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).
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.
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).
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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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.
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).
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.
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 ownMissa “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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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.
The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →