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.

One thought on “Changing tastes in French music around the Council of Constance, 1414-1418

  1. Update: for the 13th transmission of Esperance (tenor only), the 4th in an Italian source, see the new identification in the Santa Maria Maggiore graduale announced in Cuthbert, Michael Scott; and Nicola Tangari, 2017: ‘Identificazioni di composizioni vocali italiane e internazionali in alcuni manoscritti liturgici del tardo Trecento’, Rivista Internazionale di Musica Sacra 37/1-2, pp. 219–227.

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