Category Archives: Renaissance

Codici online

A collection of music manuscripts compiled around the middle of the 15th century and currently kept in the northern Italian city of Trento, the Trent codices preserve over 1500 compositions, mostly sacred vocal music. Taken together, these codices comprise the largest and most significant single manuscript source from the entire century from anywhere in Europe.

Codici online allows scholars to see over 1800 cataloged records and over 6000 digital images of the Trent codices, along with their melodies and lyrics, and essays and contextual materials. This free online resource was established by the Soprintendenza per i Beni librari e archivistici of the autonomous province of Trento, the Direzione Generale per i Beni Librari e gli Istituti Culturali, and the Società Filarmonica di Trento.

Above, the Gloria from a mass by Dufay (the composer’s name is at the top). Below, a Kyrie from the Trent codices.

Related article: Tablature in PDF and PostScript

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Improvised vocal fugues

Sethus Calvisius (1556–1615), one of the very small number of specialists in the improvised vocal fugue, provided a discussion of the practice in his Melopoiia (1592), illustrated with 21 notated examples of fugæ extemporaneæ—tricinia, or two-part canons, over a cantus firmus.

These pieces were improvised as a third voice sang the cantus firmus, with the two improvising voices entering a minim or semibreve apart; the first of the two singers was effectively the composer. Analysis of Calvisius’s works shows that his mastery of the technique was complete, and he was capable of creating canonic improvisations of surprising originality.

This according to “Harmonia fvgata extemporanea: Fugenimprovisation nach Calvisius und den Italienern” by Olivier Trachier, an essay included in Tempus musicaetempus mundi: Untersuchungen zu Seth Calvisius (Hildesheim: Georg Olms 2008, pp. 77–102). Below, the Dresdner Kreuzchor performs Calvisius’s Freut euch und jubilieret.

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Musica antiqua

Musica antiqua: Quarterly early music magazine (ISSN 2049-1514) was launched in January 2012 with this statement from its editor, Claire Bracher:

“Our vision for Musica antiqua is very clear: with both of the founders being active professional early musicians, we feel we have a direct line to those performers and musicologists who are currently at the forefront of early music. Our aim is to provide articles written by the performers and musiciologists themselves.

“We intend also to bring a unique and creative design and layout to the articles in the magazine. Musica antiqua will concentrate on music from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and on bringing you all the latest news and developments from around the world.”

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Early music online

Early music online is the result of a project aimed at digitizing 300 volumes of the world’s earliest printed music from holdings at the British Library and making them freely available online. The project has focused on the British Library’s holdings of 16th-century anthologies of printed music, as listed in RISM B/I (Recueils imprimés XVI-XVII siècles).

These collections printed in Italy, Germany, France, England, and Belgium contain approximately 10,000 works, which have been individually indexed. The volumes mainly comprise vocal polyphony partbooks, but they also include early printed tablatures for keyboard or plucked string instruments.

The digitized books can be browsed via Royal Holloway’s digital repository. Full details of each volume, searchable by composer and by title, with links to the digitized content, can also be found in the British Library Catalogue, UK RISM database, and COPAC.

Above, an excerpt from a work by  Jacob Clément (Clemens non Papa) in Le huitiesme livre des chansons a quatre parties, an anthology published in Antwerp by Tylman Susato in 1545 (click to enlarge). Below, Stile Antico sings Clemens’s Ego flos campi.

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Susato in peril

In 1566 Tylman Susato’s son-in-law, the jurist Arnold Rosenberger, was entrusted with delivering some potentially sensitive correspondence to Erik XIV of Sweden. Since it turned out that at the time Rosenberg was involved with other pressing matters, Susato agreed to fulfill the mission. However, as his ship neared Sweden it was blown into Danish waters; faced with the danger of capture by Danish vessels, Susato destroyed the most sensitive of the documents he was carrying.

Upon his safe arrival, the Swedish king was furious to find these important documents missing, and Susato was formally arraigned in Sweden’s high court. He was in real danger of a sentence of death or hard labor from a court manipulated by a prosecutor who had the king’s full confidence; but he was ultimately released due to his connections with influential men who spoke in his favor. Nothing is known of Susato’s subsequent life, but it appears likely that he settled in Sweden.

This according to “Tielman Susato in trouble in Sweden: Some surprising later stages in the life of the trombonist-composer-publisher” by Ardis Grosjean, an essay included in Brass music at the cross roads of Europe: The Low Countries and contexts of brass musicians from the Renaissance into the nineteenth century (Utrecht: Stichting Muziekhistorische Uitvoeringspraktijk, 2005) pp. 11–16.

 Below, excerpts from Susato’s Dansereye performed by the Renaissance Consort.

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Tablature in PDF and PostScript

Tablature in PDF and PostScript is a large collection of lute music in tablature form created by the lute player and computer technologist Wayne Cripps (above). Each entry is available as an EPS, PDF, and MIDI, file. This free online resource for lute players is hosted by Dartmouth College.

Many thanks to Roderic Leon for alerting us to this compilation!

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Renaissance Christmas skits

Since the fifteenth century—perhaps even earlier—a group of young choirboys known as los seises has danced for feast days in the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede in Seville. These cantoricos were performing in Christmas Eve plays by the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Documents from 1505 record expenses for masks for the boys’ performance as singing and dancing shepherds, and toward the middle of the sixteenth century the Council Acts indicate performance of a farsa de Navidad. As described in 1541, these brief skits were often associated with lively dance numbers from the contemporaneous Spanish theater. These diversions appear to have caused some offense, as a 1549 decision banned the performances, allowing only devotional singing.

This according to “Los seises in the golden age of Seville” by Lynn Matluck Brooks (Dance chronicle V/2 [1982], pp. 121–155). Below, los seises perform in 2010.

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Musica ragionata

Libreria Musicale Italiana launched the series Musica ragionata in 2009 with Musica poetica: Retorica e musica nel periodo della Riforma by Ferruccio Civra; the book explores Reformation treatises on rhetoric and on music, illuminating the connections between them. The series is overseen by Alberto Basso.

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A Renaissance sense of history

Pietro Gaetano’s Oratio de origine et dignitate musices (ca. 1568)—“an almost unknown text from an almost insignificant individual”—illuminates relationships between music and a sense of history in the Renaissance. Unlike Tinctoris, Gaetano tried to integrate a notion of organic evolution into music historiography, along with a sense of periodization—both concepts that added substance to a historical view that was already dominated by the idea of a lineage of great composers and their works.

This according to “To write historically about music in the 16th century: Pietro Gaetano” by Philippe Vendrix, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Above, the first page of Gaetano’s manuscript (I-Vmc, Provenienza Cicogna, MS 1049; click to enlarge).

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Cross-cultural chironomia

In Tune thy musicke to thy hart: The art of eloquent singing in England, 15971622 (Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1993) Robert Toft cites Chirologia, or, The naturall language of the hand (1644) by John Bulwer 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) 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 (1948–97) demonstrates South Asian chironomia in a performance of the ghazal Angrai peh angrai.

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