The Faenza Codex includes keyboard versions of Flemish composer Guillaume Machaut’s (c1300-1377) ballades and Italian organist and composer Francesco Landini’s (c1325-1397) madrigal and ballade, which provide some evidence that French and Italian styles were mingling by the end of the 14th century. There are also pieces by Jacopo da Bologna (fl.1340-c1386), and Bartolino da Padova (fl.c1345-c1405). The famous theorist Johannes Tinctoris (c1435-1511) has two pieces in there too, along with many compositions by the ever-prolific Anonymous. Most of those are secular pieces.

In many cases, the original voice parts are lost and all that remains is the keyboard version of the songs. Some of the keyboard versions are (presumably) similar to the original voice parts, but in others, only the tenor (cantus firmus) is the same. This variation can make the songs seem like a new piece.

Keyboard music was written on two six-line staves with bar lines. The lower staff was for the left-hand and provides the tenor of the original polyphony, occasionally transposed to suit the composition. The upper staff, for the right-hand, provides florid melodies, either completely free or in a highly decorated form of the original cantus, often with repeating motifs. If the polyphonic piece had a second and third part, they’re often ignored in favor of a new version.

It’s clear from the way the figuration is “broken” that much of the music was intended for the virginal (a limited keyboard compared to an organ). The codex also contains organ music for liturgical use—two Kyrie-Gloria pairs and a separate Kyrie, all on Mass IV plainchants (the Mass that contains the Kyrie Cunctipotens Genitor Deus).

In the 20th century, the manuscript was taken from Ferrara to Faenze, where it’s preserved in the library today. In 1958, it was rebound with a new cover. The original was lost and was replaced with a copy in 1959. The codex has recently been studied by recording artist Pedro Memelsdorff in his doctoral thesis of 2011, and a publication of that work (I didn’t find a date for publication) will include a facsimile of the manuscript.

 

Sources:

“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 & Co., New York, 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Robertsbridge Codex (c1325)

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The Robertsbridge Codex is a rare little thing. It’s only a few pages in an otherwise obscure manuscript, but it’s noteworthy because it’s the first known collection of music meant specifically for keyboard instruments.

Here’s a page from the Codex. This is a photograph of a page in Carl Parrish’s book, so you might want to look online to get an image with better resolution.

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The treasure currently resides in the British Library, in London and the tale of how such an important piece of music came to be in this obscure little place is a good one.

Robertsbridge is a village in East Sussex, England, about 10 miles north of Hastings (made famous in the Battle of Hastings in 1066). The Rother River passes through it. The town is thought to have developed around a 12th century Cistercian abbey, named by Richard I (1157-1199) in 1198 for his steward, one Robert de St. Martin (dates unavailable). It was settled by monks from the mother abbey in Boxley, in Kent, about an hour’s drive north, and was probably built roughly on the site of a war memorial and a spring known as St. Catherine’s well. The monks at Robertsbridge were known as the “white monks” because they wore tunics of undyed wool.

The site was probably originally a small chapel, but it received many gifts and endowments from such families as the Bodiams (who later had a castle nearby) and the Etchinghams (nearby landowners since before the Norman Conquest). As a result, they were able to build a new abbey about a mile east of the original site in about 1210.

The Robertsbridge abbot was sent, along with the abbot from nearby Boxley, to search for King Richard I (1157-1199), who was being held hostage in Bavaria after his return from the Crusades in 1192, and when they found him, they went back to England to raise his ransom. Later, these same two abbots were sent as agents for the Archbishop of Canterbury to see the pope about a quarrel with the monks at Canterbury. In 1212, 1221, and 1225, the abbot of Robertsbridge was again sent as the king’s emissary to Europe (first John then and Henry III twice), and the Henry III also paid the abbey a visit in 1225. The abbey had faded in fame by the 1400s and escaped the first suppression of the monasteries.

It survived until 1538, when it was dissolved under Henry VIII (1491-1597). It was surrendered by the abbot and eight monks—everyone else had long gone. After the dissolution, the abbey buildings were acquired by Sir William Sidney of Penshurst (1482?-1554), and it stayed in that family until 1720. The remains of the abbey survived for most of the 18th century but were then destroyed. All that remains today is the former abbot’s house, now a private residence.

The town flourished without the abbey, with some fine castles and good schools and such. Today, it’s the home of Heather Mills (b.1968), former wife of Beatle Sir Paul McCartney.

Robertsbridge came to fame when the eponymous codex was discovered among other records at Penshurst Place in Tonbridge, Kent (about half an hour’s drive south of London) in the mid-19th century. It was found in a bundle with an old register from the Robertsbridge Abbey. Originally, it was thought to be from as early as 1325, but later scholars determined that 1360 was more likely.

It’s an important document because it’s the earliest known collection of music written specifically for keyboards. It’s also the earliest preserved example of German organ tablature. It’s called “German” because it appears later only in Germany, slightly more developed, where it’s also known as the Ludolf Wilkin tablature, from 1432. This tablature was adopted exclusively for writing down organ music and was used until Samuel Scheidt’s (1587-1654) Tablatura Nova and Johann Ulrich Steigleder’s (1593-1635) Ricercar Tablaturen, replaced it in 1624. After this date, particularly in Northern Germany, many important sources of keyboard music are written in this notation.

It’s a little off topic, but Old German tablature, from the early 15th century to mid-16th century, used letters to identify the notes to be played, rather than neumes or mensural notation on the staff, in all the voices except the highest, which was in neumes that we would recognize as notation today. These highest parts were usually red in color and provided decorative musical figuration; it’s also where we get the term that survives until today in the modern word “coloratura.” Cool, eh?

This tablature also included the squared lower-case B, which resembles a lower-case H that represented B-natural (which nomenclature survived well past Johann Sebastian Bach’s time, where he called things H-moll for B-minor, as in the B Minor Mass) and an S for “sine,” which is Latin for “without,” and meant a rest, or silence.

Another cool thing is that the keyboard selections offered required all twelve keys of the modern octave. It’s the first evidence of this—things were modal and only contained eight notes to an octave before. (You can learn more about modes here: Musical Modes, Part 1: Church Modes.)

The Codex contains other things than music, although I didn’t find a source that said what exactly those other things are. There are only two musical sections, containing six pieces. Three are estampies, which is an Italian dance from the trecento, and had scholars convinced that the music came from Italy originally. Three songs are arrangements of motets, two of which are from the Roman de Fauvel. You can learn more about that in my post, Composer Biography: Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361). The Codex contains instrumental transcriptions of two of Vitry’s Fauvel motets (Firmissime/Adesto and Tribum, quem non abhorriuit), and another motet from Roman de Fauvel with organ accompaniment. There are also three Italian-style dances (estampies).

Now then. On to the music itself.

The Codex contains the end of a purely instrumental piece in the estampie form. There are two complete pieces in this form, the second of which is marked “Retroue.” There’s also an incomplete transcription of the hymn Flos vernalis. These may have been meant to be played on an organ, and a little later, Edward III (1312-1377) presented his captive, John II of France (1319-1364) with an eschiquier (an instrument that was the predecessor to the harpsichord) and a copy of the piece.

The Robertsbridge transcriber went a little heavy on ficta (accidentals, more often sharps than flats), to the point of inserting naturals to return the note to its original state rather than assuming the natural as the default. He also transposed one piece from the Fauvel motet up a step, forcing a single sharp into the key signature of the right hand. (The left hand had its own key signature and stayed as it was.) He also occasionally added notes where he thought the harmony was too thin.

It’s possible that the motets were included in the Robertsbridge Codex for political reasons as allegories for political events of the period, such as the public hanging of Philip the Fair’s (France, 1268-1314) unpopular chancellor Enguerrand de Marigny (1250-1315), or about some enemy of Robert of Anjou, King of Naples (1277-1343), or perhaps a celebration of the new Pope Clement IV (1190-1268).

All of the music is unattributed (late scholars have identified de Vitry as one source), and all is written in tablature. The estampies are written for two voices, often in parallel fifths and using the hocket technique (where one voice has artful rests that are filled in by another voice, like an exchange of hiccups).

It’s important to note that at this time (the 14th century), organ keys became narrower so that more could fit onto a keyboard table, and also accommodating a wider range of pitches (such as 12 notes to an octave) and sustained chords. This made it possible for a rhythmically fluid and complex decorative voice to unfold beyond the earlier isorhythmic pieces. Robertsbridge features an isorhythmic motet with a patterned scaffolding in the left hand as a foundation for a dramatic instrumental display played by the right hand. This became a pattern that we’re still using today.

The Rupertsbridge Codex marks the beginning of our modern sense of a slower or chordal left hand with a busy and ornamental right hand. Despite its quiet lack of fame, it’s really a very important document.

Sources:

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

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

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

“The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900-1600,” by Willi Apel. The Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge, 1961.

“The Notation of Medieval Music,” by Carl Parrish. Pendragon Press, New York, 1978.

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

“Music in Medieval Manuscripts,” by Nicolas Bell. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2001.

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

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

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

 

Written by Melanie Spiller

December 29, 2014 at 11:55 am

The Montpellier Codex (c1270)

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The Montpellier Codex is a French manuscript, possibly from Paris from c1270-1310. It’s the largest surviving collection of medieval motets in Europe and is kept at the Faculté de Médicine, at the Montpellier University library. Montpellier is a couple of hours drive north of the Spanish border near the Mediterranean Sea, halfway between Toulouse and Marseille.

The Codex is one of the most lavish and comprehensive motet books to survive from the 13th century. It was unearthed among other treasures at Notre Dame by Felix Danjou (1812-1866), the organist of Notre Dame. In 1865 in Paris, Edmond de Coussemaker (1805-1876), was the first to draw attention to it in his L’Art harmonique au xiie et xiiie siecles (Paris 1865). He would go on to reproduce and transcribe 50 of the pieces. It was also the subject of a pioneering study of isorhythms (where all parts share a rhythmic pattern) by the man who coined the word, German medievalist Friedrich Ludwig (1872-1930), in 1904.

It isn’t completely clear how the collection came into being. The most charming story is the one about Marie of Brabant (c1254-1321). Marie was a great patron of the arts and a relative of and friend to several trouvères. She and Philip III (the Bold, 1245-1285). were married in 1274 and she was crowned at Sainte Chapelle in Paris in 1275. Her coronation was heralded by women and maidens singing chansons and motets, possibly a carole or two (a carole, or carol, was a circle dance performed outside. Yup, the whole flowing tresses and ribbons and gauzy dresses thing).

Marie was estranged from Philip III early in their marriage through the machinations of the powerful chamberlain Pierre de la Broce (d. 1278). Pierre accused her of poisoning Philip’s oldest son from a previous marriage. It wasn’t long before a friend of the king’s implicated Pierre in the deed and Pierre was summarily hanged.

It’s possible that the Codex was a gift as part of Marie’s reconciliation with the king, as it contains a celebration of love and courtly pleasures, as well as of hunting, Philip’s favorite pastime. Another interesting twist is that if Marie was either patroness or recipient of the book, it’s evidence of women’s influence on composition, copying, and the design of beautiful books and music.

Most of the music contained within the Codex is anonymous, but a number of pieces can be matched with their composer either because they appear in other collections or by using stylistic similarity and some sleuth work. Identifiable composers include Perotin (c1160-c1220), Petrus de Cruce (c1260-c1300), Adam de la Halle (c1237-c1286), Guillaume d’Auvergne (c1180-1249), and Philippe le Chancelier (c1160-1236). One motet was copied from a polyphonic work by Willelmus de Winchecumbe (an Englishman, fl. 1270s). Most of the rest are presumed to be French.

Music of this period, if it wasn’t chant (monody, or a single line of music performed in unison), used a device called the cantus firmus. This was a version of a known chant, usually sung in one of the lower lines, in a slow and drawn-out way. The other line (usually just one, but sometimes two) was melodically more intricate, intersecting with the cantus firmus only occasionally. The singer of the cantus firmus was called the tenor, which in our times means a specific range of voice, usually the higher male voice, but in medieval times, “tenor” meant the voice everything else depended upon. Most of the cantus firmus parts in the Montpellier Codex are taken from the chants of Notre Dame. (There’s a whole other blog coming on that one.)

Few of the Codex’s motets are considered isorhythmic, as it was felt that Philippe de Vitry was the first to compose those in the early 14th century. Some theorists disagree based on elements contained in isorhythms. You can read the Philippe de Vitry blog for more about isorhythms.

The Montpellier Codex isn’t a small collection. It contains 400 folios (large pages folded to make four—or eight—smaller pages), gathered into eight fascicles (separately sewn sections), and containing 345 compositions, almost all of which are motets (religious polyphonic songs in Latin). The first six fascicles were gathered around 1280.

The music is gathered by type.

  • Fascicle I contains organa and conductus from the Notre Dame period. Sacred polyphony.
  • Fascicle II contains 17 four-voice motets.
  • Fascicle III contains 11 three-voice motets with Latin motetus (the voice above the cantus firmus) and French triplum (the third voice, the highest above the cantus firmus), as well as 4 two-voice Latin motets.
  • Fascicle IV contains 22 three-voice Latin motets.
  • Fascicle V contains 9 hockets (rhythmic technique unique to the medieval period) and 104 three-voice motets, which have, with few exceptions, French texts in both upper parts and Latin in the cantus firmus.
  • Fascicle VI contains 75 two-voice French motets.
  • Fascicle VII contains 39 three-voice motets of various kinds.
  • Fascicle VIII contains a conductus (two voices of a particular type) and 42 three-part motets.

Fascicle I’s organa (a particular type of two-voice music) are written in modal notation, which was peculiar to rhythmic notation (see my blog on Musical Modes, Part 2: Rhythmic Modes, for more on this), with ligatures (a type of two-note neume; you can read more about neumes in my blog The History of Music Notation) in the upper voices. Fascicles II to VI contain the most extensive collection of motets of the mid-13th century, written in pre-Franconian notation (an obscure kind of notation that I’ll talk about in a minute). The last two fascicles are clearly later additions: the handwriting is different and more decorative; the systematic arrangement found in the first four fascicles isn’t carried out; and the Franconian notation is used exclusively, along with some even later notation forms, such as those from Petrus de Cruce (c1260-1300).

Fascicle I contains six organa, two of which are by Perotin, a conductus, and three pieces in the hocket style (where one part spits out notes separated by rests and the other part supplies complementary notes or rests. Hockets were sometimes introduced near the end of Notre Dame clausulae—wiggly bits—but it was used here throughout the whole piece. It was a fashion that didn’t last more than 50 years, which is too bad, because it’s kind of fun). Fascicle I was written out as a score, with the parts aligned above one another. The remaining fascicles are written out with the upper parts in parallel columns and the instrumental tenor across the bottom of the page, a Notre Dame style of notation (see photo). This music was clearly for soloists, and other skilled musicians, such as clerics and scholars at the University of Paris.

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Figure 1: This example shows the cantus firmus across the bottom and two higher voices side-by-side.

The rest of the codex consists mostly of motets, more than 200 in Fascicles II-VI alone.

The Fascicle VII and VIII are from the turn of the 14th century, when Johannes de Grocheio (c1255-c1320) was around. Grocheio put interesting bits into all voices, not limiting the flights of fancy to the higher voices and keeping the stodgy chant in the lower voice. On one piece (El mois de mai), the tenor line sings the cries of fruitsellers, and the other two voices embark on a somewhat Bacchanalian frat party. A song like this has some connection to the songs of the trouvère chansons, but more for content than style.

The Fascicle VII, which dates to c1300, is opened by a motet pair, probably by Petrus de Cruce (c1260-1300 and also called Pierre de la Croix). The motets take on such a unique style that another six are attributed to him because of similar features. They, like the Franconian pieces mentioned, take strong advantage of the stratification of rhythmic voices, to the limit that the notation of the period would allow. Petrus modified notation, in fact, to exaggerate the layering affect. Petrus invented the use of a dot (punctum) to mark off rhythmic sections, like modern measure lines. There can between two and seven “beats” between the dots. It’s not clear whether the music marched militarily on at a set pace or if it accommodated the more natural speech-like pattern, and the other parts would slow down if someone had a few extra beats or words between punctum. It’s at this point that rhythmic modes begin to fade in popularity and the repeating patterns are less important than the natural rhythms originating in the text.

The eighth fascicle dates from c1310.

Franconian notation doesn’t appear until Fascicle VII and VIII, forty years after Franco of Cologne (fl. mid-13th century) wrote his treatise on the subject, Ars cantus mensurabilis. The Montpellier Codex contains a wide repertory of notational styles, crossing a greater time span than other codices of the same period (such as the Codex Las Huelgas de Compostela, blog to come). The early fascicles (II-VI) have “uncertain ligature” styles, and later ones are Franconian (VII and VIII).

I want to point out how different part songs were in the 13th century from today. Modern notation lines everything up vertically. Every voice-line has five lines on the staff, is written in the same key signature as the other voices, and places one voice part above another with the highest voice at the top and the lowest voice at the bottom all on the same page, with measure lines helping to keep everyone together. In the 12th and 13th century, there were sometimes separate pages for each part, the staff had anywhere from four lines to a dozen, clefs moved depending on how the notes needed to be arranged so that there was minimal need for ledger lines, there not only weren’t measure lines, but sometimes the notes were all scrunched together to save space. Parts could be on separate pages, side-by-side in columns, or have the cantus firmus running across the bottom.

IMG_4161IMG_4162  IMG_4164

Figure 2: These are examples of a four-voice piece, with the highest voice on the left and the lowest on the right and “scrunched together.”

Known for its Franconian motets, where the voices are strictly stratified rhythmically according to pitch range, with the higher voices singing fastest and the lowest voices singing slowest. This is a refinement on the discoridia concors idea. For instance, in one example, Pucelete, the triplum is a merry frolic describing a loving woman, the tenor keeps an even tempo, and the lower voice is droopy and complains of lovesickness in slow notes. Franconian notation died out at the onset of the ars nova period.

The three-voice pieces in Fascicles VII and VIII have the triplum and motetus on facing pages with the tenor (cantus firmus) running along the bottom across both pages. Those in four voices have the two upper voices in two columns on one page and the lower voices in two columns on the facing page. It looks odd to our eyes—the cantus firmus part has just a sprinkling of notes across a staff with no bars, and the frequency of notes increases as the voices get higher. There are no bar lines in the modern sense, but you can see bars meant to indicate breaths. There’s no obvious way that the various parts would have stayed together, and even the clefs are not the same.

As I mentioned, most of the music is unattributed. The few that were acknowledged have only one or two facts associated with them.

  • Tassin (dates unknown): He provided the tenor of a motet and is mentioned in 1288 as a minister in the Court Chapel of Philip IV (1268-1314)
  • Jehannot de L’Escurel (d.1303), composer of monadic ballades, rondeaux, and virelais preserved in the Fauvel manuscript (14th century allegorical poem, covered in some detail in my blog post about Philip de Vitry). He was hanged in Paris in 1303 for the murders of pregnant women, rape, and etc. Yikes!

Many of the texts are in French rather than Latin, showing a new trend for writing in the vernacular. This includes a piece by Adam de la Halle (De ma dame vient). Some pieces, like de la Halle’s, harken to the loftiest class of trouvère chanson, with its tenor of the traditional type (cantus firmus), and borrowed from the Notre Dame organum.

The Montpellier Codex is one of only two locations for the motet Super te Ierusalem. In the Montpellier version, it’s in three voices. The other occurrence is in the Worcester fragments (blog post to come) and has a fourth voice without text, possibly meant for an instrument.

 

(All photos are of the pages in the Parrish book.)

Sources:

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

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

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

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

“The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900-1600,” by Willi Apel. The Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge, 1961.

“The Notation of Medieval Music,” by Carl Parrish. Pendragon Press, New York, 1978.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Codex Calixtinus (12th Century)

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Also known as the Book of St. James (Liber sancti Jacobi)

The Codex Calixtinus is dedicated to the apostle James the Greater and contains a huge assortment of music from the 12th century. It was commissioned by Pope Calistis II (also Calixtus II, 1065-1124), who was pope from 1119-1124. The collection was completed around 1137 or soon after 1139. You can still see it without going to Spain because a complete edition in three volumes was published by Walter Muir Whitehill and Dom Germain Prado in 1931. This modern edition includes facsimiles, notes, and transcriptions of all the musical parts of the manuscript. (I want this. Please take up a collection and buy this for me. I didn’t find it on Amazon.) In 1922, the music alone was transcribed and published by Peter Wagner. (I would also be very happy to have this. Also not listed on Amazon.)

The original Codex was dedicated to St. James. After his martyrdom, the body of St. James was moved from Jerusalem to Galicia, Spain, where James spent time preaching and where he is now venerated (under the name Sant’ Iago or Santiago) as patron saint. According to tradition, his body was miraculously translated into some other substance than flesh and bones during the trip. His relics are in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, an Atlantic coastal town in the extreme northwest corner of Spain, built over his gravesite in 1078.

In 1993, UNESCO placed the Spanish section of the pilgrimage on the World Heritage List, adding the French section in 1998.

The Codex is an illuminated manuscript. The order of songs was probably chosen by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud (dates unavailable) and the principal scribe was called “Scriptor I” in the text itself, which implies that another scribe was expected. Experts say that the whole collection is in a single hand, so I guess Scriptor I worked alone in the end.

Whoever the scribe was, he wasn’t a student of the (then) new art of music notation. He knew nothing of alignment, and it’s hard to tell when the organum parts converged. It’s also clear that the pieces were meant to be learned by rote and performed from memory. Performers of the time didn’t read the music off the page, even in rehearsal; sheet music was considered more of a souvenir or art object than a working tool. (You can read more about the history of music notation here: http://melaniespiller.com/lavender_029.htm.)

In addition to the music, the collection was an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the way of St. James from Jerusalem to Spain. It’s a proper tour guide, with descriptions of the route, including works of art to be seen along the way and descriptions of local customs. The collection includes sermons, reports of miracles, and liturgical texts associated with James.

There’s a copy of the Codex Calixtinus at St. James’ shrine at Compostela, which has been one of the great pilgrimage spots in Europe since late-medieval times. The Codex is particularly lavish, with many special features. One of these is an appendix of a dozen parchment leaves containing two dozen polyphonic compositions, some of which were specially written for the Office of St. James, and others that were borrowed from the common monastic repertory of southern and central France.

For many years, there was a false assumption that the very first three-part polyphonic setting ever written appeared in the Codex Calixtinus. But the piece, called Congaudeant catholici, actually had the third part written in as a discant (a high, floaty bit) rather than a third composed part. The discant was written in red on the same staff as the tenor (the slow chant on the bottom) by some later scribe. If it were really sung in three parts as written, there would be more dissonance than is found in polyphony from the period, although that might not be a deterrent to doing it that way. At the time, a discant only had to go nicely with the tenor line, not necessarily with the melismatic upper voice. Singers probably chose to sing one part or the other of the higher parts—not all three at the same time.

Along with that interesting three-part piece, one of the oldest collections in the Codex is the Marial Tropers. It’s one of only two that have survived from this early period of music development. (Tropes are the wiggly elaborations and ornaments in Medieval music.)

Three parts of the Codex contain music: Book I and two appendices. Let’s look at the whole collection.

There are five volumes, totaling 225 double-sided folios. The oversized pages were trimmed during restoration in 1966. (Ack!) Each folio displays a single column of thirty-four lines of text. Book IV was torn off in 1609, possibly by accident, possibly by theft, or possibly by decree of King Philip III (you’ll read more about this in a moment).The section was reinstated during the restoration in 1966.

Book I contains the liturgies and comprises almost half of the codex. There are sermons and homilies, all about St. James, including descriptions of his martyrdom. Included are “special” pieces of music along with the Ordinary (Kyrie, Sanctus, etc.) liturgical chants for the festival. The Offices, Masses, and Processions of the festival are liberally supplied with tropes, which are embellishments added to the music of a Mass in the Middle Ages. The music was written in Aquitainian neume notation (a form used in northern France and Spain that didn’t endure into the 13th century).

There are also pilgrim’s songs, which would have been sung on the road to and from Compostela as well as in the cathedral. Most pieces from this period are anonymous, but the Calixtine (isn’t that a fun word?) specimens have the names of their composers appended. Most of them are French bishops and archbishops, but according to one source, the attributions are apocryphal. It’s thought that at least 12 of the 14 Spanish pieces were written under strong French influence.

Calixtus’ (probably fraudulent) letter occupies the first two folios. It claims that he collected many testimonies on the good deeds of St. James over the course of 14 years. He also describes how the manuscript survived fire and water damage. The letter is addressed to the holy assembly of the basilica of Cluny and to Archbishop Diego of Compostela (c1069-1149). There’s more on this in a minute.

The first six pieces of music in the Codex are organum (two lines of parallel melody), the remainder are conductus (two lines of divergent melody). There is only one example of imitation (see Composer Biography: Johannes Ciconia (c1370-1412) for more on imitation) in the whole collection. It probably wasn’t accidental, but also, it was probably very much a new style of music. The imitation included is of the type called “interchange,” where two voices produce essentially the same melody, taking turns. Later, imitation developed into form known as the rondelle, and eventually became the form known as a canon for which Johann Sebastian Bach was particularly famous. Imitation appears in the Codex in a conductus piece called Ad superni regis decus (to the glory of the heavenly king).

In the 13th century, the forms of music organum and conductus would become clearly different, but in the 12th century, the two words were used interchangeably. The Codex provides examples of the beginning of the bifurcation. In conductus, the tenor line was not necessarily a previously known melody, such as a chant. In fact, composing something new for conductus was a rule. The upper part moved in parallel steps with the tenor line, forming a sort of chordal harmony (not in modern terms—chords hadn’t been invented yet), like faux bourdon. Sometimes the upper voices split a note’s duration and sang two or three against a single melody note. That’s as fancy as it got in the 12th century, though.

The local liturgy for St. James included in the Codex are Matins responsories, a gradual, and an alleluia, which are provided in chant form (one melodic line, no harmonies) and appear early in the Codex. The two-line versions of the same chants are in the organum style.

Book II is an account of 22 miracles across Europe attributed to St. James during his life and after.

Book III is the shortest book and describes moving St. James’s corpse from its original tomb in Jerusalem to the new one in Galicia. It also describes the custom started by the first pilgrims of gathering souvenir seashells from the Galician coast. The scallop shell is a symbol for St. James.

Book IV is falsely attributed to Archbishop Turpin of Reims (d.800), who is commonly known as Psuedo-Turpin. In fact, it’s the work of an anonymous 12th century writer. It describes Charlemagne (742-814) coming to Spain, his defeat at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (in 778), and the death of the knight Roland (d.778, and a frequent subject in troubadour and minstrel songs). The great king and conqueror Charlemagne had a dream in which St. James appeared, urging him to liberate his (St. James’) tomb from the Moors and showing him the direction to follow using the route of the Milky Way. That’s why, in Spain, the Milky Way has an alternate name, Camino de Santiago.

The chapter also includes an account of Roland’s defeat of the Saracen Ferragut (dates unavailable, but in the 9th century) and the legend of Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moorslayer), which was an early example of Catholic propaganda to recruit for the military Order of Santiago, formed to protect church interests in northern Spain from Moorish invaders. This order was also closely associated with the Crusades. The legend got out of hand and became an embarrassment, portraying St. James as a bloodthirsty avenger 800 years after his death. King Philip III (1578-1621) ordered that the section of the Codex be removed, and for a while, it circulated as a separate volume. Despite this, there are still statues and chapels in the churches and cathedrals along the way applauding St. James the Moorslayer.

Book V is a pilgrim’s guide, advising where to stop, which relics are the good ones, which sanctuaries to visit, which inns serve bad food, and the various commercial scams to be aware of, including churches holding false relics. It also describes the city of Galicia and its cathedral. Some of the earliest Basque words and phrases of the post-Roman period are also recorded in it. Book V is a marvelous insight into who a 12th century pilgrim might have been.

Both appendices were compiled in the cathedral town of Vezelay by around 1170 and shipped or carried down to Compostela as a gift to the shrine. One of the reasons for associating the manuscript with a fairly northern point of origin is its use of the word “conductus” in place of “versus.” Another is the inclusion of standard Mass and Office items in polyphonic elaboration along with the more usual tropes and verses in monody (chant). These settings consist of six responsorial chants.

A second copy of the entire Codex was made in 1173 by a monk named Arnaldo de Monte. This version is known as the Ripoli (after the monastery in Catalonia by the same name) and is now stored in Barcelona. In the 12th and 13th centuries, there were copies all over the place, from as far away as Rome and Jerusalem. It was particularly popular at the Abbey of Cluny, another sacred location to which pilgrims progressed in the Middle Ages.

A full transcription was done by Walter Muir Whitehill in 1932 (as mentioned above), and published in Spain along with a musicological study by Dom German Prado and a study of the miniature illustrations by Jesus Carro Garcia.

But the story of the Codex isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

A letter from Pope Calixtus that provides the preface to the book is thought to have been forged. You see, Calixtus died 11 years before the collection was begun. He could still have commissioned it, but he never saw a single page.

In a 1972 article, Christopher Hohler (1917-1997) said that the book was meant to be a grammar book, being in deliberately bad Latin. He claims that it’s a classic nomadic French teaching technique, to have the students correct the bad grammar. It wasn’t at all about collecting the music or providing a travel guide, according to Hohler.

The earliest known edition dates from 1150 and was lost until 1886, when the Jesuit scholar Padre Fidel Fita (1835-1918) found it. But that’s not the only time the great book disappeared.

The Codex  Calixtinus was stolen from the cathedral in 2011. Spanish police thought that it was an inside job or that the manuscript was hidden somewhere inside the cathedral. Rumors abounded that it was an attempt to embarrass cathedral administration over lax security or that perhaps it was some sort of grievance or grudge being played out. One year and one day after its disappearance, the Codex was found in the garage of a former employee, along with several other items of worth. The book was undamaged and is back on display at the cathedral.

Sources:

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

“Early Medieval Music up to 1300,” (Volume II of New Oxford History of Music), edited by Dom Anselm Hughes. Oxford University Press, London, 1954.

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

Composer Biography: Clement Janequin (c1485-1558)

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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.