Changing tastes in French music around the Council of Constance, 1414-1418

The Council of Constance (1414–1418) was a significant event for the ecclesiastical, political and culture histories of early 15th-century Europe. It ended the Great Schism of the Western Church (1378–1418) when up to three claimants competed for the papal throne, a situation that fuelled political and dynastic rivalries (and wars) in Western Europe. The Council gathered delegates from all over Europe in the small city on the Bodensee. Cardinals and princes brought their households, including musicians to provide suitable music for liturgical ceremonies and for diversion when the business of the Council concluded each day. Chronicler Ulrich von Richental provided a vivid description of some of this music making of musicians to a pope, several bishops and dukes, although most of it is ceremonial or civic in its nature. Little is known of the cultivation of polyphonic song repertoires around the Council, although internal, and circumstantial evidence indicates that this genre thrived in the courts of religious and secular princes during this period.

This is the background to my recently publication on French-text songs at the Council Constance. In 2014, I was in the fortunate position to be invited to present a paper on this topic along with other colleagues speaking on related topics at a public symposium convened to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Council. This provided me with an opportunity to address some of the difficult historiographic questions concerning the music of this period, both in terms of his stylistic definitions and political function. A novelties of this research that I hope will be recognised is that I propose that the style that is today called the Ars subtilior be defined by its cultural function, rather than musical characteristics alone, and that the decline of this style represents a loss of functionality, rather than just a change of taste. One of the challenges of this approach is that it invites a tremendous amount of knowledge about the sources which transmitted the music in question: for this reason alone, the number of manuscripts and fragments of music (and scholarship on them) considered in the paper is extensive.

Subsequently, papers from the symposium were reworked for a volume of essays on music culture at the Council of Constance. Details of the chapter are as follows:

Stoessel, Jason. “French-texted Songs at the Council of Constance: Influences, Paths of Transmission, and Trends.” In Europäische Musikkultur im Kontext des Konstanzer Konzils, edited by Stefan Morent, Silke Leopold and Joachim Steinheuer, 205–224. Ostfildern: Jan Thorbecke, 2017.

A copy of this chapter can be downloaded by visiting my page at Academia.edu (login required).

This collection of essays will be/was officially presented to the public in the Stadtarchiv Konstanz (State Archive of Constance) on 18th July 2017 at 7pm.

Late Medieval Listening in Padua

Due to a research trip, it has taken me a few weeks to post news of a recent article on subjectivity, listening and music in early fifteenth-century Padua. The article is part of a special issue on visual and aural intellectual history. It arose from a paper delivered at the Rethinking Intellectual History conference, held 7–9 April 2015 at The University of Sydney, Australia, and was part of a session on the old and new in medieval music theory. Some of the research—including archival research mentioned in the footnotes—in this article is the result of a project that I am undertaking in association with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Europe 1100–1800.

I was interested in exploring the idea of the old and new in writings of music theorists at Padua, particularly around the issue of musical listening and the conceptualisation of consonance. As a point of departure, I chose Petrarch’s famous letter from his Epistolae familiares (IV, 1) written after his ascent of Mont Ventoux when the fourteenth-century poet was living near Avignon, now in the south of modern-day France. Without going into details here, Petrarch’s letter can be read as the author’s realisation and exploration of his own subjectivity, made apparent when Petrarch realises that his experiences differ radically from those whom he sought to model his life upon, and upon his personal reflection as he looked figurative to his past, present and future on the peak of Mont Ventoux.

In the article, I wanted to explore how subjectivity in musical listening began to affect late medieval theoretical discourse at Padua, particularly with respect to two prominent figures, the university professor Prosdocimo de’ Beldomandi and the composer Johannes Ciconia. Both left writings about music which are all the more interesting according to their intellectual positions. Yet, pigeonholing each theorist according to their intellectual context is complex: while Prosdocimo might be put in the camp of scholastic thought, he is obviously interested trying to describe the qualities of the music he hears not just in technical terms. Ciconia seems conservative in his choice of venerable authors on music from many centuries before he was writing—Boethius and Remigius of Auxerre, for example—but his framework for music knowledge proves to be a radical one, more in keeping with (and probably influenced by) humanist thought in Padua c. 1400.

The complete bibliographic reference for my article is as follows:

Stoessel, Jason. “Climbing Mont Ventoux: the contest/context of scholasticism and humanism in early fifteenth-century Paduan music theory and practice.” Intellectual History Review 27, no. 3 (2017): 317–332. doi: 10.1080/17496977.2017.1333314.

For readers without access to a personal or institutional subscription to Intellectual History Review, a free copy of the article can be found here. Note that Taylor and Francis kindly provide 50 free e-prints only, so once the online article has been accessed that number of times, no further copies will be available from the link above. If you require a copy for personal study, please request a copy using the contact form on this blog or my email at the University of New England.

Short essay on Guillaume Faugues and his reception

Earlier this year my essay on fifteenth-century composer Guillaume Faugues was published as the introduction to the fourth and final volume of Rex Eakins’s new edition of The Complete Extant Transmissions of the Masses by Guillaume Faugues (published by The Institute of Mediaeval Music). This essay gave me the opportunity to summarise all previous scholarship on Faugues, and discuss his reception by authors from the late fifteenth century to the present. (There is, however, a substantial hiatus in literature when Faugues’s name was forgotten until the 18th century.)

I take this opportunity to share the text  of my introduction (downloadable from this link) in the hope that it might be of interest to enthusiasts of fifteenth-century music.

Proportional Canons at Tokyo

Last week I travelled to Tokyo, Japan, to present a paper at the quinquennial congress of the International Musicological Society on some of my recent findings on proportional canons from c.1390 to c.1500. This research is part of a larger project that I am conducting with Denis Collins on Canonic Techniques and Musical Change, c. 1330–c.1530. While we have been doing much work last year on the fourteenth-century canon, these are relatively straight-forward examples in which voices imitated each other at the unison after a certain delay between voice entries. The latter is commonly called in technical parlance the interonset interval or IOI. Continue reading “Proportional Canons at Tokyo”

Identity and Locality in Early European Music Now in Paperback

Just in time for your summer or winter reading list–depending on in which hemisphere of the Earth you reside–Routledge has announce that Identity and Locality in Early European Music, 1028-1740, ed. Jason Stoessel, originally published by Ashgate in 2009 has been reissued in an affordable paperback edition. This reissue is part of the Routledge Paperback Direct (RPD) programme and, as such, no changes were made to the hardback edition at all. RPD is the Routledge way of publishing paperback editions of successful hardbacks, available for authors and individual customers to purchase directly from the Routledge website. For further details, see the Routledge order page:

https://www.routledge.com/Identity-and-Locality-in-Early-European-Music-10281740/Stoessel/p/book/9780754664871

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Essay on Death’s influence on the Music of the Fourteenth Century

The following is the English text of a general essay recently published in Dutch in the Laus Polyphoniae 2016 festival program booklet. It names several compositions that featured in the festival program. I am posting it here for the benefit of readers less comfortable with the Dutch version. Continue reading “Essay on Death’s influence on the Music of the Fourteenth Century”

Review of Schiltz’s new book

My review of Katelijne Schiltz’s Music and Riddle Culture in the Renaissance (OUP) has recently appeared in Music and Letters. Full citation:

Jason Stoessel, “Music and Riddle Culture in the Renaissance. By Katelijne Schiltz (review).” Music and Letters 97, no. 2 (2016): 327-329. doi: 10.1093/ml/gcw030

Oxford University Press has provided free access to the review via this link (HTML) or this link (PDF) for use on my personal research blog. Enjoy my review and I hope that it encourages you to read this book on a fascinating topic.