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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
July 2015
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Book description

Through forty-five creative and concise essays by an international team of authors, this Cambridge History brings the fifteenth century to life for both specialists and general readers. Combining the best qualities of survey texts and scholarly literature, the book offers authoritative overviews of central composers, genres, and musical institutions as well as new and provocative reassessments of the work concept, the boundaries between improvisation and composition, the practice of listening, humanism, musical borrowing, and other topics. Multidisciplinary studies of music and architecture, feasting, poetry, politics, liturgy, and religious devotion rub shoulders with studies of compositional techniques, musical notation, music manuscripts, and reception history. Generously illustrated with figures and examples, this volume paints a vibrant picture of musical life in a period characterized by extraordinary innovation and artistic achievement.

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  • 8 - Oral composition in fifteenth-century music
    pp 139-148
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    Joseph Kerman's Contemplating Music and the new-musicological positions it catalyzed and nourished in the 1980s and 1990s posed a particular challenge to scholars of fifteenth-century music. Hearing was a metaphor for close reading in the absence of sound. Josquin's mass represents an expression and articulation of many musical practices that must have fundamentally informed musical hearing and listening around 1500, and even before. The metaphorical language brought to bear on this musical entity since the middle of the last century offers a meaningful snapshot of stasis and change in early music historiography. Busnoys's tenor connects the piece to the cantus firmi of other late medieval musicians' motets, and to the kinds of musical communities in which they circulated. The sounds of musical teaching and learning embody the unending cyclic repetitions comprising music history. Busnoys, Josquin, and the drums of Techiman realize the wholeness of community and the wholeness of history as moments of sounding as did the organ of Reims.
  • 9 - Improvisation as concept and musical practice in the fifteenth century
    pp 149-163
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    It has become easy to win over new students to the study of fifteenth-century music. The widespread availability of recordings of Du Fay, Josquin, and others puts the sonorous qualities of this music on full display. This chapter begins with the autobiography of Johannes von Soest, one of the most loquacious witnesses to the listening experiences of fifteenth-century art music. It provides an encapsulation of the essential modes of perception of late medieval art music. The chapter focuses on the doctrine of the internal senses and their effect on music comprehension with a special focus on the spiritual efficacy of sacred polyphony and the considerable critique that this music engendered. The doctrine of the spiritual senses made possible an unmediated affective access to God, distinct from representations of the angels in their multitude of merely intellectually perceptible music. Finally, the chapter discusses the justification of earthly sensual pleasure, including the "listening pleasure" of sacred music.
  • 11 - Making a motet: Josquin’sAve Maria … virgo serena
    pp 183-199
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    The concept of the musical work is based on the assumption that a composed piece of music is a work of art. From a historical perspective, authorship stands as a comparatively recent determinant of the work concept. Imposing the concept of the work of art on music required the translation of the ars musicae from the context of the artes liberales into a more modern system of the arts. Around 1400 a new musical realm of experience emerged, and with it the idea that composed music was first and foremost a presentation of text to listeners, a concept introduced emphatically by Ciconia. A prerequisite for aesthetic discourse is the regular availability of music - or put differently, the reproducibility of a notated text and its sound; and it was written traditions that enabled composers to refer to each other and compare works through both reading and listening.
  • 12 - The origins of pervasive imitation
    pp 200-228
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    This chapter explores the musical life of the Armed Man, beginning with Josquin, Pierre de La Rue, and others active at the turn of the sixteenth century. It proposes a new way of parsing the musical connections that bind several fifteenth-century settings together. The chapter considers several additional examples of musical borrowing, with respect to both masses and secular L'homme arme settings. It discusses the terminological propriety and methodological value of musical borrowing. The earliest surviving reference to a L'homme arme mass dates from 1462-63, when Regis's setting was copied in Cambrai. Musical quotation is central to late medieval ways of composing. Borrowing might seem the sexier interpretive tool, but the lingua franca is often more powerful. The L'homme arme tradition is a resonant, indeed cacophonous echo chamber that challenges one to distinguish originary sounds from their reverberations.
  • 13 - Humanism and music in Italy
    pp 231-262
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    The source situation for Guillaume Du Fay's music, particularly in his early years, is quite good. Over a period of twenty-five years, a series of manuscripts transmits Du Fay's music in consistently good versions and with solid attributions. Du Fay's personal and clerical career is considerably better documented than those of most of his contemporaries. Despite the loss of late sources, Du Fay's music survives in higher proportion than that of his contemporaries and immediate successors. Du Fay was unusual in defining himself primarily as what is called today a "composer" rather than as a singer or even a clergyman. Du Fay promoted his music and sought to disseminate it. One of his earliest works is based on a plainsong that was sung at Cambrai as part of the Missa ad tollendum schismam. Du Fay's turn toward paraphrased cantus firmi led him to largely abandon the free cantilena style in liturgical and ceremonial works.
  • 14 - Fifteenth-century humanism and music outside Italy
    pp 263-280
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    Jean d'Ockeghem is praised widely for his graciousness, his Christian virtues, and his skill as a singer. Jean Molinet, who singles out the music of Gilles Binchois, Antoine Busnoys, Guillaume Du Fay, and Ockeghem as the best of its day, lists Ockeghem as the first among these masters. The role of imitation in Ockeghem's music has been the object of a great deal of commentary. Ockeghem's approach to melody appears to be among the most elusive aspects of his music, to judge from the level of subjectivity that permeates various attempts to describe his melodic design. Ockeghem's textures gain clarity from the sense of unification provided by imitation, but the imprecise character of that imitation often leaves the listener wondering if it is adequately real to foster a genuine perception of such unity. Long, serpentine melodies abound in Ockeghem's music, inevitably resulting in a sense of unpredictable meandering.
  • 15 - Poetic humanism and music in the fifteenth century
    pp 281-291
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    To study Josquin des Prez is to stand at the edge of an epistemological precipice. One of the greatest impediments to accessing the historical Josquin is the extraordinary reception he enjoyed after his death. The early decades of the sixteenth century witnessed an explosion in the circulation of Josquin's music, and a concomitant increase in references to Josquin's stature. More than a quarter-century ago, Joshua Rifkin challenged scholars to consider works by Josquin guilty until proven innocent. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century music historians were forced to rely heavily on Glareanus and late printed sources, their accounts are littered with dubious claims about Josquin's personality and oriented toward works of questionable attribution. The biographical details can serve as a starting point, as can the most fundamental sorts of information about the institutions in which Josquin worked, the musicians with whom he associated, and the broader social, cultural, and political developments of his age.

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