Early 15th-Century Italian Benedictine Songbooks

Last month also saw the publication of an essay on the role of Benedictines in the creation of songbooks in early 15th-century Italy, with three case studies from late medieval Bologna, Florence and Padua. My chapter started life as presentation given at the memorable Sources of Identity Conference convened by Lisa Colton and Tim Shephard at the University of Sheffield in 2013. In its final, more extended version, my study recognises that in addition to composing secular polyphonic songs, several Italian Benedictines (i.e. Benedictines from the Italian peninsula) were instrumental in the collection and preservation of secular songs and related polyphony around the year 1400. (Under Benedictines I include several reformed Italian orders too numerous to name here.) The essay includes further art historical evidence in support of my argument for the completion of the famous Modena A manuscript (Modena, Biblioteca Estense, ms. alpha.M.5.24) manuscript at Bologna in 1410-1411, and the early findings of a computer-assisted approach to music script analysis that supports expanding the role of Paduan Benedictine monk, Rolandus de Casale, in the copying of the so-called Paduan fragments (now in the University Library at Padua, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford) between 1406 and 1409. (Rolandus’s signing of his manuscripts is a curious feature from which I infer another conclusion about the nature of the Paduan fragments.) I also discuss Don Paolo Tenorista da Firenze’s position as a senior ecclesiastic and public figure in Florence, and his possible sponsorship and ownership of several books of Trecento polyphonic song in the first few decades of the 15th century. I intentionally avoid discussing (but list) other known Benedictine composers in any detail, although at Sheffield I spoke at some length on Bartolomeo da Bologna, composer and organist at Ferrara cathedral in the first two decades of the 15th century, and his possible role of in the cultivation of ars subtilior song. I hope to expand on this last topic in a future publication, along with further research into advanced music education in late medieval Italy: questions remain about where those Benedictines mentioned or discussed in my essay received their education, particularly in the craft of polyphony. In the monastery? The cathedral? Or elsewhere?

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Stoessel, Jason. 2017. “The Makers and Owners of Early Fifteenth-Century Song Books in Italy: The Benedictine Contribution to the Courtly Musical Culture of the Late Middle Ages.” In Sources of Identity, edited by Lisa Colton and Tim Shephard, 77–96. Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN: 978-2-503-56778-5. Available for purchase from Brepols.

I’m delighted to be part of this collection of essays by a fantastic group of musicologists examining similar themes of music book production, ownership and use in the middle ages and early modern period. My chapter is dedicated to John Stinson who inspired my interest in the music of the ars subtilior more than a quarter century ago.

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.

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”

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.

Continue reading “Ciconia’s motet for Pietro Filargos”

Post July 2015 Conference roundup

The first three weeks of July have been a whirlwind of musicological activity, starting with hosting Graeme Boone for his great talk on music and emotions in the early songs of Du Fay for the 26th Gordon Athol Anderson Memorial Lecture (follow the link for more information), followed by a short week in Brussels (Belgium) for the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference (MedRen) and then back to Australia for the Biennial Conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (ANZAMEMS). (For those unaccustomed to transglobal travel, the flight from Australia to Europe takes between 22 to 27 hours on a good airline with only one stop on the way.)

Continue reading “Post July 2015 Conference roundup”

The Old and New in Early Fifteenth Century Padua

Last week (7-9 April 2015) I had the opportunity to give a talk entitled

Climbing Mount Ventoux: The Contest/Context of Scholasticism and Humanism in early Fifteenth-Century Paduan Music Theory and Practice

It was delivered at this year’s conference of the Sydney Intellectual History Network, which was entitled “Rethinking Intellectual History”, at the University of Sydney. As part of a session of papers discussing the concept of the Ancient and Modern in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century music theory, I spoke about the contrasting approaches of two authors writing in early fifteenth-century Padua: the composer Johannes Cicionia; and the university professor Prosdocimo de’ Beldomandi.

Continue reading “The Old and New in Early Fifteenth Century Padua”

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. Continue reading “Ciconia at MedRen 2014”