Ciconia’s motet for Pietro Filargos

Last week I gave a paper at the Practising Emotions collaboratory of the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions entitled “Civic Pride, Community and Friendship: Representations of Emotional Spaces in the Music and Oratory of Johannes Ciconia’s Padua”. During his time at Padua between 1401 and his death in 1412, the composer Johannes Ciconia wrote a series of motets that reference prominent events and figures associated with the city. As already discussed by several scholars (Clercx, Bent, Hallmark, Nosow), no less than three of his motets refer to successive bishops (or in one case a bishop-elect) of Padua. Although there is disagreement on when and where these motets might have been performed, their associations seem clear.

What is less known is that Francesco Zabarella, Ciconia’s patron in Padua, also delivered orations on the occasion of at least two of these bishops’ inaugurations. The speech that he gave for the first bishop of Padua during the Venetian period, Alban Michiel, has close thematic parallels with the text of Ciconia’s motet for the same bishop, Albane misse celitus / Albane doctor maxime. Zabarella emphasises two essential qualities of a bishop: that he be a beacon of holiness and that he shine a light on doctrine through his learning. Ciconia’s motet text affirms the second of Zabarella’s requirements by calling Michiel “learned” and the “greatest of teachers”. They also pronounce that the new bishop is “an imitator of the heavenly life” and dedicatee to Christ. Several of these textual references are emphasised musically by repetition, syncopated lines that entangle both texts and different textures, like a unaccompanied duet on “Albane” and a solo entry that throws “Vite celestis emulus” (“an imitator of the heavenly life”) into sharp relief. It would seem that Zabarella and Ciconia, despite some shift in emphasis, collaborated in the creation of these public performances.

Source: Peter of Candia Homepage, Biography
Source: Peter of Candia Homepage, Biography

Among the many speeches that Zabarella gave in Padua, one was given on the occasion of the visit of Cardinal Pietro Filargos of Candia to Padua on 6 March 1406. Thomas Morrissey has provided an excellent discussion and edition of this text in the publication cited below. One of the features that I focused on in my talk was the way that Zabarella carves out on behalf of his fellow Paduans an emotional space of joy and optimism at a time that Padua was undergoing massive changes due to the defeat of its former lords, the Carraresi, and its annexation by the Most Serene Republic. He is overjoyed that Filargos is visiting his distinguished city, referring to his fellow citizens’ collective joy (gaudia) and the prelate’s “most pleasing arrival”. But Zabarella also lays his citizens’ hopes and expectations at Filargos’ feet: he is their salvation. In doing so, the compares Filargos to St Peter: for just as the Redeemer has sent his prince of the apostles to save the world, so has the pope (the unnamed Pope Innocent VII) sent out the foremost of his cardinals to protect the faithful in this time of great spiritual peril during the Great Schism when the Western church divided its obediences between two popes (and after 1409, three popes!).

I was struck by the fact that Ciconia had written a motet, O Petre, Christe discipule, that strongly resonated with Zabarella’s speech. Giuliano Di Bacco and John Nádas had already associated this motet with Filargos, but only after he was elected Pope Alexander V at the Council of Pisa in 1409, a view affirmed with some subtle modifications by Margaret Bent, who also brilliantly suggests that “candidus” in the third quatrain might refer to Filargos’ home island of Candia or Crete.

O Petre is a prayerful text that bids St Peter to look over “another Peter”. The other Peter is described as a presul and “our shepherd”. While one might be tempted to translate “presul” as bishop, this Latin word can also refer to an abbot or even cardinal. Essentially, presul means prelate, that is a figure in the senior hierarchy of the church. “Shepherd” is an attribute often given to varying degrees of ecclesiastics charged with the pastoral care of the faithful. It was an epithet given to popes, cardinals, bishops, and even parish priests. Looking closely at the text, it is difficult to see how it might refer to a specific pope without saying so. Further more, there are just two Peters in the motet’s text, St Peter and “another Peter”, not a third Peter as some of the aforementioned scholars have suggested.

The resonance between Zabarella’s speech, particularly his reference to St Peter and Filargos, and Ciconia’s motet, suggests that O Petre needs to be dated to 6 March 1406. The elegance of this proposal resides on its resolution of burning questions over why Ciconia might have written a motet for Pope Alexander V (who died just 10 months after he was crowned pope) during a time the composer is (although not constantly) documented at Padua, and why Ciconia might have written two motets for the same bishop or a motet for a bishop of a cathedral other than the one in which he was a prebended cantor.


  • Bent, Margaret. 1998. “Early Papal Motets.” In Papal music and Musicians in Late Medieval and Renaisance Rome, edited by Richard Sherr, 5-43. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Di Bacco, Giuliano, and John Nádas. 1998. “The Papal Chapels and Italian Sources of Polyphony during the Great Schism.” In Papal Music and Musicians in Late Medieval and Renaissance Rome, edited by Richard Sherr, 44-91. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Morrissey, Thomas E. 2000. “Peter of Candia at Padua and Venice in March 1406.” In Reform and Renewal in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Studies in Honor of Louis Pascoe, S.J., edited by Thomas M. Izbicki and Christopher M. Bellitto, 155–173. Leiden: Brill.
  • Nosow, Robert. 2012. Ritual Meanings in the Fifteenth-Century Motet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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