Category Archives: Renaissance

Cleopatra and the Oriental menace

In canonical French Orientalist discourse of the 19th century, the Orient is cast as effeminate, weak, and in need of rehabilitation by Western civilization. However, the dramatic arts of late 16th- and early 17th-century France constructed a different picture, one in which the Orient as temptress was a deadly threat to the West.

During the late Valois and early Bourbon monarchies, the queen regents Catherine de Médicis (1519–89), Marie de Médicis (1575–1642), and Anne d’Autriche (1601–66) were associated with political turmoil and civil war that threatened to destroy the kingdom. Within this troubled political context, fatal women of the Orient sought to entice their prey on the French stage. Most deadly among them was Cleopatra, embodiment of Egypt, incarnation of women’s malignant sexual seduction, exposed in her subjugation of Marcus Antonius, the fallen, conquered, and emasculated Roman.

With the rise of Louis XIV (1638–1715) and his imposition of a purportedly indomitable and masculine monarchy, women were to be vanquished outright. Reigning women, including those in the tragedies of Philippe Quinault (1635–88), were the victims of self-destructive passions ending in defeat, death, or abandonment by the heroes whom they sought to enslave. An emblematic example of such a crushed woman is the sorceress Armide in the tragédie en musique by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–87), the libretto of which is by Quinault.

This according to “Regnorum ruina: Cleopatra and the Oriental menace in early French tragedy” by Desmond Hosford, an essay included in French Orientalism: Culture, politics, and the imagined Other (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, 23–47; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-6408).

Above, a 17th-century depiction of Cleopatra by Claude Vignon; below, Stéphanie d’Oustrac portrays Armide’s downfall.

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Filed under Baroque era, Opera, Renaissance, Women's studies

Celebrating 80 years of Dr. Allan W. Atlas, Professor Emeritus, The Graduate Center (CUNY)

Professor Allan W. Atlas’s CUNY ID Card

With a professional career spanning over four decades, Allan was a researcher, teacher, performer, academic officer, and mentor. Directly after receiving a Ph.D. in musicology from New York University in 1971 with the dissertation Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cappella Giulia XIII.27 and the dissemination of the Franco-Netherlandish chanson in Italy, ca. 1460-ca. 1530, he began teaching at Brooklyn College, a post he continued to hold after joining the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center in fall of 1974. He would go on to serve as the Executive Officer for The Graduate Center’s Ph.D.-D.M.A. programs in music for much of his time there. Additionally, in 1998 he founded the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments within the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation, which he led until 2014. In 1998, The Graduate Center bestowed on him the title Distinguished Professor of Music. From 1999, he also was editor of The free-reed journal: A publication by the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments

These accomplishments and responsibilities hardly encapsulate Allan’s range of talents as a scholar and teacher. He was just as generous with his ideas on music, which have been published in many prestigious sources, as he was with his guidance. At The Graduate Center, his Introduction to Music course taught budding musicologists in the music program to gather, organize, and edit research; stay current with trends in the discipline; prepare a critical edition; become familiar with the canon of founding musicologists; and evaluate and analyze historic texts. The course challenged and inspired, and many of his students will still have his patented emails in comic sans etched in their memories.

His knowledge seemed boundless: from Italian Renaissance music, to Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, to the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams, to Requiem Masses in the last 1000 years or so, to the concertina (which he plays), to Robert Moses. And this merely scratches the surface. The bibliography below is a selection of some of Allan’s contributions to music research. However inchoate, it is hoped to inspire further research, archive just a small snippet of his production, and reveal aspects of trends in the discipline.

Allan remains an active scholar and orienting guide (dare we say an “atlas”?) in musicology, who has not yet finished sharing his valuable perspectives. Throughout all the changes in musicology over the years, he was always diligently aware of research trends, as well as the field’s limitations and possibilities. This was partially a result of his close relationship with RILM and its staff. Allan was consistently a strong advocate for RILM throughout his tenure at the Music Department of The Graduate Center, unceasingly arguing for RILM’s significance for global music research within the university administration. Whenever Allan would come to teach classes at The Graduate Center, he would stop by the shelf of publications that had just arrived at the RILM office to learn what was new in musicological research. These moments were opportunities for beneficial conversations about a variety of topics, and we always knew that Allan’s opinions were important. He could be relied upon to train his eagle editorial and musicological eye on RILM’s database when he was using it for his own scholarship, letting us know if he saw areas for improvement, correction, or enhancement.

In more official capacities, Allan served as RILM’s Area Editor for publications on Renaissance music during the 1980s and early 1990s and was a member of both the RILM Commission Mixte (1997-2000) and the Board of Directors (2000-16).

Thank you, and happy birthday, Allan. Here’s to many more.

– Introduction by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM and Zdravko Blažeković, Executive Editor, RILM. Compiled by Lupo


  • Atlas, Allan W. “La provenienza del manoscritto Berlin 78.C.28: Firenze o Napoli?”, Rivista italiana di musicologia: Organo della Società Italiana di Musicologia 13/1 (1978) 10–29. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1978-320]

Abstract: Considers the question of the provenance of the chansonnier Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, MS 78.C.28. Takes issue with Reidemeister’s claim that, on the grounds that it contains the arms of two Florentine families and a miniature which can be associated with a Florentine workshop, the manuscript originated in Florence (see RILM 1975-607). Argues instead that it was compiled at Naples—this on the grounds of its “internal” relationship with other Neapolitan sources—and was only later removed to Florence. Evidence for such a transfer and break in the compilation of the source is supported by certain of its physical features.

  • _____. “Mimì’s death: Mourning in Puccini and Leoncavallo”, The journal of musicology: A quarterly review of music history, criticism, analysis, and performance practice 14/1 (winter 1996) 52–79. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-190]

Abstract: Seeks to answer the following question: Why do people cry at the end of Puccini’s La bohème but not at the end of Leoncavallo’s? Puccini spends the entire opera leading up to the moment where tears can be shed, while Leoncavallo miscalculates—musically and dramatically (he fashioned his own libretto)—at virtually every turn. The issues of voice/person/agent, psychic/aesthetic distance, and pacing/timing just before the final curtain are also discussed.

  • _____. “Multivalence, ambiguity and non-ambiguity: Puccini and the polemicists”, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 118/1 (1993) 74–93, [1] [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1993-10663]

Abstract: Takes issue with recent articles that polemically link the idea of multivalency in opera with ambiguity and disjunction, privilege the latter over unity and coherence, and write off large-scale tonal relationships as meaningful vehicles of overall coherence. A more open-minded approach is called for; polemics simply substitute one brand of dogmatic orthodoxy for another. Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and La fanciulla del West are analyzed to show that a multivalent approach will uncover instances of both ambiguity and nonambiguity and that the two ideas can coexist. There is in fact a continuum of approaches, each of which has its own contribution to make.

  • _____. Music at the Aragonese court of Naples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1985-1259]

Abstract: When Alfonso V of Aragon defeated René I of Anjou in 1442 and thereby established the kingdom of Naples as part of that of Aragon, he revived Neapolitan cultural life and made his court one of the leading centers of humanism. A survey of the historical-cultural background precedes discussions of the royal chapel and its musicians, the chapel composers and other musical worthies, secular music, sources, and repertoire. Musicians mentioned include Pietro Oriola, Joan Cornago, Johannes Vincenet, Johannes Tinctoris, Bernard Ycart, Franchino Gaffori, Serafino Dall’Aquila, Fiorenzo De’ Fasoli, Josquin Des Prez, and Alexander Agricola. An edition of musical works representative of the repertoire concludes the volume.

  • _____., ed. Music in the Classic period: Essays in honor of Barry S. Brook (New York: Pendragon Press, 1985). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1985-664]
  • _____. “On the reception of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies in New York, 1920/1–2014/15”, The Royal Musical Association research chronicle 47/1 (2016) 24–86. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-37340]

Abstract: Considers the reception of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s nine symphonies (and a few non-symphonic works) in New York City (and, occasionally, its suburban environs), from the American premiere of on December 30th, 1920 to a performance of symphony no. 6 on December 10th, 2014. The reception rolls out across five distinct periods: (1) 1920/1–1922/3: the New York premieres of A London symphony, A sea symphony, and A pastoral symphony (in that order), all to greetings that were lukewarm at best; (2) 1923/4–1934/5: Vaughan Williams’s reputation grew meteorically, and A London symphony became something of a staple; during this period Olin Downes of The New York times became Vaughan Williams’s most ardent champion among New York’s music critics; (3) 1935/6–1944/5: symphonies 4 and 5 made their New York debuts, and a rift opened between the pro-Vaughan Williams and the negative criticism of the New York herald tribune, one that would follow Vaughan Williams to the grave and beyond; (4) 1945/6–1958/9: premieres of symphonies 6, 8 and 9, as Vaughan Williams’s reputation in New York reached its honors- and awards-filled zenith; and (5) the long period from 1959/60 to the present day, which can be described as 20 years of decline (1960s–1970s), another 20 in which his reputation reached rock bottom (1980s–1990s) and, since the beginning of the new millennium, something of a reassessment, one that is seemingly unencumbered by the ideologically driven criticism of the past. Finally, Appendix I provides a chronological inventory of all New York Philharmonic programs (along with those of the New York Symphony prior to the two orchestras’ merger in 1928) that include any music (not just the symphonies) by Vaughan Williams. Appendix II then reorganizes the information of the chronological list according to work, conductor, venue, and premieres.

  • _____. “Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The house of life: Four levels of cyclic coherence”, Acta musicologica 85/2 (2013) 199–225. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-12048]

Abstract: Explores aspects such as motive, recitative, tonality, and proportion, which develop the coherence of the song cycle by Vaughan Williams setting the poetry of Rossetti.

  • _____. Renaissance music: Music in Western Europe (1400-1600). Norton introduction to music history (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1998-4334]

Abstract: Renaissance music, a textbook for today’s classroom, focuses first and foremost on the music, then on the social, political, and economic forces that combined to produce it. Readers are immediately drawn into the subject through Professor Atlas’s vivid, energetic writing. Atlas addresses the student directly, in language that is clear and understandable even when it treats complex topics such as isorhythm and hexachords. Renaissance Music is sensibly organized, avoiding the great composer approach. Most chapters are devoted to musical genres; others center on specific geographical areas or on categories such as patronage, music theory, and music printing. Like all the books in Norton’s introduction to music history series, this text includes bibliographies and incorporates the latest scholarship in the field. A Spanish translation is cited as RILM 2002-20881; a French translation is cited as RILM 2011-18309.

  • _____. The Wheatstone English concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-3066]

Abstract: A comprehensive survey of the career of the so-called English concertina from its invention by the English physicist Charles Wheatstone, Jr. in the late 1820s to its use in the early 20th c. by Ives and Grainger. Attention is given to its changing social status (from upper-crust to working-class), art-music repertoire (concertos, sonatas, and character pieces by George Alexander Macfarren, Bernhard Molique, Julius Benedict, John Barnett), virtuoso performers and their works (Giulio Regondi and Richard M. Blagrove), and critical reception. Two chapters explain the concertina’s technical capabilities and certain problems of concertina-specific performance practice. An appendix contains five works for concertina by Joseph Warren, George Alexander Macfarren, Giulio Regondi, Richard M. Blagrove, and John Charles Ward.

  • _____., ed. Victorian music for the English concertina. Recent researches in the music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2009). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-47579]

Abstract: Developed by the physicist Charles Wheatstone around 1830, the English concertina was ‎extremely popular in art-music circles of Victorian England until late in the 19th ‎century. This edition includes 15 works that present a cross section of the ‎instrument’s concert and salon repertories, and includes music by the “mainstream” ‎composers George Alexander Macfarren, Julius Benedict, and Bernhard Molique, as well ‎as original compositions by such concertina virtuosos as Giulio Regondi and Richard ‎Blagrove. There are also pieces by two little-known women composers and arrangers, ‎Hannah Rampton Binfield and Rosina King (the instrument was particularly popular with ‎women), and an arrangement by George Case of a well-known hymn tune, which shows ‎how the baritone concertina was used in small parish churches. Finally, there are two ‎works for concertina ensembles, a duo for treble and baritone concertina by Blagrove and ‎a transcription by Regondi for concertina quartet of the final movement of Mozart’s ‎‎Prague symphony.‎

  • Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista. Salve Regina, ed. by Allan W. Atlas. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Complete works/Opere complete 15 (Stuyvesant: Pendragon Press; Milano: Ricordi, 1994). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1994-15656]


Filed under Analysis, Dramatic arts, Musicologists, Musicology, Opera, Opera, Renaissance, Romantic era, Source studies, Uncategorized

The book of Requiems

In 2022 Leuven University Press launched The book of Requiems, a chronologically arranged multivolume series that gathers essays—each written by a leading expert—on the most musically and historically important Requiems in Western music history, from the origins of the genre up to the present day. The series will provide an authoritative reference intended as a first port of call for musicologists, music theorists, and performers both professional and student.

Each essay is devoted to a specific Requiem, and offers historical information and a detailed but accessible work discussion. Volume I treats the Requiem’s liturgical and chant background, the craft of early Requiem composition, and eight of the earliest composed Requiems, from ca. 1450 to ca. 1550.

Below, Johannes Ockeghem’s Missa pro defunctis, the first work featured in the inaugural volume.

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Filed under New series, Renaissance

Cross-cultural chironomia

In Tune thy musicke to thy hart: The art of eloquent singing in England, 15971622 (Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1993; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1993-4111) Robert Toft cites John Bulwer’s Chirologia, or, The naturall language of the hand (above, 1644) as a source for rhetorical gesturing that may apply to the performance of English art songs from this period.

“Gesture in the English lute-song” by Rosemary Carlton-Willis (Lute news 94 [August 2010] pp. 8–12; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-17302) gives concrete examples of the use of gestures in performing this repertory, and includes a comparison with South Asian ghazal singing, which also has a gestural tradition.

Below, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan demonstrates South Asian chironomia.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice, Renaissance

Music theory with attitude

Although the notion that Musicae rudimenta was written by Nicolaus Faber has persisted for centuries, internal evidence points conclusively to the Bavarian historian and philologist Johannes Aventinus (Johann Turmair or Thurmayr, 1477–1534) as its author. One of the first music treatises to use German as well as Latin, it borrows heavily from other sources, usually with due citations.

The author’s unequivocal style is striking: for example, the table of contents lists Chapter 1 as “The origins of music, a subject about which the barbarians err disgracefully, not to say ignorantly”, while other entries include such observations as “I am embarrassed to report what empty, fatuous things some writers have to say on this topic” and “In this matter, the run-of-the-mill singers are like night owls in the sunlight—blind!”

Nor does he spare himself, noting of his second chapter that “Most of the things here are quoted from others and are not very important, being pedantic and technical.” His preface concludes: “Look me over and buy me, the price is so low. Believe me, you won’t regret it.”

This according to “Musicae rudimenta: Augsburg, 1556” by T. Herman Keahey in Paul A. Pisk: Essays in his honor (Austin: University of Texas, 1966).

Above, an illustration from the treatise.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists, Renaissance, Theory

Rimes et musique du Moyen âge et de la Renaissance

In 2020 Classiques Garnier inaugurated the series Rimes et musique du Moyen âge et de la Renaissance with “Que me servent mes vers?”: La musique chez Ronsard, avec un supplément vocal de 22 chansons (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-57415).

The publication comprises an introductory discussion complemented by scores and recordings of 22 songs, along with an exploration of the background of Renaissance musical settings of poems from Pierre de Ronsard’s Amours de Cassandre (1552).

Above, a portrait of Ronsard from ca. 1580; below, Guillaume Costeley’s setting of Mignonne allons voir si la rose, one of the most popular of Ronsard’s Amours among Renaissance composers.

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Filed under New series, Renaissance

Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance

Vivanco’s Liber magnificarum

In 2020 A-R Editions issued Liber magnificarum (1607), a critical edition of Sebastián de Vivanco’s 18 Magnificat settings, as well as two settings of Benedicamus, based on five different surviving manuscripts.

Vivanco (ca. 1551–1622) was born, like his revered contemporary Tomás Luis de Victoria, in Avila. Having secured prestigious cathedral and university posts at Salamanca, Vivanco saw through the press, between 1607 and 1614, three luxury choirbooks containing 18 Magnificats, 10 masses, and 72 motets, spread over a total of more than 900 printed pages.

The first of these choirbooks, all of which were printed by the Fleming Artus Taberniel and his wife Susana Muñoz, is a cycle of Magnificats providing polyphony for the odd- and even-numbered verses in all eight tones, plus one extra Magnificat in each of the much-used first and eighth tones.

If Vivanco has been eclipsed for too long by his great contemporary and compatriot, it is in the complexity and ingenuity of the many canons to be found in these Magnificats that Vivanco outshines even Victoria.

Above, a likeness of Vivanco on the original cover page of his Liber magnificarum; below, one of the works included in the edition (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-11142).

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Filed under New editions, Renaissance

Songs in times of plague

Plague, an indiscriminate and deadly disease, was an important aspect of European intellectual and cultural life during the Renaissance. Perennial outbreaks throughout the period, both small and catastrophic, provoked changes and reactions in religion, medicine, government, and the arts—from literature, sculpture and painting, to music.

In 2020 A-R Editions published Songs in times of plague, an anthology that brings together, for the first time, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century motets and madrigals, for three to six voices, written in response to plague (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-4123). These pieces, with texts commemorating outbreaks and addressing holy figures and secular patrons, reveal how music was imbricated in the wider concerns of societies habitually caught in the grips of pestilence.

Above, The triumph of Death, a 1503 depiction of the death of Petrarca’s Laura; below, one of the works included in the edition, Roland de Lassus’s setting of Petrarca’s Standomi un giorno.

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Filed under New editions, Renaissance

Busnois, Tinctoris, and “L’homme armé”


Antoine Busnois’s Missa “L’homme armé” commits one notational error after another—at least according to Johannes Tinctoris.

As several scathing passages in his Proportionale musices attest, Tinctoris abhorred Busnois’s mensural innovations. And yet Busnois’s notational choices, while certainly idiosyncratic, were also arguably justifiable: the composer was merely finding ways of recording novel musical ideas that had no agreed-upon notational solutions.

Tinctoris’s response to Busnois was not limited to the criticisms in his theoretical treatises. Tinctoris the composer responded far more comprehensively, and at times with far greater sympathy for Busnois’s practice, in his own Missa “L’homme armé”. He echoed Busnois’s Mass notationally, in that he treated it as an example of what not to do; his response was also deeply musical, in that he tackled similar technical problems as a means of achieving analogous contrapuntal effects.

Tinctoris’s and Busnois’s settings need to be understood in the context of 15th-century Masses, one in which composers were not necessarily content to work within the system but invented new ways of writing to create new sounds. In doing so, mere composers could sometimes achieve significance as theorists. Taken together, the L’homme armé Masses of Busnois and Tinctoris raise a range of historiographical issues that invite us to reassess the figure of the theorist-composer.

This according to “Composing in theory: Busnoys, Tinctoris, and the L’homme armé tradition” by Emily Zazulia (Journal of the American Musicological Society LXXI/1 [spring 2018] pp. 1–73).

This year we celebrate the 590th anniversary of Busnois’s birth! (His exact birthdate is unknown.)

Above, the version of L’homme armé that Busnois used as his cantus firmus, from I-NapBN MS VI.E.40 (with editorial markings); below, the Kyrie from his Missa “L’homme armé” followed by the corresponding movement from Tinctoris’s work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Renaissance