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.
The specification of instruments in vocal-instrumental compositions began in the final decades of the 16th century in Italy and gained momentum in the early decades of the 17th, including in church music. Trombones, in particular, were increasingly specified and often used interchangeably with voices.
Seventeenth-century Italian motets with trombones, edited by D. Linda Pearse, (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2014) is a new edition of concerted motets composed between 1600 and 1640 with explicitly labelled parts for trombones; the works are small scale, containing fewer than eight parts (excluding basso continuo). Unlike other editions of similar repertoire, the works selected here provide a representative sample of a significant repertoire and present music of high quality by lesser-known composers whose output is largely unavailable.
Below, Carlo Fillago’s Confitemini Domino, one of the motets included in this edition, performed by ¡Sacabuche!