Ciconia at MedRen 2014

Another annual Medieval and Renaissance (MedRen) Music conference has drawn to a close. Held this year (3-6 July 2014) in Birmingham in the United Kingdom, an unprecedented number of delegates presented on a wide range of topics in Medieval and Renaissance music. As with all conferences, the opportunity to engage with each others scholarship continues long into the evening over dinner with friends and colleagues (some of whom I haven’t seen in person for years), often resulting in some new collaborations and projects. But the main event is naturally presenting a paper on recent research.

This year I presented on a topic concerning Johannes Ciconia’s “late songs”, namely the songs for which there is good reason to accept that they were composed in Padua in the last decade of Ciconia’s life. Developing on ideas that I have presented here and here, this paper outlines what will eventually become a chapter in my book on music and humanism in early fifteenth-century Padua. (The working title is boring, I admit, but I will be thinking a more jazzy title later in the year.) Having spent the last month looking for additional connections between humanists and musicians in Paduan archives, I was pleased to present this paper confident that the connections I have been developing through cultural analysis are also hinted at in documents, the latter in a far drier, legalistic fashion for the most part.  The abstract to my paper, entitled “Music and Rhetoric in Johannes Ciconia’s late songs”, was as follows:

The repetition of text and music in the songs of Johannes Ciconia (c.1370–1412) from the last decade or so of his life has not gone unnoticed in the musicological literature. Nino Pirrotta argued that such repetition marked the influence of Italian popular song. Conversely, Susanne Clercx stated that it lent an “accent lyrique … pathetique” to Ciconia’s songs. David Fallows describes it as Ciconia’s “sighing technique”. In this paper, I argue that during his last years, Ciconia’s compositional technique came under the influence of the cutting-edge humanist culture at Padua. Ciconia must have been part of a thriving community of humanists that included at various times Conversini da Ravenna, Francesco Zabarella, the young Leonardo Giustinian, and Pier Paolo Vergerio. Ciconia’s use of repetition in his mature musical works directly parallels ideas that these men appropriated from the ancients in their unprecedented efforts to revive public oratory. These early humanists understood from manuals like the Rhetorica ad Herennium that repetition was just one effective figure of speech that they might use to sway—indeed move—their listeners emotionally, especially when the words themselves had the strong potential for creating an emotional response. Indeed, the use of emotionally suggestive words, gestures, and types of voice, or what William Reddy terms “emotives”, is strongly analogous with musical techniques like repetition. Using this approach, I demonstrate clear parallels between the funeral orations of Pier Paolo Vergerio and the music of Ciconia that reveal much about emotive strategies in their respective creations. Such relationships signal Ciconia’s place as a musician in the humanist emotional community of early fifteenth-century Padua. I conclude by briefly speculating on how this understanding of Ciconia’s music might inform the performance of his music.

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