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 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.
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.
In 2019 A-R Editions published Michele Pesenti: Complete works, a critical edition produced by an editorial team including a musicologist, a linguist, and a musicologist-performer.
While earlier musicologists assumed continuities between frottola and madrigal, more recent scholarship has refuted this idea: they were two different genres, cultivated in different centers of patronage, by different composers, and for different audiences.
Pesenti, however, composed in both genres thanks to changing professional circumstances. He composed frottole while working in Ferrara, and later, when he secured an appointment at the court of Pope Leo X, he (or someone acting for him) refashioned several of his frottole as madrigals: Textless lower instrumental lines are provided with text, converting a composition for a vocalist with instrumental accompaniment into one for an ensemble of four vocalists.
This pioneering edition of Pesenti’s complete works offers parallel editions of compositions existing in both these forms, as well as compositions for solo voice and instrumental consort that were later arranged for voice and lute. It further seeks to clarify the procedures used in expanding the abbreviated presentation of the frottola’s texts and music into readily performable forms.
Above, a page from an early edition of Pesenti’s Dal lecto me levava; below, a recording of the work.
Issued by A-R editions in 2018, Jheronimus Vinders: Collected works, part I is devoted to the composer’s motets and secular works.
Jheronimus Vinders is best known as one of the three composers who wrote a lament on the death of Josquin des Prez. This limited reputation does not do justice to Vinders, whose works bear comparison with those of his more famous contemporaries.
As one of the rather small group of Flemish composers that links the Josquin generation with that of Clemens non Papa and Thomas Crecquillon, Vinders blended old and new compositional approaches, with some works paying respect to earlier traditions and others falling more in line with the musical developments that led to the pervasive imitation of the 1530s and beyond.
Below, one of the works included in the edition.
In 2017 A-R Editions issued Motets from the Chansonnier de Noailles, presenting the works in a single, coordinated, comprehensive critical edition for the first time.
F-Pn MS fr. 12615, known as the Chansonnier de Noailles, brings together 13th-century motets in two to four parts, whose upper voices are all sung to vernacular texts. The collection is notable in several respects: with its 91 pieces it is the fourth-largest repository of 13th-century motets and the third-largest of motets in French; it is one of only two sizable sets of polyphonic motets preserved in provincial songbooks rather than Parisian collections, a fact that broadly affects the style of several groups of its motets; and it transmits an unusually high number of unica, due to the anthology’s inclusion in an Artesian chansonnier.
Although the Chansonnier de Noailles has sparked the interest of bibliophiles and scholars since the first half of the 18th century, its faulty polyphonic notation has made editing the motets difficult; past editions have thus been incomplete and relied heavily upon concordant readings.
Above, a page from the chansonnier (click to enlarge); below, one of the works in the collection.
In 2017 Brill launched Brill’s companions to the musical culture of medieval and early modern Europe, a peer-reviewed series of volumes providing high-level and up-to-date surveys of research into all aspects of medieval and early modern musical culture in Europe—composers, schools, genres, instruments, education, dance, musical manuscripts and printing, and the musical cultures of given cities, chapels, religious orders, and courts.
Written by the foremost specialists, the books offer balanced accounts along with overviews of the state of scholarship and debates, pointing the way for future research. The books are normally multi-author volumes, thoroughly planned out at an editorial level to ensure comprehensiveness and cohesion and maximizing their value to the student and scholar.
The inaugural volume, Companion to music in the age of the Catholic monarchs, offers a major new study that deepens and enriches understanding of the forms and functions of music that flourished in late medieval Spanish society. The fifteen essays present a synthesis based on recently discovered material that throws new light on different aspects of musical life during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel (1474–1516): sacred and secular music-making in royal and aristocratic circles; the cathedral music environment; liturgy and power; musical connections with Rome, Portugal, and the New World; theoretical and unwritten musical practices; women as patrons and performers; and the legacy of Jewish musical traditions.
Below, a work by Francisco de Peñalosa, one of the composers discussed in the book.
The Hren choirbooks comprise six large, well-preserved codices from the early seventeenth century; they are now held at the Narodna in Univerzitetna Knjižnica in Ljubljana (SI-Lnr MSS 339–44).
In 2017 the Slovenska Akademija Znanosti in Umetnosti inaugurated the series Izabrana dela iz Hrenovih kornih knjig/Selected works from the Hren choirbooks with an edition of Annibale Perini’s Missa “Benedicite omnia opera Domini” and Pietro Antonio Bianco’s Missa “Percussit Saul mille”, two works whose sole source is the Hren Choirbooks.
Both works are parody Masses: the model for Perini’s Mass is Ruggiero Giovannelli’s motet Benedicite omnia opera Domini, while that for Bianco’s Mass is the motet Percussit Saul mille by Giovanni Croce.
Above, the statue of Tomaž Hren at the Stolnica Svetega Nikolaja, where the books originated; below, Croce’s Percussit Saul mille, the basis of the Bianco work.
The symmetries of Jacob Obrecht’s Missa “Maria zart” can be deconstructed into constituent elements, like a puzzle, to re-create certain stages of the composer’s working methods.
Described by Rob Wegman as “the sphinx among Obrecht’s Masses”, the work ideally lends itself to this approach because of the simplicity of the melodic and rhythmic layout of its cantus firmus. These characteristics may have inspired the composer to write even more geometrically than is usual in his oeuvre.
This according to “Looking at the sphinx: Obrecht’s Missa “Maria zart” by János Bali (Journal of the Alamire Foundation II/2 [fall 2010] pp. 208–30).
According to some sources, today is Obrecht’s 560th birthday! Below, an excerpt from the work, conducted by Prof. Bali.
A lively musical culture existed in the second half of the 14th century at the court of Brabant during the reign of Wenceslas I, Duke of Luxembourg (above, right). This abundant musical activity makes it likely that a member of the court chapel, Nicolas de Picquigny, was Pykini, the composer of the much-admired four-voice virelai Plasanche or tost.
The text of Plasanche or tost mentions that the audience will listen with pleasure to the parrot (le papegay). Although parrots are often mentioned in such texts to evoke springtime, and some scholars have guessed that here it is a punning reference to a Pope, archival sources show that Wenceslas had chosen the parrot as his symbol, having had its image embroidered on numerous furnishings with the coats of arms of Brabant and Luxembourg.
The bird was a very appropriate mascot for this duke and poet, who welcomed poets from so many different linguistic regions to his court and was himself fluent in multiple languages. The virelai’s listeners would have had no doubt about the identity of this particular parrot.
This according to “Pykini’s parrot: Music at the court of Brabant” by Remco Sleiderink, an essay included in Musicology and archival research/Musicologie et recherches en archives/Musicologie en archiefonderzoek (Bruxelles/Brussel: Bibliotheca Regia Belgica, 1994, pp. 358–91).
Below, Plasanche or tost performed by The Early Music Consort of London.
The Vatican has recommended ten pop and rock albums as perfect listening for being marooned on a desert island. The recordings serve as an alternative to the mediocre songs featured at Italian pop festivals and on the radio.
The Top 10 list includes the Beatles’ Revolver, David Crosby’s If I could only remember my name, Pink Floyd’s The dark side of the moon, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Donald Fagan’s The nightfly, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Paul Simon’s Graceland, U2’s Achtung baby, Oasis’s (What’s the story) Morning glory?, and Carlos Santana’s Supernatural. Bob Dylan is excluded from the list because he spawned generations of singer-songwriters who have harshly tested the ears and the patience of listeners with their tormented stories.
This according to “Dieci dischi per sopravvivere ai festival: Prontuario semiserio di resistenza musicale” by Guiseppe Fiorentino and Gaetano Vallini (L’Osservatore Romano CXLVIII/37 [14 February 2010]).
Below, the concluding track from David Crosby’s album.