Week 12 Review

The combination of a holiday weekend and pesky colds (for both Zach and me—ah, the joys of air travel!) led to our not writing a Week 12 review. I’ll be taking care of that here, and Zach will catch us up with the Week 13 review presently.

Notes from the Reading

Ch. 14, Josquin and the Humanists

This chapter is the second, after Machaut’s, to include a composer’s name in the title. Taruskin takes a corrective approach to the discussion of Josquin, and is concerned with sorting out what is myth and what fact about our understanding of this most famous composer.

  • The Josquin legend (a poet born, not made; the antisocial, moody genius, etc.) was created by the post-Josquin generation, and therefore tells us more about the makers of the legend than the composer himself.
  • As is his stated custom, Taruskin returns to the texts to ask What was Josquin really like? and considers his motet Ave Maria … virgo serena as exemplary. This piece casts Josquin as a “musical rhetorician par excellence” in the music’s declamatory, syntactical, and semantic relation to the text. Points of imitation articulate structure; performing forces (duets, accumulation of voices) and stretto techniques dramatize the unfolding of the text; the drive to the cadence emphasizes the overall rhetorical arc.
  • This masterpiece was monumentalized by the mid-sixteenth-century generation of theorists—Glareanus—and composers (Sennfl). Sennfl literally monumentalized the motet by setting it as his own, enlarged motet.

Taruskin finishes the chapter by recounting the more recent turbulent events in Josquin scholarship, positioning them (as he is apt to do) in such a dramatic fashion that the reader is likely to feel a stirring desire to dust off the whip and fedora, and join Indiana Jones in a search to find the true identity of Josquin (and maybe a sapphire skull—a lesser cousin of the crystal—that holds the secret to eternal breath-control). It is this powerful narrative that sparked this recent post that generated quite a discussion.

Ch. 15, A Perfected Art

Giuseppe Zarlino, an important 16th c. music theorist, was the first to codify in theory what composers had been practicing ever since the “British Invasion” of the early 15th c.: count the third as a fully fledged consonance. He laid out a complete set of rules for triadic counterpoint, the sum of which was encompassed by the term ars perfecta.

It is here that Josquin’s influence can really be felt. He precipitated a sea change in contrapuntal structure. No longer are we dealing with Du Fay’s structural hierarchy of voices. Rather, Josquin’s points of imitation, equalization of voices, and more long-breathed structures are the new launch pad, all techniques taken up by Nicolas Gombert, Clemens non Papa, and especially Adriano Willaert.

More on the perfected art, and the beginning of its end, will follow in Zach’s review for week 13. Now back to reading!

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