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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 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.

Composer Biography: Maddalena Casulana (c1540-c1590)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compositions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

Composer Biography: Bernart de Ventadorn (c1130-c1200)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Composer Biography: Cristóbal de Morales (c1500-1553)

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Cristóbal de Morales is considered by many to be the greatest Spanish composer before Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611, biography coming soon). In fact, if you only know two Spanish composers’ names, those are likely to be the two.

Morales’ music has a strong Franco-Flemish flavor to it (for composers of this ilk, check out those listed on my website). That’s because, until his abdication in 1555, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), King of Spain, kept a Flemish chapel. Apart from 10 years in Papal service where Morales would also have been exposed to the Flemish traditions, he spent his whole professional life in Andalusa, where the Franco-Flemish influence was strong (Andalusa is the region that covers nearly the whole bottom third of the Iberian Peninsula.)

Like the other court musicians, Morales followed the Netherlandish style. Of his 22 Masses, two are based on the French motet L’homme arme (anonymous) and others are modeled on motets by Franco-Flemish composers Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560), Jean Mouton (c1459-1522), Jean Richafort (c1480-c1547), Philippe Verdelot (c1480-c1530), and Josquin des Prez (c1440-1521). Only two of Morales’ Masses are based on Spanish villancicos. (More about those later.)

Morales is perhaps most Spanish in his use of mystical emotions at the heart of such motets as Emendemus in melius (one of my very favorite motets) and O crux, ave. He didn’t write much secular music; only a handful of pieces with Italian and Spanish text survive.

In 1526, Charles V’s wife, Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539), organized a chapel of Spanish and Portuguese musicians, and Morales was among the instrumentalists of this group. Philip II (1527-1598) supported the group when he became regent of Spain in 1543. These musicians were the real innovators of the time and included blind organist Antonio de Cabezon (c1500-1566), who was one of its original members; clavichordist Francisco de Soto (c1500-1563), who arrived shortly after Cabezon; and Luis de Narvaez (d. after 1555), who played the vihuela de mano (a Spanish lute) and was recruited by Philip II.

Morales’ works were among the first European compositions performed in the New World (which had only been “discovered” a decade before his birth), along with those of his student Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), Tomas Victoria (c1548-1611), and Palestrina (c1525-1594).

Other musicians liked Morales’ music and made him famous across Europe and in Mexico. His work stayed popular all the way to the 18th century, when he was praised as the papal chapel’s most important composer after Josquin and Palestrina by music biographer Andrea Adami da Bolsena (1663-1772), who was a castrato and master of the papal choir in 1700.

Morales was born in Seville, the largest city and capital of Andalusia, a region in southern Spain. He received his education in the classics and in music there, studying with some of the foremost composers of his time.

There is another Cristobal de Morales (dates unavailable), perhaps Morales’ father, who sang for the third Duke of Medina Sidonia (Juan Alfonso Perez de Guzman, 1464-1507) in 1504, when Morales would have been a young child. Morales had a sister who married in 1530, by which time, their father had died. I didn’t find any information about his mother.

It’s possible that Morales had siblings and uncles all around him. Alonso de Morales (dates unavailable) was treasurer of the Seville Cathedral in 1503; Francisco de Morales (d.1505), was canon of the Cathedral; and Diego de Morales (dates unavailable) was the Cathedral notary in 1525. Some of these gentlemen could be his father, uncles, or cousins and others might be siblings.

Earlier Spanish popes (Calixtus III of the 15th century and Alexander VI of the 16th) from the notorious Borja family employed Spanish singers in their chapel choirs, so it’s not surprising that Morales found his way to Rome. There were quite a few non-Italian musicians and composers there at the time. (There were few Italian composers during this period, as it happens.)

In 1522, Morales went to Rome three times to be the papal organist. In 1526, he was appointed maestro de capilla of both Avila and Plasencia Cathedrals and he stayed at both until 1531. In 1531, he resigned and went twice more to Rome in 1534. By 1535, he’d moved to Rome to be a singer in the papal chapel choir under the Italian Pope Paul III (1458-1549), who was particularly partial to Spanish singers. Morales stayed in Rome until 1545. It’s thought that he was a tenor.

Morales obtained leave to return to Spain in 1540, although it isn’t known why. He came right back to Rome, and in 1545, when he sought employment outside the papal choir but still in Italy, he had no luck. He tried the emperor (Charles V) and Cosimo I de Medici (1519-1574) without a nibble. So he returned to Spain, where he finagled a series of posts. He alienated employers. There was always something not-quite-right about the positions he held and he had difficulty keeping them. He’s said to have been egotistical and short-tempered and he made severe demands on the singers in his employ.

Finally, in 1545, he became maestro de capilla at Toledo and left the employ of the pope for good. He stayed until 1547 when he fell ill and renounced his position. The next year, he went to Marchena (near Seville), back in Andalusa, where he served the Dukes of Aros and Malaga until 1551.

In 1551, he became maestro de capilla at Malaga Cathedral. In 1553, he applied for the maestro de capilla position at the Toledo Cathedral, but he died in Marchena before an offer could be made.

Morales was the first Spanish composer who reached international renown. His works were widely distributed in Europe and the New World. Music writers and theorists in the following hundred years considered his to be among the most perfect music of the time.

Morales’ works are almost all liturgical, including over 22 Masses, 18 Magnificats, 11 hymns, at least five Lamentations (one of which survives in a single manuscript in Mexico), and over 100 motets. Two of his Masses are Requiems. All of his music is vocal, although instruments might have been used as accompaniment. He probably wrote Spanish secular songs and intabulations (a kind of notation specific to stringed instruments), but few remain.

He himself regarded his own Masses highly, supervising their publication personally and writing more of them than any other Spaniard of the period or any other polyphonist of his generation. The Masses illustrate his superb contrapuntal technique. His works are more refined than Josquin des Prez’s (c1440-1521) and look ahead to Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), who based a Mass on Morales’ motet O sacrum convivium.

Morales is the only Spanish composer who didn’t write predominantly parody Masses (basing them on a motet) although his other work included parodies. He had his own discerning parody technique, wherein he enriched and transformed his own motet models.

His 22 Masses include both cantus firmus (with the chant melody sung slowly in the tenor line) and parody styles. Six are based on Gregorian chant and eight are parodies, including one for six voices based on the famous chanson Mille regrets, which is attributed to Josquin. This melody is arranged so that it’s clearly audible in every movement, usually in the highest voice, and giving the work considerable stylistic and motivic unity.

He also wrote two Masses, one for four voices and one for five, on the famous L’homme arme tune, which was frequently set by composers in the late 15th and 16th century. The four-voice Mass uses the tune as a cantus firmus, keeping the melody in the tenor line, and the five-voice Mass treats it more freely, moving it from one voice to another.

He also wrote a Missa pro defunctis, which is a requiem Mass. It may have been his last work, as it seems to be unfinished. It’s written through to the end, but the editing aspect is incomplete.

Masses from this period are often based on motets and Gregorian melodies. Morales offers eight exceptions based them on Spanish songs. In one, he has the Spanish words sung to the main melody and liturgical (Latin) text in the other voices. Some of his other Masses incorporate extraneous texts in the way followed by Guillaume Dufay (c1400-1474) and other composers from the same period and after. He also follows the old style of leaving the cantus firmus intact and lets it permeate all of the voices.

Morales treats Gregorian melodies with an almost severe regard for the preservation of their essential contours. He embellishes sparingly, providing the melodies with rather grave settings that reveal his personality. He often omits the melismatic passages from the chant, which emphasizes his sober style. He nearly always ends his themes on the same note as the Gregorian version, which wasn’t the fashion of the period but had music theory historical context. Rather than writing a polyphonic line of melody, he occasionally gave the bass line a progression in fourths and fifths, which sounds like a chordal bass line to modern ears.

His two Masses for the dead and Officium defunctorum are the most extreme examples of Morales’ sober style. He had a thorough command of early 16th century continental techniques and his style is better compared to Franco-Flemish composers Josquin, Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560), and Jacob Clemens non Papa (c1510-1556) than to his Spanish contemporaries. He favored cross-rhythms, conflicting rhythms, melodic (but not harmonic) sequence and repetition, harmonic cross-relations, systematic use of consecutives and occasionally daring use of harmony.

The Magnificats may be his master works and are the most frequently performed of his compositions today. They’re permeated throughout by Gregorian cantus firmus.

His motets are intense and personal, often using a cantus firmus with a separate text that glosses or alludes to the principal one. He often used a Gregorian chant associated with the text as a melodic point of departure (such as in Puer natus est) or as an ostinato figure (a phrase frequently repeated in the same voice) such as the five-voice Tu es petrus, but he seldom borrowed entire melodies.

The texture of the motets is characterized by free imitation and with exceptional use of homophonic sections (where one voice predominates) to stress important words or portions of text. He uses alternation of chant verses with polyphonic verses, like those found in a collection of his Magnificats published in 1545 in Venice. You can also find this alternation in his Salve Regina motet, developed by means of imitation in pairs.

An early motet for six voices, Jubilate Deo, was written for the peace conference arranged by Pope Paul III (1468-1549) and held in 1538 between Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain (1500-1558) and King Francis I of France (1494-1547). In it, the high voice sings “gaudeamus” over and over to the notes of the Gregorian introit Gaudeamus omnes. He lets one part comment on the text of the other parts in another ceremonial motet, composed to celebrate the elevation of Ippolito d’Este (1479-1520) to the cardinalate in 1539.

He uses this same device with striking dramatic effect in Emendemus in melius, which combines the four-part setting of a responsory for Ash Wednesday with six statements of a modified chant to the words used by the priest while sprinkling ashes on the penitents. “Remember man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.” This is one of my favorite motets, not only my favorite of Morales’.

His style has a lot in common with other middle Renaissance works from the Iberian Peninsula, such as a preference for harmony in the form of fourths or fifths in the lower voices, and free use of harmonic cross-relations. These techniques were also popular during the same period in England with composers like Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585).

Distinctive Morales characteristics include rhythmic freedom, such as occasional three-against-four polyrhythms and cross-rhythms, where a voice sings in a rhythm that adheres to the text but ignores the meter prevailing in other voices. Late in life, he wrote in a sober, more heavily homophonic style (where one voice predominates, like in modern SATB music where most of the voices provide supporting harmonies to the main melody), but he was always a careful craftsman who considered the expression and understandability of the text to be his highest artistic goal.

Another thing Morales does that’s interesting is to use silence to create a dramatic moment. This is especially obvious in his Parce milo Domine (part of his Office for the Dead in four voices).

There are too many excellent recordings to enumerate here, and I recommend that you do a little looking for some of them, at least.

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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