On the 350th Birthday of Giuseppe Torelli

Torelli was an Italian violinist and composer who was born in Verona, 22 April 1658, and died in Bologna, 8 February 1709. He was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica in 1684, first as a violinist and later as a composer. In 1686 he became a string player at the civic church of S. Petronio, but he was obliged to leave in 1696 when the musical cappella was disbanded. He then served as maestro di concerto to the Margrave of Brandenburg at Ansbach, later moving to Vienna, but by 1701 he had returned to the re-formed S. Petronio cappella.

Torelli's undoubted importance in the early history of the concerto has been much distorted by the imposition of later definitions: for Torelli and his contemporaries the title ‘concerto’ carried no automatic implication of solo or even orchestral writing. Like his teacher, Perti, he contributed to the Bolognese repertory of trumpet sonatas which pitted soloists again the orchestral body, and in his op. 6 (1698) he distinguishes between the violin ‘solo’ and the duplicated parts, but solo–tutti markings were already a common feature of instrumental scoring in Bolognese choral works. The posthumous op. 8 collection has been noted for its division into solo concertos and concerti grossi, the use of the ritornello principle, and the three-movement fast–slow–fast format. Torelli's op. 4 for violin and violoncello contributed to the repertory of unaccompanied duos not unusual at the period.

Denis Arnold/Peter Allsop

Pierre de La Rue

Franco-Flemish church musician and composer Pierre de La Rue (also known as Pierchon La Rue) was born (?) in Tournai, c. 1452 adn died in Kortrijk, 20 November 1518. His career, which was spent almost entirely in the Low Countries, began with appointments as a singer in Brussels, Ghent, Nieuwpoort, Cologne, and 's-Hertogenbosch. In 1492 he became a member of the Habsburg–Burgundian chapel, and travelled twice to Spain on diplomatic missions. Many of his works were copied into exquisite manuscripts produced by the court scriptorium, some of which were destined to become gifts to political leaders across Europe. He retired from his position in 1516.

Like his immediate contemporary Jacob Obrecht, la Rue is a composer of major stature who remains overshadowed by the towering figure of the age, Josquin des Prez. His surviving output also resembles Obrecht's in being dominated by masses; more than 30 settings survive, the majority based on plainchant melodies. There are fewer motets, but in that area his achievement has been boosted by the discovery that the powerfully expressive Absalon fili mi, long thought to be a work of Josquin's, may in fact be by la Rue. A very different motet, the ingenious six-voice triple canon Ave sanctissima Maria, served as the starting-point for one of his own parody masses. Considerable problems of attribution surround the chansons, and it is likely that many of the anonymous pieces in the beautiful chansonniers made for Marguerite of Austria, including settings of texts by Marguerite herself, are his work.

John Milsom

Gilles Binchois

Gilles Binchois (or Gilles de Bins) was a Burgundian composer who was born in Mons, circa1400 and died in Soignies, 20 September 1460. He is first heard of as an organist at the church of Ste Waudru, Mons, in 1419. In 1423 he moved to Lille, and shortly after this entered the service of William de la Pole, First Duke of Suffolk (the English occupied northern France at this time); they returned to the vicinity of Mons (Hainaut) in 1425. There is no evidence that Binchois ever visited England, but some of his works are settings of the Sarum Use, at least one song is found in an English manuscript, and his ballade Dueil angoisseus was used as the basis of a mass setting by the English composer Bedyngham.

In about 1426 Binchois joined the Burgundian court of Philip the Good, and one of his few datable works is the motet Nove cantum melodie for the baptism of the Burgundian Prince Anthoine in January 1431. There was some contact between Binchois and Dufay—their first meeting seems to have been in 1434, when the Burgundian and Savoy courts were at Chambéry, and in 1449 Dufay stayed with Binchois in Mons. Binchois retired to Soignies in 1452 and there became provost of the collegiate church of St Vincent. It is possible that he had some connection with the famous Feast of the Pheasant in Lille (1454), where the chanson Je ne vis oncques la pareille, ascribed to Binchois in one source and to Dufay in another, was performed.

Binchois was one of the most able and yet thoroughly traditional composers of the 15th century. His surviving works include 28 mass movements, 32 psalms, motets, and small sacred works, and 54 chansons, 47 in rondeau form and seven in ballade form. Some of his sacred output is severely practical, with simple note-against-note harmonizations of the chant, which appears in the top voice as was usually the case in continental music of that period. Although he wrote pairs of mass movements, they are linked rather loosely (by overall range, the sequence of time signatures, etc.), and no pair shares the same tenor. He avoided large-scale works, writing no cyclic masses and only one isorhythmic motet (Nove cantum melodie).

Binchois's songs are his most attractive compositions: typical features include the use of under-3rd cadences, rather short-breathed phrases, triple rhythm (the only song in duple time is Seule esgaree), and the apparent repetition of material. In fact these superficial repetitions serve to demonstrate Binchois's flexibility, since it is rare for two phrases to have exactly the same rhythmic or melodic contour, and consecutive phrases rarely end on the same pitch or note-value. The song Je me recommande is a fine example of his style and illustrates many of the features that make Binchois a supreme miniaturist.

Binchois's death was lamented in Ockeghem's Mort, tu as navré de ton dart, which tells us that Binchois was a soldier in his youth (perhaps with the Duke of Suffolk), and which opens with what seems to be a quotation from an otherwise unknown Binchois chanson.

Anthony Pryer

Franco-Flemish School: First Generation

The first generation of Franco-Flemish composers (until ca. 1470):

Second generation

Guillaume Dufay

Dufay was born around 1400 and died Cambrai 27 November 1474. He is the most acclaimed musician of the 15th century. Almost 200 of his works survive, including 84 songs, eight complete masses, 13 isorhythmic motets, and numerous hymn settings, single mass movements, and works in honour of the Virgin Mary and various saints and liturgical feasts. He is often described as a Burgundian composer, but in spite of well-attested contacts with Burgundian composers (e.g. Binchois) and the fact that his home town of Cambrai was under Burgundian control, he was never a resident member of that court.


Dufay is first heard of as a choirboy at Cambrai Cathedral in 1409, and there he was perhaps instructed by the composers Grenon, Lebertoul, and Loqueville. In his early 20s he apparently moved to Italy, since two motets (Vasilissa ergo and Apostolo glorioso), a chanson (Resvelliés vous), and possibly his Missa sine nomine commemorate events connected with the Pesaro branch of the Malatesta family. He then seems to have returned to France for a time, as in 1426 he was writing the song Adieu ces bons vins, which bids farewell to the people and wines of the north. He is next found in Bologna in 1427.

The ten years between 1428 and 1438 must have been unsettled times for Dufay. Bologna was under the control of the Pope, held for him by the Malatesta, but in 1428 it revolted and Dufay, together with his patron Cardinal Aleman, had to flee to Rome. The Missa Sancti Jacobi may have been written during his time in Bologna. Dufay stayed in Rome until 1433, and sang in the papal chapel. In 1431 Pope Martin V died and was succeeded by Eugenius IV. Several of Dufay's works commemorate this Pope and his deeds, including the motets Balsamus et munda cera, Supremum est mortalibus bonum, and the famous Nuper rosarum flores, written for the dedication of Florence Cathedral by Eugenius in 1436.

Throughout the 1430s Dufay seems to have been torn between two patrons, Eugenius IV (whom he served 1431–3 and 1436–7) and Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy (where he worked 1433–5 and 1438–9). It was at the wedding of Amadeus's son Louis in 1434 that Dufay's first recorded meeting with the Burgundian court and Binchois, described by the Savoy poet Martin le Franc in Le Champion des dames (c.1440), seems to have taken place. In 1438 a church council deposed Eugenius and elected Felix V—alias Duke Amadeus of Savoy—in his place. The election was strongly opposed by Philip the Good of Burgundy, and had Dufay remained in Savoy he would have been barred from visiting Cambrai and from collecting his benefices in Burgundian territory. Thus in 1439 Dufay returned to the north.

His temporary separation from the Savoy court and his final departure from Italy seem gradually to have turned his attention away from secular song and the ceremonial motet. Instead, he expanded his technique to include the more Gothic northern form of the cyclic mass based on a tenor cantus firmus. The masses on Se la face ay pale, L'Homme armé, Ecce ancilla Domini, and Ave regina coelorum are of this type; the Missa ‘Caput’ sometimes attributed to Dufay is now thought instead to be by an English composer.

For the next 11 years Dufay was back in Cambrai. It seems that one of the buildings belonging to the cathedral was called the Maison L'Homme Armé. The coincidence of this name with the title of a famous melody is intriguing, as the L'Homme armé tune formed the basis of masses by many composers with Cambrai connections, including Dufay, Busnois, Ockeghem, Tinctoris, and Regis. Dufay visited the Burgundian court a couple of times during these years, but his connection with the famous Burgundian Feast of the Pheasant, held in 1454 as part of a rescue campaign for Constantinople, now seems doubtful. His Lamentation on the Fall of Constantinople was written too late for the feast, and the song Je ne vis oncques sung there is probably by Binchois rather than Dufay.

The last major upheaval for Dufay came in 1450, when Felix V stepped down and Philip of Burgundy reopened contacts with the Savoy court. Immediately Dufay is found in Savoy territory, and in 1452–8 he went for a long stay at the court itself.

The music

Dufay was one of the last continental composers in the medieval churchly tradition. In spite of this, some of his works (particularly the chansons and mass movements from his middle years) display the warm harmonies, symmetrical phrasing, and directly expressive melodies characteristic of the early Renaissance. Moreover, Dufay provides us with the earliest example of close harmonies derived from fauxbourdon technique (in the Missa Sancti Jacobi), some of the earliest completely integrated four-voice textures (in the Missa ‘Ave regina coelorum’), and a movement towards richer sonorities based on the intervals of the 3rd, 6th, and 10th. His preferred forms were conservative in outline rather than in detail; for example, his masses were perhaps the first to employ secular tunes as cantus firmi. Some of his stylistic features, such as his melodic clarity, can be linked with his experience of Italian music, while his harmonic sonority may have been derived from developments in English music.

In spite of his secular output, Dufay was a cosmopolitan rather than a worldly composer. In the course of a long illness he requested that his motet Ave regina coelorum, with its mention of his name in a personal supplication, should be sung at his deathbed. This was not possible, but the motet and his Requiem Mass (the earliest of its kind, unfortunately now lost) were sung at his funeral.

Anthony Pryer/David Fallows

Soon on Atrium Musicologicum... #3

The next series of posts will be some biographical profiles of composers from the Franco-Flemish school. This school was highly important in the first Renaissance, wide-spreading all over Europe. It had influence even in Portugal, in late 16th-century, mainly by the Capilla Flamenca of Madrid, with Philippe Rogier and Nicolas Gombert (among others).

I will follow a chronological path following the various generations of composers.

Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"

Vivaldi's Four Seasons is unmistakably Antonio Vivaldi's most famous work. Obviously, out of 500 composed concertos, one of them is bound to be a hit. You've heard many movements of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in movies like Tin Cup, Spy Game, A View to Kill, What Lies Beneath, White Chicks, Saved!, Pacific Heights, The Other Sister... the list keeps going, but I think I've proved my point. Perhaps you've attended a wedding where Vivaldi's Four Season's was played? In most cases, you have. If you stop and listen, chances are it's playing somewhere.

Notes and Historical Information

Vivaldi's Four Seasons was published in 1725, in a set of twelve concerto's entitled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Test of Harmony and Invention). Each concerto is in the distinct form of fast-slow-fast movements. Vivaldi's Four Seasons especially appealed to the French. King Louis XV took a liking to 'Spring' and ordered it to be performed at the most unexpected moments.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons are among the boldest program music of the baroque period. Antonio Vivaldi wrote the individual Sonnets to go along with each movement of the Four Seasons. What's amazing is how accurately Vivaldi musically portrays each Sonnet without losing the overall quality and balance of the work. I strongly recommend listening to each movement of the Four Seasons while reading the corresponding Sonnets. It's truly unique experience.

The Texts

Concerto N.º1 "Spring"

1. Spring has come and joyfully the birds greet it with happy song, and the brooks, while the streams flow along with gentle murmur as the zephyrs blow. There come, shrouding the air with a black cloak, lighting and thunder chosen to herald [the storm]; then, when these are silent, the little birds return to their melodious incantations.
2. And now, in the pleasant, flowery meadow, to the soft murmur of leaves and plants, the goatherd sleeps with his faithful dog at his side.
3. To the festive sound of a pastoral bagpipe, nymphs and shepherds dance under their beloved roof, greeting the glittering arrival of the spring.

Concerto N.º 2 "Summer"

1. In the harsh season scorched by the sun, man and flock languish, and the pine is on fire; the cuckoo begins to call and soon after, the turtledove and the goldfinch are heard singing. Zephyr [the west wind] gently blows, but Boreas [the north wind] suddenly enters into a contest with its neighbor, and the little shepherd weeps for he hears the awesome threatening storm and his fate.
2. To his tired limbs rest is denied by the fear of lightning, awesome thunder, and the furious swarm of flies and hornets!
3. Alas, his fears are justified. The sky is filled with thunder and lightning and hail cuts down the proud grain.

Concerto N.º 3 "Autumn"

1. The peasant celebrates the pleasure of the happy harvest with dances and songs; and inflamed by the liquor of Bacchus, many end their rejoicing with sleep.
2 . The mild pleasant air makes all abandon dance and song; this is the season that invites all to the sweet delights of peaceful sleep.
3. The hunters, at the break of dawn, set forth with horns, guns, and hounds. The animal flees, and they follow its tracks. Already frightened and tired by the great noise of guns and hounds, the wounded animal makes a weak attempt at fleeing, but is overcome and dies.

Concerto N.º 4 "Winter"

1. Trembling with cold amidst the freezing snow, while a frightful wind harshly blows, running and stamping one's feet every minute, and feeling one's teeth chatter from the extreme cold;
2. Spending quiet contented days by the fire while the rain outside drenches people by the hundreds;
3. Walking on ice, and moving cautiously, with slow steps, for fear of falling, spinning around, slipping, falling down, again walking on ice and running fast until the ice cracks and splits; hearing Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds at war burst forth from the bolted doors - this is winter, but it also brings joy!

Aaron Green

The Manuscript BNF lat 17716

The Latin holding of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France include under group 17716 a manuscript coming from the Cluniac Priory of St-Martin-des-Champs (Paris). Basing themselves on the developed state of the Venerabilium Abbatum Cluniacensium appearing as folios 95-100, the authors of the catalogue of dated manuscripts proposed that the manuscript was prepared towards the end of the XII century, after 1189. But the contents, the ornamental lettering and the pictorial illustrations (both full-page and smaller) make it possible to suggest an even slightly later date. The manuscript forms a coherent whole as much from the codicological as from the paleographic and stylistic point of view; the whole being written in the same hand and illustrated by the same artist, with the exception of the notes on the succession of abbots at Cluny from Hugues IV, 1199, to the election of Jean, Cardinal of Lorraine, in 1528, copied by XV and XVI C. hands.

Four blocks of texts can be distinguished. After two prefaces of the mass, the manuscript opens (folio 2r) with Marian prosae and sequences – some composed by Pierre le Vénérable himself, also author of a prosa in honour of Hugues de Semur. These items include folios 8r-22v, the office of the Transfiguration, also by Pierre le Vénérable.The second block, by far the most important (folio 25v ff) is constituted by a re-worked version of De Miraculis of Pierre I le venerable, trimmed of some episodes and garnished with added texts.

The beginning of the third block (folio 70v ff) equally concerns Hugues de Semur. Two of his acts are transcribed: one in favour of his own foundation, the retreat of Marcigny-sur-Loire for women, already the object of a eulogy introduced in the preceeding “Miracula”; and the other the statue by which the abbot established on the Octave of Pentecost a general memorial service for all the dead buried in Cluny cemetery.

The last book assembles the essential proceedings in the history of the Clunias franchise (folio 80r ff).The manuscript ends with the bull issued by Urban II to Saint-Martin-des-Champs in 1096 on the occasion of the entry of the Priory in the Ecclesia Cluniacensis and on the Venerabilium Abbatum Cluniacensium Chronologia. Guillaume II, Abbot of Cluny from 1207 to his abdiction in 1215, who came from England, had been prior of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, and his mother had been a nun at Marcigny-sur-Loire. It may be thought that the abbot had ordered this collection to be made simply as a memorial of texts regarded as essential for Cluniac history. The operative choices are very instructive. Around 1100, Cluny thus again took up the liturgical work of Pierre le Vénérable with an important collection of miracles which are a monument to the memory of Hugues de Semur and the Vénérable and also a formulation of the principal ideas of the Ecclesia Cluniacensis (particularly the efficacy of its funerary ministry). Finally, there are the founding texts of the Clunias independence: the recitals of the principal relics constituting ist sacred space, and the acts (foundation charter, papal bulls) which limit this “sacred proclamation”.

after Dominique Logna-Prat

The music presented in this manuscript contributes to an idea of what the culture of the XIIème century could have been: in essence that the voiced word.

It avoids the rectilinear but supports accent as pillars support vaults. It respects and honours preceding centuries by using basically formal elements and its invention is distinguished by a non-rectilenear art phrased melodiously and as well as the increasing use of “effects” not encountered again for a long time.

If this manuscript hardly recognizes polyphony, notwithstanding the influence of the proses of the school of Saint-Martial-de-Limoges, this is because the author seems to have gone to the limit possible in non-accentual plainsong. That is to say it is without regular beats which “break up” time into measures, but without flattening the music evenly into what will come to termed “plainsong”. This music still expresses linear time, a mystic time.Moreover Pierre le Vénérable here again demonstrates his knowledge of other cultures (notably Greek) as is evidenced by his “Kyrie Eleison”. […]

The songs to the Virgin in the manuscript BNF LAT. 17716 differ from those of the Transfiguration by the use of less extreme texture. It is a more interiorized music, better to accompany a choice of texts which exalts the “Mother of Sorrows”above all. The “lyrism” of these songs seems more considered. The melismata sustain the Virgin’s metaphors; “garden of flowering plants”, “resplended rose”, “scented rose”, “Lady of Sorrows”, “how sweet are the breasts whose drops put out the terrible flames of hell”. Number 12 alone shines with brilliance, “a child whose light is greater than the sun”.

Anne-Marie Deschamps

The Faenza Codex

The library of the small town of Faenza, near Ravenna, possesses an early 15th century manuscript, classified under the number 117, which contains the oldest collection of keyboard music in existence. These are essentially pieces based on the late 14th century French and Italian vocal works. There are arrangements of compositions by such well-known composers as Guillaume de Machaut, Jacopo da Bologna, Francesco Landini, as well as of several anonymous musicians. In some cases the original vocal waor has been lost and all that remains is the title and the keyboard version in the Faenza Codex.

The manuscript is arranged in two parts. The first, consisting mainly of pieces of French origin, begins with a Kyrie and ends with a Benedicamus Domino, while the second part is comprised exclusively of Italian works, but also has two Kyries, a Gloria, and also ends with a Benedicamus Domino. Most of the pieces are of secular origin, but the Codex also has arrangements for organ of the Mass Cunctipotens genitor Deus. These are the oldest existing examples of the organ mass in which each verse of the Ordinary was intended to be followed by the choir. This usage, called alternatim, probably goes back to the 11th century and was observed until the 19th century.

In spite of the eminent importance of this manuscript, it is very little known to keyboard performers, because the performance of this music calls for an appropriate instrument. The religious pieces should be played on a 15th century organ, unforyunately an extremely rare instrument. […]

The compositional method is invariably the same: the tenor, i.e. the lower part of the vocal original, is played by the left hand, while the right hand paraphrases the upper voice. This technique, related to the improvisation of vocal organum, survived in France, with certain modifications in style, until the end of the 18th century in the practice known as “le chant sur le livre”, and even until the late 19th century in Spain in the “contrapunto al mente”.

In certain cases the keyboard version is very close to the vocal original, in others it deviates from it. Although the tenor remains unchangeable, the very different treatment of the upper voices creates the impression of a new composition. […]

The Faenza Codex is extremely valuable as an indication of the techniques of ornamentation employed at the period. A large number of documents testify to the custom of precentors of transforming the written text in order to present it in their own manner. This refinement of the art of chanting, essentially oral and intimately linked to the personality of the performer, has disappeared, but thanks to this manuscript, we are able to obtain some idea of what it was like. In a good number of cases the borderline between the vocal and the instrumental does not really exist and it would be in vain to attempt to define its contours with any precision. […]

At the beginning of the 15th century the principle of a collection of instrumental compositions was something quite new. Here and there a few instrumental pieces are found in 14th century manuscripts, but no actual corpus has come down to us from this period. We may wonder why this should be the case.

The first homogeneous musical compilations appeared at the end of the 9th century to hand down vocal liturgical music to prosperity. We have to wait until the 13th century before collections of secular works were compiled, and the beginning of the 15th century for collections of instrumental pieces. There was, therefore, an evolution symptomatic of a transformation of the function of music, its conservation, transmission and creation. Instrumental music was the last to be notated, and the Faenza Codex might tell us why.

We have said that the instrument was used to paraphrase the vocal original, but we should come to a proper understanding of the term, original.

If an instrumentalist wihed to perform a vocal work, the basis of his elaboration was probably much more acoustic than literal, since the actual, physical appearance of vocal scores made it impossible for a single person to read them, because the difference parts were not set out face to face, and the only means of obtaining an idea of what the work sounded like was to sing it.

All that exists is what was written down, but we know that the written model was not always faithfully reproduced in performance. Therefore, the acoustic reality of a vocal work lies somewhere between the written musical text and the paraphrased versions of the Faenza Codex, and in certain cases it is, perhaps, closer to the latter. The notation of vocal music was of a very special nature, rather than different from the modern concept of scoring. What it did was to establish a model which was intended to be interpretated, a term which can be understood in the widest sense of an actual re-creation, or even, according to the musical talent of the performer and his awareness of the composer’s intentions, of a “co-creation”. The abstract architecture of the written work became and audible reality, a synthesis of the composer’s creative thought and the performer’s musical savoir-faire. It appears that there was no attempt to notate this savoir-faire, because, in order for it to be endowed with its full relevancy, it probably had to spring spontaneously from the particular moment and enrapture the listeners by its inestimable character of something ephemeral and, therefore, eminently human.

In this context we are in a better position to assess the extraordinary tour de force represented by the Faenza Codex. The paraphrase was notated, the “digital” savoir-faire fixed, thanks to a system of notation which superimposes the bass and the treble parts in the same visual field. To do this it was necessary to conceptualize an oral practice, to crystallize a demanour. This masterstroke – we are tempted to say, this masterpiece – marked a major stage in the history of music, because we have here the example of a musical notation which succeeds, as it had never done before, in fixing the most elucidative aspect of the art of music: the performer’s paraphrase.

Marcel Pérès
Tradução: James O. Wootton

Diogo Barbosa Machado

Barbosa Machado was a Portuguese bibliographer. He was born Lisbon, 31 March 1682 and died there 9 August 1772. He matriculated in 1708 as a student of canon law at Coimbra University and on 2 July 1724 he was ordained a priest. On 4 November 1728 he became abad of the church of S Adrião at Cever in the diocese of Lamego. His life work was a four-volume bibliography of Portuguese authors, Bibliotheca lusitana, historica, critica, e cronologica, which is especially valuable to the music historian because he included 127 composers and theorists. Insofar as he could find them, he listed not only their published works but also their manuscripts, noting in which library they were located. Since he had access to the royal music library before its destruction in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, he listed numerous works now lost. In vol.iv, pp.593–6, he indexed musicians under ‘Musica’, thus making it simple for later writers to plagiarize his musical entries. Foreign reference works still copy Vasconcellos's Os musicos portuguezes without recognizing Barbosa Machado's work as the source of everything that he wrote on biographies. Barbosa Machado omitted Ayres Fernandes, Luis Moram, Pedro de Cristo, Pedro Esperança and several others connected with the priory of Santa Cruz at Coimbra. His most substantial error was listing Francisco Guerrero as a native of Beja, a mistake into which he was trapped by a pseudonymously issued forgery of 1734.

Barbosa Machado donated his superb library to King José I. João VI took the bulk of it to Brazil, where it formed the nucleus of the national library; it includes 13 important volumes of villancicos sung at Lisbon between 1640 and 1722. In 1825 Dibdin rightly classed Barbosa Machado's four volumes as ‘a work beyond all competition and beyond all praise … the great Oracle’, a judgment still valid.

Robert Stevenson

D. Pedro de Cristo

This Portuguese composer was born in Coimbra, c1550 and died in the same town, 16 Dec 1618). One source states that his father, António Nunes, was a foreigner, while another tells us that both parents were from Coimbra; his baptismal name was Domingos. On 4 September 1571 he took his vows at the Augustinian monastery of S Cruz in Coimbra, and probably studied with the mestre de capela Francisco de Santa Maria. There are signs of the latter's influence within Pedro de Cristo's music, including a fondness for narrow overall ranges (16 notes being typical in the works of Francisco de Santa Maria and in the early part of Pedro de Cristo's surviving output), syllabic declamation in crotchets, and the simultaneous use of a cambiata figure in one part and passing notes in another.

Pedro de Cristo succeeded Francisco de Santa Maria as mestre de capela at S Cruz, and held the same position at its principal sister house, S Vicente de Fóra in Lisbon. Although the details of his movements between the two houses are unknown, the Capitulo Geral ordered him to move from S Vicente to S Cruz in 1605, while in 1615 his request to return to S Vicente was granted. A manuscript obituary states that, in addition to his compositions (he was renowned especially for his skill at chansonetas and other spirited music), he played keyboard instruments, harp, flute and dulcian.

It is not easy to establish the extent of Pedro de Cristo's surviving output. Four manuscript choirbooks preserved in the Biblioteca Geral of Coimbra University (MM 8, 18, 33 and 36) were copied wholly or in part by the composer. However, he rarely provided an attribution, and, although most of the pieces involved are attributable to him on the basis of style, some are clearly not his work. Looking beyond the autograph copies, a number of items preserved anonymously in MM 8, 18, 26 and 53, and in L.C.57 [Biblioteca Nacional, Lisboa], may be attributed to Pedro de Cristo on stylistic and other grounds (although uncertainties remain, rendering the work-lists below subject to future revision). A striking feature of the surviving output is the dearth of Masses – just one complete Ordinary setting, one ferial Mass and a separate Gloria.

The bulk of two of the autograph choirbooks 33 and 36 – was copied early in the composer's career, while work began on MM 8 and 18 towards the end of his life. Many motets in MM 33 suggest a novice composer, capable but unimaginative in his handling of the stile antico. A large proportion of these pieces employ unusually bunched clef combinations (such as C1, C1, C2, C3) and correspondingly narrow ranges. In the other sources one can trace the emergence of more distinctive stylistic traits, particularly in the field of rhythm, where Pedro de Cristo developed the above-mentioned penchant for declamation (and, occasionally, harmonic motion) in crotchets, which was relatively rare in Portugal at that period; this characteristic is found particularly in polychoral works such as the 8th-tone setting of the Magnificat and the hymn Sanctorum meritis. The majority of Pedro de Cristo's surviving works are, however, written for four or five voices and in a predominantly imitative style (although homophony is the basic texture in the settings of responsories and psalms, and short homorhythmic passages are common in other works). Among the composer's hallmarks, besides those already mentioned, are concisio and a fondness for sequence (both melodic and harmonic).

Owen Rees

P-Cug MM 33:

Ego Sum Panis Vivus (ff. 43v-44r) ---------O Crux Venerabilis (ff. 31v-32r)

Soon on Atrium Musicologicum... #2

As you may have red, I have been posting some papers on important Medieval and Renaissance sources, like the Codex Chantilly, the Messe de Tournai, etc. These posts will continue with a few more codexes that will be added (Codex Faenza, Codex Squarcialupi). I will also start posting a few more Cantigas de Santa Maria, related to miracles happened in Portuguese territory.

Don't forget to check the Núcleo de Música da Universidade de Évora's (Universiy of Évora's Music Nucleus) blog, where we have been posting our recent musical events.

Hope you enjoy it.
See you soon!

The Compositions of the Chantilly Codex and the Music Around 1400

At the Limit of What is Possible

Among the great innovations in music of the 14th c. belongs the “musica mensurabilis”, “mensurable music” which was invented “out of the blue” at the end of the 13th c. and was defintively transformed during the second decade of the 14th. The foundation of this “musica mensurabilis”, which was a reaction against the “unmesured” Gregorian chant, was a new graphical system, a new kind of musical notation which essentially measured long and short values.The crucial novelty therefore was the possibility to assign not only a relatively exact pitch (by its position on the five or six lines) to a single graphical sign, i.e. a note, but also a precise duration (by its shape). Thus the note could be read in two senses, in this way, polyphonic compositional processes could be individually structured for the first time in musical history and were no longer dependent on predetermined patterns. The composers immediately jumped on this possibility, especially in the realm of the motet, and with fervour that they had already shortly after 1300 more or less exhausted the limits of the system. For this reason the system was once again fundamentally revised after 1310, in a certain way it was rationalized and stabilized. The main problem here consisted in the division of the central note value, the Brevis, which could in the period shortly after 1300 be divided in up to 7 or even 9 equal parts. The subsequent rationalization provided, on the other hand, only for a (perfect) division in 3 and an (imperfect) division in 2, and this starting from the Brevis down all the levels of hierarchy. These newly created possibilities were immediately applied, not only to the genre of the motet, but also to the new and upcoming secular song (with Ballade, Rondeau and Virelay). The use of plainsong in this new style of polyphonic motet was nevertheless so controversial that pope John XXII intervened in this development in the mid 1320’s and tried to veto this form of polyphony.However, the created system, which was called “novus” by its inventors and thereby gave its name to the whole epoch (“Ars Nova”) was, albeit with regional differences, spread all over medieval Europe and remarkably consistent, even though the transmission through manuscripts in the entire 14th century, and especially in its second half, is not particularly assertive.

The number of surviving manuscripts is in fact quite scanty, even if we have proof of the existence at the time of a non-negligible quantity of other mss. from library catalogues for example. Nevertheless, the source situation is precarious, which makes any more generalized assertion difficult. At least, however, we can recognize a certain tendency; towards 1400, in fact, composers once again demonstrated a propensity to exhaust the possibilities of the notational system, within the limits irreversibly imposed on it. Its focus consisted in a new fascination for the most complex rhythmical articulation in polyphonic musical composition. As opposed to 1300, this was not as it were an unorganized and unregulated creative explosion, but precisely the contrary: in the motets as well as in the secular works, we see the controlled refinement of an already intensively tested potential related to a precise stylistic imagination that was intimately linked to the texts set to music. What was, time and again, described by contemporaries as the “subtilitas” of these compositions, led to the christening of this period with the not quite unproblematic term “Ars subtilior”.

Again, few manuscripts document this phase. The most significant among them is the codex which today lies in the Musée Condé in Chantilly. It arrived there only in 1861, however, as part of the famous art collections of the Duke Henri d’Orléans, Duc d’Aumale (1822-1897). The Duke inherited the Renaissance castle Chantilly from the Condé family in 1830, in which he accommodated his collections and which he ultimately donated to the “Institut de France”. To his most precious acquisitions belong the famous Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, originated in the 15th century.

The Duke had a sumptuous new binding made for the music manuscript in 1880 and it is possible that through that important characteristics went lost. He bought it in Florence, where, according to a remark on one of the first pages, it had been since 1461. Apart from the apparently Tuscan copyist, also the 6-line system, typical for Italian trecento repertoire, which is used throughout the manuscript points at an origin in Italy, even maybe in Florence. The contents – 13 Latin motets in addition to 97 almost exclusively French songs – do not contradict these origins: French music was still widely spread in nothern Italy, even as far as Rome or Naples.

The precious parchment manuscript supposedly was written around 1400 with the exception of the two pieces that became famous for their “graphical” notation (in the form of a heart and a circle, respectively) which were completed a little later. Whether the codex was somehow connected to an Italian court (such as Milan or Pavia) or not, must remain open, though it is not unlikely. The assembled repertoire excels specifically in the way that notational complexities are pushed to the extreme, a fact that for many decades left scholars in state of perplexity. They could not agree on the sense of this impossible technique or even considered it only a mental exercise. Now, after some decades of experience in the performance practice of music of the 14th and early 15th century, the opinions have seriously changed. Not only have the greatest notational and rhythmical difficulties become playable and singable, but even more importantly it has become slowly clear that the “subtlety” in this music consists in its refined relationship to the text/lyrics/poetry. In other words, we are dealing with text-expression, albeit in a different form than we know it form the “Klavierlied” in the 19th century.

One of the great events of the 14th century was the fact that it was now possible to compose secular song polyphonically. A new, fresh musical genre saw the light. It drew its formal criteria from the fixed structures of lyrical poetry, known as “formes fixes”. Among these, the emphasis was laid on the Ballade, whereas the Rondeau and Virelay played at that point in time a relatively minor role. All these forms are Refrain forms, but in the Ballade this is most clear and manifest: in principle there are two identical musical verses (characterized by an “ouvert” and “clos” ending) and a concluding part of which the ending in its turn is mostly identical with the “clos” (A1A2BC). Usually there are three rhymed strophes, sometimes more, sometimes less. Thematically the Ballade can sweep over many subjects and is, - unlike the Rondeau and Virelay, - not exclusively concerned with love poetry. The works […] belong to the most beautiful and complex Ballades of the repertoire. Some of these feature themes from antiquity: In Andrieu’s De Narcissus the story of Narcissus, in love with his own mirrored image, is told allegorically in an unusual musical setting, and characterized by sweeping vocal melismas. The many stylistic similarities with another Chantilly composition by F. Andrieu, “Armes, amours”, a lament on the death of Machaut, lead us to believe that Magister Franciscus is identical with the composer Franciscus Andrieu.

In Medée fu on the other hand, the couple of lovers is compared to famous mythological couples like Jason and Medea, Helena and Paris, Poems which quote ancient heroes and lovers to compare them with contemporary people were extremely fashionable at the time. In this Ballade the comparison is used against the lady: She is less faithful even than Medea, Helen and Bryseida, none of whom is particularly famous for her virtue. The affective confusion is expressed through a tense, ultra-sensitive setting, in which no notational complication is left out. Time and again we find peculiar harmonic turns that highlight certain text lines, if not single words. After all we observe clear traces of Italian music here. The closing line (refrain) of the poem “Ma dame n’a pas ainsy fait a-my” can be read two ways: “This way my lady behaved towards me”, a typical pun on the word amy. Chantilly contains six compositions by Philipot/Philipoctus, and stylistic similarities as well as the serious quality of the writing might suggest him as the author of this magnificent Ballade.

The Italian influence is also visible in De quan qu’on peut, a work that in its eccentricity could easily have been influenced by his style. The flavor of the musical refrain at the end of the A and B sections and the persistent; polyrhythmical setup of this piece very strongly remind us of this extraordinary subtilior composer. There is no other ascribed composition by him in the Chantilly Ms., although several Chantilly pieces were copied in the Modena Ms. the main source for Matteo’s works. The incipit of the text – De quan qu’on peut – Of all one could give – becomes as it were its own compositional program, by the fact that indeed it unfolds a kind of rhythmical compendium, with only a certain calming down at the beginning of the second part. Both upper voices, alyhough clearly differing in tessitura, are melodically so similar that they create the type of setting that a little later was favoured by Johannes Ciconia, although completely without rhythmical complications. One can hear this particularly well in the instrumental version of the piece […]. Through these intensifications the polyphonic song ultimately strove to equal the ambitions of the motet. That the latter in the background was still considered the “touchstone of perfection” is shown in several works. An outstanding example is a Ballade je me merveil by Senleches in which, just like a motet, two text are simultaneously sung in the upper voices. It is striking, however, that the composer ignores the usual hierarchy between motetus and triplum and treats all three voices equally, or both higher ones as a kind of duo, the lower one as “harmony carrier” (though not rhythmically separated). The Ballade fulminates against musical dilettantism, a favourite subject among 14th century composers, Italian or French. To illustrate the subject, the notation and “subtilitas” on this composition are stretched to the limit, culminating in the canonic refrain which is however not notated as a canon: Senleches writes down the same identical musical with two completely different notational systems.

Similarly, also the only Virelay […], Un crible plein d’eaue – A Dieu vos comant, owes much to the motet. This very clever composition uses apparently a simple folk song as a kind of isorhythmic tenor, with a slightly histerical cantus, that fulminates against the traps of marriage. The particularly angular contratenor in syncopated binary rhythms exemplifies the terrible conflicts of which the texts speaks.

The little Rondeau-like Se vos ne voles lacks its full text, although the musical composition is apparently complete. It appears on the same page that contains another full-sized Rondeau by Galiot, hence the ascription.

Solage’s Ballade s’aincy estoit on the other hand shows itself a grandiose eulogy to Jean, Duc de Berry, a possible commissioner of the Chantilly Ms. It was probably composed in 1389, 15 years later the same Duje commissioned another famous manuscript, the Très riches heures… Solage employs extreme harmonical and rhythmical means to underline his subject matter, which at times create serious difficulties in judging his ultimate intentions. The proposed text underlay produces highly illustrative instrumental interludes and comments.

The transmission of composers’ names is still an exception in the 14th century (and even during the following century). As a rule pieces are written down anonymously in the mss. However, also from this point of view, the Chantilly Codex occupies a special place: of the no preserved compositions, 32 are anonymous, which equals about 30%. The remaining can be ascribed to 33 different authors, although not all of them are mentioned in the codex. They are identifiable though parallel sources, so called concordances. Anyway the number of compositions with certified author is considerable and proves the status assigned to these works of art. […] we find […] songs by the following composers:

F[ranciscus] Andrieu is mentined (with abbreviated name) as the composer of a double-texted, four-part Ballade, written in 1377 on the occasion of the death of Guillaume de Machaut. The poem was written by his student, Eustache Deschamps, famous french poet of the second half of the 14th century. There are two further works (three-part Ballades) in the Chantilly Codex, however not headed with F. Andrieu but with “Magister Franciscus”. Scholars, however, assume that this is the same person. So far, any further biographical details are unknown.

Galiot is another name that we only meet in the Chantilly Codex, as the author of four works. Unfortunately the copyist seems to have made an ascription error in two of them, so that in the end only two are really irreproachable. Also his identity is a mystery,because it is not evan certain that this is a real name (Gian Galeazzo Visconti has been proposed as a candidate). One of the works ascribed to him (without however mentioning his name) is considered very influential for the musical culture in Paris before 1400 in a Hebrew treatise of the early 15th century.

Matteo da Perugia belongs to the most eccentric composers of the period round 1400, at any rate as far as his oeuvre is concerned. On the other hand, we hardly know anything about his life. His name suggests his origins from Perugia, from where he apparently went to Milan for whatever reasons. There is proof that in 1402 he was Maestro di Capella at the Cathedral ther, at that point a major construction site. Matteo was a cleric, maybe even a Franciscan. He arrived in Milan with the Franciscan Filargo di Candia, who had been elected Archbishop in 1402. It seems that Filargo, in the meantime promoted to Cardinal, took his Maestro di Capella with him to council of Pisa in 1408 where there was an attempt at mediation between French and Roman interests. This culminated in Filargo being chosen Antipope Alexander V in 1409. Matteo may have served as a Maestro di Capella to the pope after that. Unexpectedly, however, his patron died the next year and was succeeded by John XXIII. It seems that Matteo left Pisa at that point and we lose track of him until 1414, when we find him back at the cathedralnin Milan. Once again he is traceable there in 1418 after which he disappears from the archives indefinitely. There is no proof that Matteo was still alive in 1426, as has recently been suggested. His compositions are exceptionally artful and experimental. Four Ballades can certainly be ascribed to him.

Also Philipoctus can not be traced in the archives as a person. His authenticated compositions suggest links to the papal court in Avignon as well as the court of the Visconti in Milan or Pavia. Nothing is known about the functions he could have exercised there. The existence of a Credo by his hand however suggests that he worked in a court chapel or cathedral, which means he must have been a cleric. We find his name four times in Chantilly (as “Phot” and “de Caserta”) pointing to his southern Italian origins. Two more works can be certainly attributed to him by means of existing concordances. Until now Médée fu has not been discussed as a possible composition by Philipoctus, but similarities to his other works, especially Par les bons Gedeon e Samson, make this attribution plausible.

It is possible that Jacob de Senleches was born in the small village Senleches in the diocese of Cambrai. In 1383 we find a certain “Jacquemin de Sanleches” at the court of Navarra, but in the service of Pedro de Luna, the later Pope Benedict XIII. Since he is emphatically mentioned as a “juglar de harpa”, the identification with the composer is not without problem; we can assume that a learned composer, who was capable of reading and writing, led the existence of a cleric. A harpist, on the other hand, belonged unequivocally to the class of instrumentalist, or minstrels. There is some indication the Senleches was active in Lombardy and around the circles of the Visconti court. He would thus be a further Chantilly composer with connections to Milan. Only four works are known by him beside Je me merveil and the Vileray La harpa de melodie, which was much admired by his contemporaries.

Whether Solage is indeed a name or only a kind of epithet or anagram must remain conjectural. This is no exception in Chantilly (e.g. Trebor = Robert) and “Solage” could be a similar word game (a combination of “sol” and “age”?). nevertheless there are twelve indentifiable compositions under this name that can not be connected to any known person. The text of some of his compositions could indicate that he was active in France, but even that has to remain speculation.


The Le Puy Manuscript

To find at last a book one has sought for so long! It is every book lover’s dream. To our great joy, a copy of the Prosolarium of Notre-Dame du Puy [a book of liturgical poetry] is now in our possession.

The enthusiasm with which, in 1885, Abbé Payard reported “his” discovery can well be understood. For he had in front of him a remarkable manuscript containing a festal office for New Year’s Day, in which older, liturgical material had been augmented with medieval songs of outstanding artistic value. When the texts were published shortly afterwards, it became apparent that a special office had been celebrated at the cathedral of Le Puy in the Massif Central, near the source of the Loire. Unfortunately, the manuscript itself then disappeared again.

Recently, not only has the manuscript unexpectedly reappeared, but a second book containing the same New Year’s Office has come to light. This second book also contains a large number of polyphonic pieces, both simple two-parts textures and four-part settings made in the sixteenth century by the clerks of Le Puy on the basis of older melodies. No other manuscript has been found which brings together such a range of older and newer material. It not only reflects the specific ritual celebrated in this cathedral, but also vividly illustrates the way liturgy could evolve over hundreds of years, particularly its artistic, musical aspects, from the chants found in the oldest notated sources to pieces inspired by the new arts of poetry and song composition in the high Middle Ages, and finally the polyphonic writing of the Renaissance.

It was the custom in the Middle Ages for each individual clerical rank to celebrate its own feast on a specific day following Christmas: the pueri (boys) as the youngest would come first, followed by the deacons and subdeacons, and then the priests. On their feast, those concerned would embellish the liturgy with as much ingenuity as possible, making additional processions and singing new compositions at the communal meal. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries special books were compiled for such celebrations, and it is to this tradition that the festal office for New Year’s Day at the cathedral of Le Puy belongs.

The basis for the feast was the liturgy proper to the day, stretching from Vespers on the preceding through the night offices to the end of Vespers on the feast itself, almost without a break for more than twenty-four hours. As in monastic practice, the clerks met in the chancel of the cathedral everey three hours to sing psalms, to pray, to read lessons and recite their associated chants and, of course, to perform a mass. They would also make processions to the impressive frescos and paintings in the vast church and its surrounding buildings high over the town. The feast day ended with dancing by the pueri.

As with all high festivals, Christmas was ‘re-celebrated’ eight days later, on New Year’s Day. Thus the principal theme of both the older and the newer texts in the Le Puy manuscript is the Christmas miracle, the coming of the king of kings, entering into his dominion. And with the Redeemer was celebrated – especially in the Middle Ages – Mary, the mother of God. The feast is thus full of the joy of Christmas, but also that of the New Year, which is greeted by the clerks in a song addressed to the cantor.

[...] a song transports us immediately into the characteristic sound world of the Le Puy office. It is a sixteenth-century setting for four voices of a monophonic song notated c1100. We then follow the order of pieces in the first part of the manuscript, with the entire Vespers liturgy, followed by later stages of the feast(1424). [...]

In the book’s old monophonic chants for Vespers, the characteristic sounds of a liturgical tradition stretching back far before the Middle Ages can be heard. Their texts are drawn mainly from the Psalter and other books of the Bible. Examples of choral psalmody sung antiphonally are the Psalm and the Magnificat both framed by antiphons. Other parts of the Vespers office which belong to this early material are the Ambrosian hymn, and the closing prayer. To this basic structure are added a blessing by the priest before the reading and a response sung after it. A short psalm verse is then inserted, and the office concludes with poetically extended versions of the usual thanksgiving, Benedicamus Domino, and its response, Deo gratias.

The Le Puy Vespers were enhanced by the addition of other chants: a solemn introduction taken from the main night office of Matins, verses from a hymn composed by the sixth-century poet Venantius Fortunatus for New Year’s Day, the song addressed to the cantor already mentioned, composed c1100, and a response to the reading in the form of a series of skilful hexameters written in the eleventh century by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres.

The monophonic chants exhibit considerable variety, both in the alternation of participants – priest, readers, cantor, soloists and choir – and, particularly, in musical, texture: the delivery of text on a single pitch, then more ornamental recitation patterns – formulas specific to the beginning, middle and end of a phrase – and finally actual melodies. Further variety is provided by the different possibilities of polyphonic sound, and especially the contrast between monophonic and polyphonic textures within single pieces. Along with full four-part textures created by adding chords to pre-existing melodies, we find two-part textures in which the second voice is added in accordance with long-standing simple oral techniques. In the final piece a melisma is sung over a held pitch, a procedure which hardly needed to be notated.

In the following parts of the office, this sound world becomes even more diverse. After a request for blessing adressed to the bishop, followed by the blessing itself, a processional chant (conductus) takes us from the chancel to the Chapter house. There, after anoher blessing, the reading is given as a farsumen, a technique widely practised in the time of the great cathedrals, whereby text is alternately read and sung. This piece, composed in the late eleventh century, is based on the prologue to the Gospel of St. John. Then, singing another conductus, the clerks move on to the meal in the refectory, where another ceremony takes place, with a reading and farsumen. The toast is followed by Psalm 50 with its antiphon. On the way back into the church through the cloister, the choir divides: at this point a four-part Kyrie is sung, a setting probably composed in the late Middle Ages. One back in the chancel, the clerks sing more ployphonic acclamations, a versicle and a further prayer, ending with a final Benedicamus.

It is in this part of the manuscript that the new songs with which the liturgy had been elaborated since the turn of the twelfth century are most prominent. This strophic art is the liturgical counterpar of early European courtly song, an art in which verse, rhyme and musical structures are organised in an astonishing variety of patterns, and in which every text has its own specific melody. It is here that the origins of European song in the full sense of the word lie. This new type of song could be heard in the church above all as conductus, or in the place of the Benedicamus, or, at the cathedral of Le Puy, as farsumen.

[...] concludes with three of the most beautiful compositions in this part of the manuscript: two polyphonic pieces of the sixteenth century, in full and clear harmonies, and between them a conductus, itself an example of one of the most elaborate forms used in monophonic song in the high Middle Ages. Here a strophic pattern is linked with the older structure of the sequence, based on repetition. This led to the creation of very long and intricately-woven melodic designs, and is one of the most impressive aspects of twelfth-century song. With the development of new forms of musical expression and structures, this special art was lost. The conductus heard here survives only in the Le Puy sources, and its style shows that the office itself originated in the period when his song art was in full flower.The cathedral of Le Puy lay on one of the great medieval pilgrim routes leading to Santiago de Compostela, but after the Middle Ages the town was somewhat remote from historical events taking place in the outside world. The cathedral building itself, constantly modified , with its frescos dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, presents a parallel to the pattern of continuous liturgical expansion reflected in this festal office. Yet the different kinds of music in this office – the old liturgical chants, the new medieval songs, pieces in which a second voice is added following simple oral techniques, and finally the characteristic polyphony of the later Middle Ages – go together, perhaps even more successfully than the cathedral’s architectural elements, to make up a fascinating, unified whole.

Wulf Artl
Translation by Susan Rankin

On the 250th Anniversary of Georg F. Händel's Death

George Frideric Handel (born Georg Friederich Händel), an English composer of German birth, was born in Halle on 23 February 1685 and died in London on 14 April 1759.

Halle, Hamburg, and Italy

The son of a 63-year-old barber-surgeon and his much younger wife (the daughter of a pastor), Handel was found to have musical talent at an early age. He studied with a local organist, F. W. Zachow, who taught him keyboard and composition. Visiting Berlin, where he met his future colleagues Attilio Ariosti and Giovanni Bononcini, he made such an impression that the elector offered to send him to study in Italy, an offer not taken up by his family. It was intended that Handel would enter the legal profession. He studied at the grammar school and university in Halle, but was appointed organist at the cathedral in 1702; the following year he decided to seek his fortune in Hamburg.

Hamburg's main attraction was the opera, directed by Reinhard Keiser. Handel played second violin in the orchestra before becoming maestro al cembalo. He became friendly with the singer, composer, and (later) critic Johann Mattheson, with whom he fought a duel in 1704 as the result of a quarrel over the continuo part in one of Mattheson's operas. He also had the opportunity to write his first operas, of which Almira, though a strange mixture of German and Italian, was evidently successful at its performance in 1705. Nero, performed soon after, was a failure, however, and by the time the huge score (now mostly lost) of Handel's third opera was ready he had decided to learn his craft in Italy.

Although the details of Handel's stay in Italy are unclear, it is likely that he first visited Florence. He was however in Rome by January 1707, when he played the organ at St John Lateran. There he enjoyed the patronage of several distinguished and art-loving cardinals and became acquainted with Corelli, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, and probably Pasquini too. He composed many secular cantatas and some fine church music: the psalm setting Dixit Dominus (1707), displaying a formidable array of choral textures and an impressive handling of the concerted style, suggests the high standards of the singers at his disposal. He also wrote his first oratorio, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (1707). Notable among his compositions from the next couple of years are two splendid quasi-dramatic cantatas, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (1708) and Apollo e Dafne (1709–10). He visited Florence again, as well as Naples and Venice, where he met Cardinal Grimani (who provided the libretto for the opera Agrippina) and the composers Vivaldi and Albinoni. The production of Agrippina in Venice in the winter of 1709–10 was a great success, and the work itself contains many of the components of Handel's mature operatic style. In Venice Handel also met Prince Ernst August of Hanover, whose brother the elector was looking for a new Kapellmeister. Handel travelled to Hanover and accepted the post on condition that he be allowed first to visit England.

Hanover and early London years

Handel arrived in London in autumn 1710 and discovered a city ripe for Italian opera, in spite of the objections of London's literati to such entertainments. He was employed at the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket and wrote Rinaldo, which was produced in February 1711. Though some of the music had originated in earlier compositions—it was Handel's common practice throughout his career to recycle music, and not just his own—its fine arias and especially its elaborate staging (involving a flock of sparrows, waterfalls, thunder effects, and fireworks) caused a sensation, and the publisher John Walsh senior printed the popular arias. Handel duly returned to Hanover in summer 1711 and there spent a year or so writing chamber and orchestral music, but he was in London again by mid-October 1712.

For three years Handel lived in Piccadilly at the home of Lord Burlington. For the 1712–13 season he wrote Il pastor fido, which was a failure; but Teseo, based on the plot of Lully's Thésée, was more successful. At the same time Handel cultivated connections outside the opera house: his grand Te Deum and Jubilate, composed to celebrate the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, as well as his Ode for Queen Anne's Birthday, helped to establish a favourable relationship with the English court and with the queen, who awarded him a pension of £200.

When Queen Anne died in 1714 Handel's employer, George of Hanover, succeeded as king. There seems to be no truth in the legend that Handel, having exceeded his leave from Hanover, provided the Water Music to make his peace with him (it was performed during a royal serenade on the Thames in July 1717). In fact George doubled his pension, and a further amount was added later when Handel became music master to the royal children. In the 1714–15 season Rinaldo was revived and Amadigi composed. Handel may have visited Germany briefly in 1716, but at any rate was presumably back in London in January 1717 for revivals of Rinaldo and Amadigi. That he prospered in his first years in London is suggested by the fact that he was able to invest £500 in the South Sea Company.

There followed a gap in Handel's operatic career. He composed nothing fresh in the genre until 1720, and during this time stayed at Cannons, near Edgware, as resident composer to the Earl of Carnarvon (from 1719 Duke of Chandos). There Handel composed the Chandos anthems, revealing a flair for creating splendid sonorities with small resources, and two English masques, Acis and Galatea (1718) and the first version of Esther (?1718).


In 1718–19, in an effort to create a more secure footing for Italian opera in London, members of the nobility, with the backing of the king, formed an opera syndicate on strictly commercial lines, known as the Royal Academy of Music. Handel was appointed musical director, and he immediately went to Düsseldorf and Dresden to recruit singers. The academy opened on 2 April 1720 and ran for nine seasons, mixing new works with revivals. There was some rivalry between the resident composers—who included Bononcini and Ariosti—and Bononcini was particularly successful between 1720 and 1722, but the Academy was to stimulate Handel to a series of masterpieces. His first work there, Radamisto (1720), though not his finest, had the ticket touts charging astronomical prices, and later works such as Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano (both 1724), and Rodelinda (1725) were written for a stunning cast—including the celebrated castrato Senesino, Giuseppe Boschi, and Francesca Cuzzoni.

Modern research has established Handel as a master of dramatic technique within the constraints of stylized Italian opera seria. Although his operas are conventionally based on a series of recitatives and arias, with few ensembles or orchestral movements, his subtle manipulation of musical form underpins dramatic progress, and the breadth of his characterization, aided by an intensity of emotional expression, tonal control, and variety of scoring, transcends the limitations of the genre. The range of music, from simple songs on dance rhythms to brilliant concerto-like movements, is astonishing.

Paradoxically, the presence of star singers, one of the trump cards of the Royal Academy, became one of the reasons for its decline and subsequent collapse, as their inflated fees contributed to financial difficulties, and internal squabbling undermined the whole enterprise. Hardly any more helpful was the success of Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728). In the 1727–8 season Handel presented a patriotic opera that happily coincided with the accession of the new king, Riccardo primo (1727), and two other new works, but at the end of that season the doors were closed and the company disbanded. Handel himself was not financially embarrassed, nor did his reputation suffer. He was still favoured at court and had in 1723 become a composer to the Chapel Royal: his four anthems for the coronation of George II are among his best-known contributions to English ceremonial. In 1727 he became a naturalized English citizen.

Handel set up a new company at the King's Theatre in 1729 with Johann Heidegger, the erstwhile manager of the Royal Academy, and both travelled abroad to recruit singers. Handel's first operas for the new venture, Lotario and Partenope, were not successful. Revivals of such old favourites as Giulio Cesare and Scipione were interspersed with new operas, including Poro (1731), Ezio, and Sosarme (both 1732), which had mixed receptions, and Orlando (1733), which was a triumph. But at the end of the 1732–3 season the Opera of the Nobility was set up, a rival company supported by the Prince of Wales. This company poached some of Handel's best singers and engaged the famous composer Nicola Porpora. In spite of their rivalry, by the end of the next season both companies were playing to empty houses, and the existence of other companies, including one giving opera in English, contributed to their difficulties. In July 1734 Heidegger dissolved the partnership and handed over the lease of the King's Theatre to the Opera of the Nobility.

Undeterred, Handel moved to the theatre at Covent Garden and produced several operas, including two masterpieces, Ariodante and Alcina (both 1735). But the strain of giving operas was beginning to tell, and, in spite of a hit with Atalanta (1736), declining fortunes led to both theatres closing—the Opera of the Nobility for good. In April 1737 Handel suffered a stroke, and he retired to take the waters at Aix-la-Chapelle in September. After his return to London in October or November, apparently recovered, he was employed by Heidegger, at the King's Theatre, and produced the operas Faramondo, Alessandro Severo (a pasticcio), and Serse.


Although Handel doggedly persisted with opera, the public reception of which was unpredictable at best, his dramatic interests found further outlet in oratorio, a genre new to England that was created almost by accident. Handel's masque Esther had been given private performances by Bernard Gates in London in 1732. Such was its success that it was presented in public at the King's Theatre in May that year, though, on the orders of the Bishop of London, who objected to the staging of a sacred drama in a secular space, it was given without staged action. Thus performed it was the first oratorio to be heard in London, and it inevitably encouraged the production of others, among the first of which were Deborah (1733) and Athalia. Athalia was first performed in Oxford, at the Sheldonian Theatre, during summer 1733, when Handel visited the city and, according to reports, turned down an honorary doctorate.

Unbound by operatic convention and the egotistical whims of top Italian singers, Handel was able to develop in his oratorios a potent and flexible dramatic style that was adequate compensation for the lack of visual drama. Although he drew substantially on techniques honed in opera, his formal freedom was much greater and his characterization benefited considerably from extensive use of the chorus. An incidental attraction at oratorios was the interval entertainment, for which Handel played his organ concertos; Walsh junior published six of them as op. 4 in 1738 (a further set of six followed in 1761). Also used were the 12 concerti grossi op. 6, an outstanding collection of works which ranks as one of the highpoints of the genre in the late Baroque period.

In 1738 Handel wrote Saul, a remarkably dramatic piece with a massive orchestra (including huge kettledrums borrowed from the Tower of London). This was followed by Israel in Egypt, which did not find initial popularity: it is an untypical oratorio dominated by choruses and with a text derived directly from the Bible. In the winter of 1739–40 Handel presented a complete series of oratorio concerts at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields; it included L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato and revivals of Esther, Saul, and Israel. But in spite of the attractions of oratorio, the public reaction to Handel's works still varied, and Handel himself was not yet ready to abandon opera. He returned to it for the last time in 1740 with Imeneo and Deidamia, but they were both met with indifference.

By summer 1741 there were rumours that Handel intended to return to Germany, but an invitation from the lord-lieutenant of Ireland to give a series of concerts in Dublin seems to have fired his enthusiasm. He composed Messiah before leaving London in November, and in Dublin he gave a successful series of concerts, including the premiere of Messiah, which made large sums of money for local charities. Messiah is uncharacteristic of Handel's oratorios in part because of its largely undramatic, more contemplative, nature and its text, which is compiled from passages in the Bible. In London it flopped; it was not appreciated there until the Foundling Hospital performances in the 1750s, since when it has remained by far his best-known, if unrepresentative, oratorio.

Handel returned to London with his confidence restored, and finished a new oratorio, Samson, which takes its text from Milton rather than from the Old Testament. Although it was popular with the public, Handel was still not out of the woods. In the 1743–4 and 1744–5 seasons he presented a mixed bag: the secular oratorio Semele, the uneven Joseph and his Brethren, and two splendid dramatic works, Hercules and Belshazzar, the latter one of his finest oratorios. By summer 1745 he was again ill. However, the events of the Jacobite rising inspired a series of militaristic oratorios, beginning in 1746 with the patriotic Occasional Oratorio, hastily compiled from existing works, followed by Judas Maccabaeus (1747), and continuing in 1748 with a sequel to Judas, Alexander Balus, and Joshua.

In 1749 Handel composed the Music for the Royal Fireworks for the celebrations of the Peace Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. He also gave two new oratorios, Susanna and Solomon, and composed another, Theodora. In 1751 he embarked on Jephtha, his final masterpiece with superb dramatic arias and recitatives. But in the middle of its composition he began to suffer from eye trouble and, although he evidently still managed to play his organ concertos—they had in any case always relied heavily on extemporization—he was totally blind by January 1753. Jephtha effectively marks the end of his creative career.

Handel's reputation

Handel died a national figure and was buried at Westminster Abbey in the presence of about 3000 people. Though his operas were soon all but forgotten, he was remembered in the years after his death through some of his instrumental music, such as the concertos, and some of the ceremonial church music, but particularly as an oratorio composer. His oratorio seasons were maintained from 1760 by J. C. Smith and John Stanley. Handel's music, always the dominant model for his English contemporaries, remained a strong inXuence not only on English musicians (both in London and in the provinces) but also on such composers as Mozart and Haydn. In England a collected edition of his works was proposed in 1786 but not completed. However, 18th-century reverence for him is seen most clearly in the massive Handel Commemoration events mounted in 1784 at Westminster Abbey, which in turn helped to establish a fashion for the large-scale performance of just a handful of choral works—notably Messiah—that persisted, and shaped Handel's reputation, until the mid-20th century.

Peter Lynan

The Ivrea Codex

Mass music from the Ivrea Codex

The Ivrea Codex now lives in the Chapter library of the cathedral of Ivrea, a small town in the foothills of the Italian Alps, south of the modern ski resort Aosta (home to an important 15th-century music manuscript). This may seem an unexpected area in which to find major sources of medieval music, but in fact the position of these towns on one of the main routes across the Alps between France and Italy readily explains their importance in the Middle Ages. They lay on roads that linked centres of power, and accordingly they grew in importance themselves, sustaining cathedrals with musical traditions that provided a natural home for collections of sophisticated polyphony.

Recent research suggests that the Ivrea manuscript was copied late in the 14th century, in the 1380s and 90s, but that it preserves music written considerably earlier, not later than the 1360s. And yet it is still one of the earliest sources for 14th-century French music, since (apart from one of the Machaut manuscript) nothing else of any size survives intact after Le Roman de Fauvel of c1318. Thus most of our view of the new style of composition, the so-called ars nova, that began in the 1310s and was developed for at least fifty years, comes from the pages of this manuscript: almost all the motets from that period are here, together with most of the earlier songs and much of the mass music. It is far and away the most important source for ars nova music.

The sequence of mass movements […] does not form a mass cycle; they are very unlikely to have been written by a single composer or for a single occasion. The opening Sanctus is ‘troped’, that is, it has a greatly expanded text and as a result a somewhat longer musical setting than is usual, though the composer (whoever he was) managed to save space by assigning the normal Sanctus text to the lower three voices and running through the troped text in the top voice in much shorter note values. Points to savour include the melodic imitation at ‘fecundata’ and ‘in excelsis’, both probably encouraged by their text. The Kyrie (ascribed in another manuscript to ‘Chipre’) uses a much simpler style, but not necessarily an earlier one, since these different stylistic registers could simply indicate different kinds of occasion (in this case less festive) or differently skilled performers. The Gloria lies somewhere between these two extremes, and includes a small trope in celebration of Christ’s humanity near its end. The Credo is notable for its ‘hocketing’ passages (alternating short notes and short rests in the upper voices) and for its two-note imitations, all of which provide an illusion of a regular repeating rhythmic structure such as would occur in a motet. Hocketing is also a feature of the Sanctus setting […], although in other respects it seems a more modern piece than the Credo. The closing motet, Post missarum solempnia, is not strictly speaking a mass movement, but could in practice have been used in place of the concluding Deo gracias from the mass liturgy since its texts refer to that role and conclude with the words ‘deo gracias’.

Clap, clap/sus Robins is a delightful anomaly, an old fashioned ars antique style motet, out of place in its much progressive surrounding though still entertaining enough to be copied into the Ivrea manuscript.

Motets by Guillaume de Machaut

Although Guillaume de Machaut is often rather different from that of his contemporaries, his complets works have survived, so we know far more about him than about any other composer from medieval France. Most of his 23 motets come from the first part of his composing life (roughly 1320-50) and are typically varied and idiosyncratic specimens of the kinds of ars nova motets of which more ‘normal’ examples survive in Ivrea. Dame/Fins cuers doulz, Trop plus est bele/Biaute paree de valour and Lassel/ Se j’aim mon loyal ami are the three motets that Machaut composed over song melodies. In each case a borrowed triple-time song is heard in long notes in the lowest voice, while the texted voices harmonise it above, so that a sense these motets are really polyphonic song, albeit with extra texts for the upper parts.

The group of Latin motets is in almost every way different. Tu qui gregem/Plange, regni respublica, Christe qui lux/Veni creator spiritus and Felix virgo/Inviolata genitrix are Machaut’s only late motets, written around 1360. They set religious and political texts, very different in tone from the love texts of the French-texted works, and they are composed over a melody borrowed from plainchant, not from secular song. They are all written for four voices, not three, the fourth voice forming a pair with the tenor to provide a two-part harmonic foundation for the texted parts. They use regularly repeating rhytmic and harmonic structures (so-called ‘isorhythm’) as a way of organizing relatively long spans of time. And they all begin with an introduction in which the voices enter one at a time. All seem to have been written during a period of political turnoil that included the Siege of Reims (where Machaut lived) by the English in the winter of 1359/60, perhaps alluded to in Christe qui lux/veni creator spiritus.

The third group of Machaut motets consists of those found not only in the Machaut manuscripts but also in Ivrea, which indicates that they had some popularity beyond Machaut’s immediate circle. His two French-texted motets in Ivrea, Qui es promesse/Hal Fortune and Amours/Faus Samblant well represent opposing styles found among his motets, Amours/Faus Samblant belongs squarely within the musical world of the early ars nova and was clearly influenced by the motets of Philippe de Vitry; but Ha! Fortune shows Machaut’s idiosyncratic harmonic and rhythmic taste, with juxtaposed F# and Bb as well as long passages of syncopation. Martyrum/Diligenter inquiramus celebrates St Quentin, and may have been written after Machaut became a canon of St. Quentin, in north-west France, sometime between 1333-5. It shares with the late motets a solo introduction, and like most ars nova motets its periodic rhythmic structure is clearly marked by hocket passages.

Daniel Leech-Wilkinson

Masters from Flanders: Polyphony from the 15th and 16th Centuries

Western music during the 15th and 16th centuries was very much dominated by Netherlands Flemish polyphony, a terminology that historians have been using for more than 150 years. This costumary linking of the two nationalities seems to indicate that the polyphonic style was very much identified with the impressive quantities of music produced during the above two centuries by the untiring activities of at least five generations of talented composers from the regions known as the ‘Low Countries by the sea’ or the ‘Netherlands’. These composers were known in Italy as the fiamminghi ir Flemings. Charles V and Philip II had a host of selected singers who formed the capilla flamenca in Madrid: the singing masters who led this capilla were born in Antwerp, Turnhout, Liège and Atrecht, today’s Arras; this provides a clear indication of the origins of the term ‘Flemish polyphony’. Most of these men came from the southern regions of the Low Countries and many of them spoke French as their mother tongue.

The Low Countries, more or less the equivalent of today’s Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and the north of France as far as Arras/Atrecht, possessed a certain amount of cultural as well as economic and political autonomy. Although we can hardly speak of an inviolable and lasting unified state, these regions belonged, politically speaking, to the successive dynasties of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Austrian and Spanish Hapsburgs for a long period of time during the 15th and 16th centuries.

It is in any case indisputable that the populace of these regions lived and worked under foreign domination: the Burgundians were at least members of the French royal house and the Hapsburgs came from German-speaking lands. When Philip the Handsome, the son of Emperor Maximilian of Austria, became king of Castille, the Netherlands the came into the hands of the Spanish branch of the Hapsburgs.

This political situation had far-reaching consequences for art and culture in general and for music in particular. We should here note a number of factors that influenced and reacted with each other: the various regions, thanks to the development of the cities, were particularly strong, with the standard of living being comparable to that of Northern Italy. Bruges and later Antwerp were European centres of trade, where international contacts were continually being made; these were naturally highly useful for the dissemination of art.

The production of works of art in these lands had reached a level that was never again to be equalled. The favourable economic circunstances created a fitting climate for the development of talent that was already almost too available. Thanks to their almost eccentric interest in the arts, the Dukes of Burgundy laid down secure foundations on which later generations of artists could build: musicians did so in any case.

We should also emphasise that centres of musicl training at the highest level existed for training of musicians, singers and composers in Cambrai, Bruges, Liège, Tournai and Antwerp amongst others. The result of this excess of musical of musical artistry was twofold: on the one hand the Netherlands were regarded more and more as the most important international centre of polyphonic art, whilst artists swarmed from such a centre to the surrounding countries and even to much further away. They set out either on their own iniciative or because they had been summoned by spiritual or secular leader to fulfil every type of musical function; their emigrations were encouraged by the unstable political situation in the Low Countries at that time.

As a result of the uprisings, the sense of disquiet in the cities and the religious persecutions during the second half of the 16th century, the most prominent musicians from the Southern Netherlands were forced to seek their fortune elsewhere, be it in the North or abroad, where those in power who were interested in music welcomed them with open arms. There was clearly a real sense of rivalry in their efforts to engage the most renowned Flemish polyphonists for their courts and churches. Thanks to the immense attraction of foreign places, the fact that the various courts had to travel from one place of residence to another and to the exchanging of musicians between the courts themselves, Flemish polyphony spread widely; its influence was felt throughout Europe.

Strictly speaking, every composition that is written for more than one part fulfils the requirements to be called polyphonic. The first fragments of music with more than a single musical line date from the end of the 9th century and in these early examples we see the two principles that were to form the basis for the further development of the polyphonic style: the music takes an existing melody from the liturgical repertory of the Western Church – Gregorian chant – as its starting point, to which a ‘new’ musical line is then added. In these first instances, this new line followed the existing first melody closely.

From the 12th century onwards the second line acquired a more individual development in the composer’s hands. It departed from the path traced out by the original melody and was no longer restricted to remaining under or above it; the new line traversed the original and even wrapped itself around it with an independent rhythmic pattern. Through this development the new line arrived at a more or less equal footing with the first melody; this marked the beginning of the ‘true’ and extremely complex polyphony of the 16th century, with two or more parts that were completely independent but that were conceived in such a way that they also sounded well when played together.

What set the Flemish composers apart in their use of this age-old tradition? They display a striking stylistic unity with regard to the euphony of their works and the sweet-toned sounds that they used as well as a technical ingenuity that was almost unimaginable. They also adopted a new manner of composing, no longer writing the individual lines one after the other but simultaneously; the equality of the several lines was further reinforced by this and other techniques. Finally, they made vital contributions to the independent status of musical genres such as the Mass, the motet, the french chanson and the madrigal by attributing a characteristic style to each genre.

Early polyphony was religious in inspiration and was intended for liturgical use, initially in monasteries but later also cities, in the great cathedrals that were bishops’ seats. The flourishing of polyphonic sacred music in France during the 12th and 13th centuries ran in parallel with the sucess of the monophonic song repertory of the troubadours and trouvères. At that time there was no question purely secular polyphony, although a process of secularisation of the polyphonic style began during the 13th century and led to the creation of the polyphonic French song. The poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut (1304-1377) is firmly linked to the flowering of the song form in the 14th century. This process of declericalisation and popularisation was not limited to music; the other arts were also included, as we can see from the sudden upsurge of literature written in the popular tongue by such authors as Dante and Petrach in Italy.

The highest musical form that employed the polyphonic style in the 15th century was the Mass. During the second half of the century Johannes Tinctoris compiled a hierarchy of the various genres on the basis of the texts that were composed. The highest category of what he termed the cantus (song or composition) was the Mass, immediately followed by compositions on other sacred texts, these including the psalm, the Magnificat and the hymn; these genres were separate from the Mass, but were still part of the liturgy. A motet could be composed to a sacred or to a secular text, but a sacred motet could also be performed beyond the church’s precints.

The following category according to Tinctoris was the cantilena or secular song, composed mostly of texts in the vernacular of the country. The chanson or song was long the most colourful and popular genre in many lands until the rise of the Italian madrigal during the 15th century. This genre gradually became the most important of all secular genres and had a great influence on other genres also; it also later gained a sacred equivalent. The quality of the madrigal increased in proportion to the quality of the poetry chosen as its text; composers seized upon the form as a playing-field on which they could experiment freely and to an ever greater extent with illustration and emphasis of the text through music.

In comparison with vocal music, very little instrumental music from this period has survived. Instrumental music was not highly regarded until tastes began to change in the course of the 16th century. Vocal music was in any case transcribed and arranged for instrumental groups, on which basis new repertoire was later composed. Music for dancing was popular, as was music for lute – and naturally the fiamminghi left their mark on the development of these genres as well throughout Europe.

Ignace Bossuyt, Shulamith Brouwer
Translation: Peter Lockwood


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