The Illuminator of Mod A

At last my article on the illuminator of the important early fifteenth-century music manuscript Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, ms. α.M.5.24, also known as Mod A has been published in the Journal of Musicology. I am little proud of this article since it is the result of several years of research and makes what I think is an important contribution to music history’s understanding of this manuscript, well at least part of it. I’m also humbled by the fact it benefited from considerable from comments and insightful reviews for several scholars. This article is by no means the end of the story when it comes to Mod A, its illuminator and this manuscript’s origin. Instead I hope that it will provoke other scholars to revisit this manuscript and indeed my conclusions. The reference and abstract for the article is as follows:

Stoessel, Jason. “Arms, a Saint and Inperial Sedendo fra più stelle: The Illuminator of Mod A.” Journal of Musicology 31/1 (2014): 1–42.

Scholars have proposed Milan, Pisa and/or Bologna as possible locations for the copying of the inner gatherings (II–IV) of the manuscript Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, α.M.5.24 (Mod A) and have argued that some of the compositions might have originated in the circle of Archbishop of Milan Pietro Filargo. Yet evidence based on Mod A’s repertory and the scant biographies of its composers is insufficient for determining the manuscript’s origin. To solve this problem, I look at Mod A as a cultural artifact, attributing its illumination to the Master of 1411, an illuminator active in Bologna from 1404 to 1411, or to his assistant, both associated with the manuscript workshop of the Olivetan abbey of San Michele in Bosco, on the outskirts of medieval Bologna. The Master of 1411 might have been Giacomo da Padova, an illuminator documented there between 1407 and 1409. Iconographical analysis shows that the illuminator of Mod A possessed considerable knowledge of Paduan culture before the fall of the ruling Carrara family in 1405. This knowledge is apparent in his use of an astrological allusion to Carrara heraldry in his decoration of the song Inperial sedendo. His illumination of a Gloria by Egardus with the figure of Saint Anthony of Padua implies a familiarity with Padua’s musical institutions. Mod A may have been illuminated when the papal entourage of John XXIII visited San Michele in Bosco in the fall of 1410, although further compositions were added after the illuminator had finished his work. This conclusion invites scholars to consider afresh the social context that might have fostered the compilation of the repertory in the inner gatherings of Mod A.

The University of California Press has granted me permission to post a copy of my article on my personal website. Click here to download a copy of this article strictly for your own personal study. (Warning: links to an 8 MB PDF.) Any further use or redistribution of this file is not permitted.

Saint Anthony of Padua Reading by Cosimo Tura [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Saint Anthony of Padua Reading by Cosimo Tura [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Johannes Ciconia’s “Merçe o morte” (with a free transcription)

Johannes Ciconia’s Merçe o morte is an extraordinary example of early fifteenth-century song. Several features set it apart, including the repetition of affective words using short melodic motifs, its extremely economical use of musical material, and indeed its immediate appeal to many listeners today. Continue reading “Johannes Ciconia’s “Merçe o morte” (with a free transcription)”

Music and Politics

I recently attended the 35th National Conference of the Musicological Society of Australia, 3–5 December 2012, a regular fixture on the Australian music research scene. The conference, held at Australian National University, brought together over 140 speakers on the broad theme of “The Politics of Music“. Like many conferences most of the papers ran in parallel sessions, so it is always difficult to arrive at an overall view of the conference and its success. Australian musicology is a broad church, and my own research and general interests determined which sessions I attended. For me, highlights of the conference included James Webster’s keynote on politics in the music of Joseph Haydn and John Griffiths’s account on the relationships between architecture, rhetoric and music in the 15th and 16th centuries. A slightly abbreviated version of Griffiths’s paper can be read here.

For my part, I presented a paper on a long gestated topic: the politics of part of the repertoire of the manuscript Modena, Biblioteca Estense, ms. α.M.5.24 (Mod A) (warning: links to 14 MB PDF of the manuscript). Continue reading “Music and Politics”

Some insights into late medieval music notation

As 2012 draws to a close, it pleases me to learn that the journal Early Music has published my article examining an anonymous late fourteenth-century song, Aÿ, mare, amice mi care. This Latin rondeau was discovered among an odd assortment of music fragments by Mark Everist just a few years ago but until now has not been satisfactorily transcribed nor its notation discussed. Thanks to the generosity of Oxford University Press, I am able to provide readers of my blog with a free-access URL to my article for their personal use only. The details of the article are as follows:

Jason Stoessel, ‘Revisiting Ay, mare, amice mi care: insights into late medieval music notation’, Early Music 40/3 (2012): 455-468. doi: 10.1093/em/cas101. Free access links: PDF or HTML.

Continue reading “Some insights into late medieval music notation”

Redemption and the “Missa L’Ardant desir”

Recently I have been thinking again about the Missa L’Ardant desir, an anonymous polyphonic mass that was at the centre of a previous piece of research on the use of unusual signs in fifteenth-century music notation. The remarkable Confiteor from the Credo of this mass is but one of a number of distinctive features in this mass. Like many polyphonic settings of the Ordinary of the Mass from the middle of the fifteenth century (or slightly later, perhaps the 1460s, in the case of the Missa L’Ardant desir) this setting repeatedly uses a preexistent tune, mostly in the Tenor, throughout its settings of the five items of the Ordinary of the Mass, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus dei. This preexistent tune, called the cantus firmus meaning ‘the fixed song’, could be drawn from either a liturgical chant (a chant sung in the Mass or the Holy Office) or a secular song, both courtly and also popular street songs. In the case of the L’Ardant desir melody, there is no surviving court song that corresponds to the L’Ardant desir text incipit or melody used in the Mass, although the tenor survives in two settings (nos. 133 and 134) from the Buxheimer Organ Book, a mid-fifteenth century book of early organ or keyboard tablature now in the Bavarian Library at Munich. Continue reading “Redemption and the “Missa L’Ardant desir””

Armchair philology – Musical treasures from the Austrian National Library

Philology—the study of early texts, their meaning and how they have been passed down through the ages—has has traditionally consisted of researchers chasing after books and manuscripts scattered throughout libraries and archives. I use the adverb “traditionally” with some irony since for some time now researchers have done much of their work sitting at a desk (or occasionally in an armchair) pouring over facsimiles, photographic images on 35 millimetre microfilm, and increasingly digital images on a computer’s screen, of original sources. Researchers are spending less time with the original manuscripts. Although it is important that archivists maintain access to the original sources, it is also important that these sources are conserved for future generations. There are many music manuscripts that have been the subject of intense scrutiny over the last century, and between their handling by scholars and sometimes fraught attempts at conservation by their owners, the condition and legibility of these sources has noticeably declined. Though I am inclined to give examples, I won’t because that would give the impression that I am censuring particular individuals, libraries or archives. The reality is that time has simply taken its toll on these books.

Continue reading “Armchair philology – Musical treasures from the Austrian National Library”

A new composition by Denis Le Grant?

A new colour digitisation of a fascinating musical fragment from the last quarter of the 14th century has provided new evidence for assigning another composition to one of that century’s most famous, but today little known, composers. The fragment is found in the the western manuscripts collection in Bibliothèque Nationale de France (hereafter BNF), under the shelf number NAF 23190. Music historians often refer to this manuscript as the Trémoïlle manuscript—reflecting the fact that it was owned by the Duchess of Trémoïlle prior to its donation to the the BNF—or simply Trém. BNF staff uploaded Trém’s digitisation on the Gallica website on Monday, 9 January 2012. All that remains of what must have been a grand music manuscript is a bifolium, a two-page leaf that contains an index of the lost manuscript’s content and the notation of four motets (some incomplete). While the notated compositions are important, what has interested researchers most is the index that seems to name some motets, liturgical music and songs still known today and also contains several unknown works (see Droz & Thibault 1926; Bent 1990). One of the interesting things (there are several more discussed in Bent 1990) about the index is that two different names were added in front of two settings of the Credo from the Mass. For the second Credo the name “sortes” appears. It has been generally assumed that this is a reference to the same composer (whose name is sometimes given as “sortis”) and his popular Credo “de Rege” that was used in both the so-called Toulouse and Barcelona polyphonic settings of the Mass. It was previously thought that the name given for the first Credo was “decus”. However, the BNF’s splendid online colour reproduction has revealed that the name is in fact “denis”. Continue reading “A new composition by Denis Le Grant?”