Week 8 in Review

The Week in Blogging: Week 8 saw both a musical example and an analysis of that smokiest of styles, the ars subtilior; Mark scratched the surface of the Trecento with a Landini clip; and I engaged in a self-indulgently free-form mediation on periodization and the Renaissance. We ended the week by taking stock of just how far we’ve come with the Challenge (and just how far we still have to go!).

The Week in Reading:

CHAPTER 10 – “A Pleasant Place”: Music of the Trecento

  • Vulgar Eloquence, Madrigal Culture, and A New Discant Style (351-359): In the 14th century, Italian composers engaged most heavily in the madrigale form, which consists of a few tercets (terzetti) capped off by a ritornello, or “send off.” The characteristic texture for this form consists of 2-part discant with cadences through occursus, or unison (a la French music a couple centuries earlier). Madrigals were set to vernacular poetry. Major source: the Squarcialupi Codex.
  • The “Wild Bird” Songs (359): A lively madrigal tradition that featured rustic texts and technically challenging parts made to imitate the flight and songs of birds. Watch out Olivier Messiaen!
  • Ballata Culture (364): Besides motets and madrigals, the Italians were big fans of the ballata genre, a popular dance form. Boccaccio even included one in the Decameron.
  • Landini (366): As Mark’s introductory post mentioned, Francesco Landini (1325-97) was well-respected blind organist whose music comes down to us is relatively large quantities. Because of this serendipitous twist of history, Landini has become the primary composer of the Trecento in music historiography. Among other things, he is remembered for his “Landini cadence,” which approaches the tonic through a 7-6 falling leading tone. Some of his music was adapted for keyboard instruments in the Faenza Codex.
  • Late Century Fusion (374): One hugely significant element of the Trecento was its element of internationalization and fusion. There are madrigals that satirize French style, hint at motet then pull back before the Italian identity becomes too obscured , play with French techniques (putting the talea in the cantus instead of the traditional tenor, for instance), etc. All of this points to a healthy musical cross-fertilization going on at this time that would ultimately lead to a greater internationalization of musical style.
  • An Important Side Issue: Periodization (380-385): Taruskin’s mini-essay on the concept of periodization, a recent obsession on the blog, is well worth the time.

This doesn’t take us right up to page 400, but we switch gears here to English music and the beginnings of Ch.11 might be better served in next week’s summary. On the menu this week: English music (and it’s nothing like their food, thank goodness!).

Week 7 in Review

We both began and ended last week’s reading in Ch. 9, “Machaut and His Progeny.” This is notable not only because it is the largest chapter so far by page count (61), but also because it is the first chapter with a composer’s name in the title, indicating that we are reaching a time (14th c.) where the documents can allow more of a focus on the composer. Whether or not this is good historiographical practice, however, is an issue that is sure to come up again in the reading and our discussion here.

The week of posting began with some recordings of Machaut’s secular chansons, then continued by discussing the real and sometimes negative effect that the grouping of historical eras can have on our view of music history. This particular thread was taken up later in the week by Prof. Ralph Locke, who shared with us his experience of dealing with this issue in the classroom. Zach continued our historiographical theme by tackling the “musical prophecy.” He asked the question: if the Messa de Notre Dame is an anomaly in Machaut’s output, why does it assume such a prominent place in his contribution to history? You can read his answer here.

Other notes from this week’s reading:

The Luxuriant Style: The four-voice rondeaux of Machaut (e.g., Rose, liz, printemps) were written within a structural hierarchy: It can be performed in four-, three-, two-, or one-voice versions, with the cantus (the next-to-top voice) being that final principal voice.

Instrumentalists: Though instrumental repertoires were still largely oral in tradition at this time, the Faenza Codex gives us a glimpse of the arrangement and virtuosic embellishment of vocal genres that was possible.

Machaut’s Messa de Nostre Dame:

  • Background: The Mass Ordinary as a polyphonic genre had a crucial development at the papal court of Avignon, as represented by the numerous such settings of individual or paired Ordinary items in the Apt and Ivrea manuscripts. Votive Masses (for special occasions outside of the church calendar) lead to the grouping together of Ordinary settings in manuscripts.
  • Variety: Machaut’s mass is “no less a composite than the other Ordinaries of the time” (I, p. 317). Its items (Taruskin steers us away from calling them “movements”) vary both modally and texturally.
  • Unity: Machaut connects the items by their motet-style basis on isorhythmic tenors. The compositional style represents a synthesis and summary of motet, cantilena, and homorhythmic styles.

Subtilitas: The “subtle art” of Machaut and his successors emphasizes intricate relationships of text and music (hocket, onomatopoeia) and high displays of intellectual prowess (the essence of clus). It is an art engendered in the context of aristocracy, and in turn was meant for aristocratic ears.

In its heyday, this “high” approach touched all genres, even the socially “low”-class  virelai. The result was an opportunity for aristocratic listeners to make a jaunt into the more “naturalistic” flavor of peasant life, albeit from a safe distance.

Week 6 in Review

The Week in Blogging: Week 7 kicks off with some good news. It’s official – Mark passed his doctoral comp exams! A hearty congratulations!

We started the week off with a video clip of an amazing “real life” motet (and the frustration of losing the Week 5 review..). From there, Mark returned from the dead to discuss the psychological implications of the switch from orality to literacy, as well as share a little koan about the motet. The week continued with posts on humor in the motet and the ever-important role of politics in the creation of new music. We closed with Du Fay’s crazily complex numerological motet and a Machaut sneak peak. The week also saw another exciting development: Alex Ross, the amazing music critic for The New Yorker, added the Challenge to the reading list on his new blog, Unquiet Thoughts.

The Week in Reading: Chapter 8 – Business Math, Politics, and Paradise: The Ars Nova

  • A New Art of Music? (247): New music treatises began appearing around 1322 that radically altered the course of literate music making. These theoretical manuals launched an even more sophisticated notational technology for rhythms.
  • Music from Mathematics (248): A breakthrough occurred when musicians began adapting the theory of exponential powers for use in notating rhythms. Thus, every rhythmic value could be subdivided as follows: 3 minim = semibreve; 3 semibreves = breve; 3 breves = long; 3 longs = longa triplex. Furthermore, this method of subdivision allowed for the same breakdown of “imperfect” (2) values.
  • Putting it into Practice (250): Further discussion of the implications of the above.
  • Representing It (252): Time signatures (or mensural signs) were created to specify the four rhythmic modes (corresponding to 9/8, 3/4, 6/8, and 2/4).
  • Establishing the Prototype: The Roman de Fauvel (255): The story of Fauvel, a political satire featuring a corrupt deerlike creature, provided the first documented consolidation of a few ars nova features, including: 1) Latin text; 2) Lyrics relating to public morality; 3) Delayed tenor entrance for dramatic effect.
  • Taking a Closer Look (260): More discussion of this new rhythmic system
  • More Elaborate Patterning (261): The deep architecture of many ars nova motets reflects an inherent tension between triple and duple subdivisions. There was no way of mixing these two levels at one time, so composers used “rubrics” (or “canons”), including performance notes and color changes, to show a shift in metrical value.
  • Isorhythm (266): This combinatorial technique drew from the concepts of “color” and “talea”: recurring rows of notes and rhythms overlap to produce independent but overlapping periodicities. These large structural patterns reflected the rhythm of the cosmos.
  • Music about Music (267): With formal practices codified, musicians were able to subvert the rules in a playful and ironic way. There’s a lot of wit in these self-referential motets about the art of motet composition!
  • Machaut: The Occult and the Sensuous (270): This is our first glimpse of the immense creative vision of Guillaume de Machaut, particularly in reference to his gnomic treatment of rhythm as a reflection of hidden, occult truths. Of course, these structural densities were belied by sensuous surface textures.
  • Musica Ficta (273): Literally “false music.” Machaut was able to utilize a level of chromaticism heretofore inaccessible to notated music by exploiting the natural tendencies of pitches to magnetize towards other pitches. Musica ficta is a system of implied accidentals according to context. Its reach was to extend well into the 17th century.
  • Cadences (276): Major style feature – the “double leading-tone cadence.” Approaching the tonic and fifth by half-step was enabled by musica ficta.
  • Ciconia: The Motet as Political Show (277): See this post.
  • Du Fay: The Motet as Mystical Summa (281): The symbolic value of numbers played a major role in the structure and meaning of many motets. Du Fay’s mind-blowing Nuper rosarum flores juggles at least 4 levels of numerological meaning.
  • A Final Word From Dante (286): Dante wrote about the power and beauty of the motet, actually using it as a metaphor a world government of perfect justice. The chapter closes with Taruskin’s answer to the riddle of polytextuality: motets were intended to awe people, not to be understood.

We read about 10 pages into Ch.9, but for the sake of organization I’ll leave that for next week’s summary. Look out for more Machaut, including his famous mass, a return to sacred music, ars subtilior and more in Week 7!

Week 4 in Review

This Week in Blogging: Posts for the week chronicled a number of diverse engagements with the text, from an example of the first extant piece of polyphony and a new piece of artwork, to a meditation on the role of anonymity and its relationship to orality in the early repertory. (From here on out, dear readers, we’ll be dealing with composers, not anonymous monks.) The week came to a close with a rumination on the element of creative play that really crystallized during this period. In some of the earliest polyphonic experiments and into the Notre Dame school, we can get a clear glimpse of homo ludens, “humanity at play.”

CHAPTER 5: Polyphony in Practice and Theory

  • Guido, John, and Discant (153): Inventing the staff wasn’t Guido’s only contribution to music – he also set down some basic counterpoint rules in his “Micrologus.” This practice, discant, was the same type of note-against-note (homorhythmic) counterpoint evident in the Chartres fragment.
  • Polyphony in Aquitanian Monastic Centers (156): While the earliest polyphony used preexisting chant as the melody (the highest voice), Aquitanian practitioners flipped the script, putting the chant (cantus firmus) in the tenor. The cantus firmus was then slowed down dramatically to leave room for florid melismas in the upper voice(s).
  • The Codex Calixtinus (162): A late 12th-century French manuscript with some of the earliest examples of this new sort of polyphonic music.

CHAPTER 6: Notre Dame de Paris

  • The Cathedral-University Complex (169): Paris was the undeniable intellectual and artistic hub of 12th-13th century Europe, and it was in the newly founded universities and massive cathedrals that a new style developed. Early Notre Dame polyphony alternated between two styles: discant (note-against-note) and organum (sustained tenor cantus firmus with melismatic flights in the upper voice).
  • Piecing the Evidence Together (172): The most important document shedding light on the practices, composers, and repertory of this compositional school was written by an anonymous Englishman, the so-called “Anonymous IV.” It it through this document that we learn the name of Leonin and Perotin, the two masters of Notre Dame. However, the specifics are all quite sketchy, and modern scholars still know very little about these composers.
  • Measured Music (175): This repertory featured a novel way of notating rhythm, with long or short durations indicated through ligature patterns. The rhythmic feel would change dramatically between discant and organum sections. Copula served as an intermediate rhythmic level.
  • Whys and Wherefores (183): Taruskin takes the opportunity to ask why modal rhythm was developed at this time and for this repertory. Again, the “organic fallacy” appears – we should not read the development of rhythmic notation as a progressive evolutionary step. Instead, it might have been developed as a mnemonic device (to aid in memorization). In any case, Perotin and his ilk were the first generation of composers to depend on this new notational technology.
  • Organum cum Alio (186): The polyphony discussed so far is of the 2-voice variety. In the Notre Dame school, however, more voices were added to the mix (“organum with another [voice]”). Juggling three of four parts required a level of coordination that would have been impossible without modal rhythmic notation. The section features analyses of Perotin’s Viderunt Omnes and Alleluia Nativitas.
  • Theory or Practice? (196): Johannes de Garlandia’s authoritative De mensurabili musica offers descriptions of the rhythmic modes that exemplifies the complex relationship between theory and practice. While most of the modes outlined in the treatise appear to have reflected actual practice, a few of the theoretical modes that were introduced in the text only began to appear after Garlandia described them. This is a textbook case of theory influencing practice.
  • Conductus at Notre Dame (198): Notre Dame composers added some interesting new features to the conductus genre: 1) they were settings of contemporary poems and could have been composed from scratch, not from chant; 2) they were syllabically texted.

Coming up this week: the motet!

Week 3 in Review

This Week in Blogging: The posts this week continued to focus on drawing connections between medieval music and the 21st century. Plenty of aspects are still around today, including the actual repertoire (minnesang covered by a metal band), the philosophical debates (closed vs. open styles of music/lyric composition), social practices (competitions between performers), and lyrical topics (romantic love). We also were reminded, through Guido, of the importance of the pedagogical craft to technological advances, and thus to history. At the end of the week, we returned (with a knowing wink from Oswald von Wolkenstein) to one of the major threads of this book: moving away from a progress-laden, self-centered, anachronistic view of history. Here are some other notes from this week’s reading:

End of Chapter 3

  • Guido (pp. 99-104) Includes an explanation of the gamut (the full range of the medieval pitch set), the invention of the staff, and the Guidonian hand (with a large image and very practical explanation of the process of hexachord mutation—DO try this at home!).

Chapter 4: Music of Feudalism and Fin’ Amors

  • Troubadours (106): The repertoire of these Aquitainian musicians is the first glimpse we have of secular music, and heavily dominated by the fin’ amors (“refined love”), also known as amour courtoise (“courtly love”). Performance occurred in a range of situations, although the more august the situation, the more the music resembled chant of the church (in modal fingerprints and performance practice).
  • Minstrels (109): A lower caste of musicians, including jongleurs.
  • Rhythm and Meter (114): The notation systems didn’t indication rhythm or meter in this repertoire, but the currently favored approach is the “isosyllabic” one: all syllables of the text are given equal temporal length, no matter if there is one, two, or three notes to a given syllable.
  • Trobar clus and Trobar clar (115): Two opposing poetic approaches, outlined in this post.
  • Trouvères (116): The northern French counterpart of the troubadour, including several famous nobles, among them Richard I (Lionhearted). We learned about other famous (then and now) trouvères Jehan Bretel and Adam de la Halle, who is considered the last of the trouvères. Contemporary with Adam was the spread of the formes fixes, which were codified ways of dealing with and formally embellishing the basic canso (refrain form, aab).
    • rondeau: [AB] a [A] ab [AB]
    • ballade: R aab R
    • virelai: B aab B (more commonly expressed as A bba A)
  • Geographical Diffusion (128)
    • Cantigas de Santa Maria: important collection of vernacular song from regions in present-day Spain
    • lauda: Italian vernacular song
    • minnesang: continuation of the troubadour tradition in German speaking lands. Minnesinger were knightly poet-composer-musicians.
    • meistersinger: members of a guild of musicians who were an extension of minnesinger. They flourished in the 15th-16th centuries.

Chapter 5: Polyphony in Practice and Theory

  • As we begin in this chapter to read about the flourishing of polyphonic writing in monastic centers, universities, and cathedrals (especially at Notre Dame de Paris), we are reminded that it is the story not of the invention of polyphony (it has always been with us in one way or another), but of its practical, theoretical, and technological revolution.

We have an exciting week ahead: more of the musica enchiriadis, as well as Leonin, Perotin, rhythmic modes, mensuration, and (I’m sure) much more!

Week 2 in Review

In order to briefly consolidate the reading of the week, quickly summarize themes and ideas on the blog, and touch on the issues in the text that never made it onto the blog, Mark and I are going to try to do quick and easy bullet-point reviews at the end of every week. We hope these little reviews help students and fellow travelers on the TC.

The Week in Blogging: This was the week of the trope! Unfortunately (or fortunately), tropes appeared at the very beginning of the week’s reading (p. 50-52) and thus eclipsed the rest of Ch.2 and beginning of Ch.3. We wrestled with the idea of troping through comparison (sampling), meditations on meaning (greater subjectivity and a way for monks to personalize liturgy), and ruminations on the primacy of the transmission media, a post which generated considerable discussion. The week also saw posts on the idea of oral composition and the critical perspectives needed to understand it, and the historiographical dilemma of focusing on sameness vs. difference.

The Week in Reading: Chapter 2 con’t –

  • Tropes (p. 50): But of course. Everyone’s favorite chant genre, involving the interpolation of new material into preexisting chant.
  • The Mass Ordinary (p. 53): The Mass was codified by the Franks and ordered into the format that endures today.
  • Kyries (p. 58): A hybrid genre and the only Greek text in the Mass. RT suggests that the use of double notation to convey necessary information in the Kyries may have played a major role in the invention of the staff.
  • “Old Roman” and Other Chant Dialects (p. 61): Frankish-Roman chant was not the only variety of the day. Other styles included: Old Roman singing, Milanese chant, Mozarabic (from Spain), Benevetan (southern Italy).
  • What is Art? (p. 64): The much-discussed philosophical essay.

CHAPTER 3: Retheorizing Music – New Frankish Concepts of Musical Organization and Their Effect on Composition

  • Musica (p. 69): Music was entirely theoretical and was considered the study of proportions. Active music making was considered a lower form of musical thinking. Musica mirrored harmony of cosmos; also had influence on human health and behavior.
  • Tonaries (p. 72): Notion of scale degrees developed; first foray in music theory. Musical analysis was developed to better understand older chants – descriptive body of knowledge started to become prescriptive.
  • A New Concept of Mode; Mode Classification in Practice; Mode as a guide to composition (pp. 76-86): Discussion of the Medieval modes and their codification in practice and role in guiding new composition.
  • Versus (p. 86): Late Frankish sequences. RT discusses the famous “Dies Irae” chant and Hildegard von Bingen here.
  • Liturgical Dramas (p. 92): Moral plays based on Biblical passages.
  • Marian Antiphons (p.94): Votive antiphons (Psalm-less) started to be attached to the ends of Office services to honor local saints and Mary.

Please respond if you have any suggestions for how to make these little reviews more useful for study. Stay tuned for troubadours, the invention of meter, secular genres, and much much more this week on the Taruskin Challenge!!