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Canonic techniques in the caccia: compositional strategies and historical development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 September 2014


Canonic techniques in the Trecento caccia reveal a wide spectrum of ostinato procedures ranging from brief cadence patterns to large-scale harmonic and/or melodic repetition schemes. The ostinato phenomenon is thus an important structural component of canonic technique in the caccia. This article examines these ostinato patterns in terms of a putative historical and structural transformation of the genre at the intersection of unwritten and written practices. Special emphasis is placed on the definition of the caccia from the anonymous Trecento treatise, Capitulum de vocibus applicatis verbis, and its correlation with the early layer of the caccia repertoire.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 The treatise was published in Debenedetti, Santorre, ‘Un trattelo del secolo XIV sopra la poesia musicale’, Studi medievali, 2 (1906–7), 5982Google Scholar, and, more recently in Burkard, Thorsten and Huck, Oliver, ‘Voces applicatae verbis. Ein musikologischer und poetologischer Traktat aus dem 14. Jahrhundert (I-Vnm Lat. CI. XII.97 [4125]). Einleitung, Edition, Übersetzung und Kommentar’, Acta Musicologica, 74 (2002), 134CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Facsimile editions include Il Codice Rossi 215, ed. Pirrotta, Nino (Lucca, 1992)Google Scholar; Il Codice Musicale Panciatichi 26 della Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze, ed. Gallo, F. Alberto (Firenze, 1981)Google Scholar; The Manuscript London, British Museum, Additional 29987, ed. Gilbert Reaney (n.p., 1965); Il Codice Squarcialupi, MS. Mediceo Palatino 87, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana di Firenze, ed. Gallo, F. Alberto (Lucca, 1992)Google Scholar.

3 This new dating has been advanced by Abramov-van Rijk, Elena, ‘Evidence for a Revised Dating of the Anonymous Fourteenth-century Italian Treatise Capitulum de vocibus applicatis verbis’, Plainsong and Medieval Music, 16 (2007), 1930CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 A list of sigla of sources cited may be found in the Appendix at the end of this article. For a description of the Reg fragment and a transcription of its contents, see Gozzi, Marco and Ziino, Agostino, ‘The Mischiati Fragment: A New Source of Italian Trecento Music at Reggio Emilia’, in Kontinuität und Transformation in der italienischen Vokalmusik zwischen Due- und Quattrocento, ed. Dieckmann, Sandra, Huck, Oliver, Rotter-Broman, Signe and Scotti, Alba (Hildesheim, 2007), 281314Google Scholar.

5 Since the meaning of the ambiguous term ‘pars’ is implied in the passage, I leave it untranslated, as did Huck and Burkard in their edition of the treatise, ‘Voces applicatae verbis’.

6 ‘Caciae (sive incalci) a simili per omnia formantur ut motetti, salvo quod verba caciarum volunt esse aut omnes de septem aut omnes de quique syllabis. Volunt etiam esse ad tot, quot partes sunt, et omnes volunt esse formatae supra primam partem, ita quod, si facta fuerit ad quinque partes, omnes quinque cantores cantare possint simul primam partem. In numero canentium habere vult talis ordo, qualis dictus est in mottetis, scilicet quod, quando unus ascendit, alter descendat, tertius firmus stet, quartus pauset, quintus rumpat. Et sic, cambiando officia, fiat diversitas decorata, inveniendo saepissimi in consonantiis. Et pars illorum et omnes in fine in consonantia se reperiant, quis in quinta, quis in octava; et caveant a tritono, ut dictum est supra in mottetis.’ See Burkard and Huck, ‘Voces applicatae verbis’, 16. For different English translations of the passage, see Marrocco, Thomas, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 2nd edn (Cambridge, MA, 1961), xivGoogle Scholar; Griffiths, John, Hunting the Origins of the Trecento Caccia, The Twelfth Gordon Athol Anderson Memorial Lecture (Armidale, NSW, Australia, 1996), 910. (accessed 7 April 2014)Google Scholar; Gallo, F. Alberto, Music of the Middle Ages II, trans. Eales, Karen (Cambridge, 1985), 120–1Google Scholar; and Virginia Newes, ‘Fuga and Related Contrapuntal Procedures in European Polyphony ca. 1350-ca. 1420’, Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University (1987), 47. The most recent discussion of the Capitulum definition and its correlation with the caccia repertoire is Marchi, Lucia, ‘Chasing Voices, Hunting Love: The Meaning of the Italian Caccia’, in Essays in Medieval Studies, 27 (2011), 1332, at 19–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I am grateful to Lucia Marchi for sending me the proofs of the article prior to its publication.

7 The metrical structure of the caccia verse is analysed in Brasolin, Maria Teresa, ‘Proposta per una classificazione metrica delle cacce trecentesche’, in L'Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento IV, ed. Ziino, Agostino (Certaldo, 1978), 83105Google Scholar.

8 Burkard and Huck, ‘Voces applicatae verbis’, 30. The terminology (‘continuous canon’, ‘round’) was proposed in Jamie Croy Kassler, ‘The Chases in the MS Ivrea’, MA thesis, Columbia University (1967), 363–7, and later used in Newes, ‘Fuga and Related Contrapuntal Procedures’, 89–90. The difference between the continuous canon as a symbolic representation of the directed motion of the hunt, and the earlier ‘round’ canon, with its ‘wheel-like’ motion, is discussed in Huck, Oliver, ‘The Early Canon as Imitatio Naturae’, in Canons and Canonic Techniques, 14th–16th Centuries: Theory, Practice, and Reception History, ed. Schiltz, K. and Blackburn, B. (Leuven, 2007), 718Google Scholar.

9 The question of caccia's origins has been raised and differently addressed in Pirrotta, Nino, ‘Per l'origine e la storia della caccia e del madrigale trecentesco’, Rivista Musicale Italiana, 48 (1946), 305–23Google Scholar, and 49 (1947), 121–42; von Fischer, Kurt, ‘On the Technique, Origin, and Evolution of Italian Trecento Music’, The Musical Quarterly, 47 (1961), 4157CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Martinez, Marie Louise, Die Musik des frühen Trecento (Tutzing, 1963), 52–3Google Scholar; Toguchi, Kosaku, ‘Sulla struttura e l'esecuzione di alcune cacce italiane un cenno sulle origini delle cacce arsnovistiche’, in L'Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento III, ed. Gallo, F. Alberto (Certaldo, 1970), 6781Google Scholar; Baumann, Dorothea, Die dreistimmige italienische Lied-Satztechnik im Trecento (Baden-Baden, 1979), 41–3Google Scholar; Newes, ‘Fuga and Related Contrapuntal Procedures’, 379–414; and John Griffiths, Hunting the Origins. The caccia has been successively linked to the French chasse, Italian madrigal, motet and simple canonic rounds. The latter view, expressed by Toguchi and Griffiths, has had the strongest impact on the present article, although I am fully aware that there might not have been any single prototype of the genre (see Martinez, Die Musik des frühen Trecento, 52).

10 The term ‘ostinato’ is used here in its general sense, as a spectrum of different repetitive techniques ranging from the exact repetition of a harmonic or melodic pattern to a rather flexible varied repetition. In a canonic piece, repetition is certainly an integral part of the compositional process. However, ostinato fragments reveal the intensified density of repetitions which are not produced by the canonic technique itself. The early history of ostinato is discussed in Ernst Apfel, Grundlagen einer Geschichte der Satztechnik, Teil III: Untersuchungen zur Entstehung und Frühgeschichte des Ostinato in der komponierten Mehrstimmigkeit (Saarbrücken, 1976), 6–17. John Griffiths (Hunting the Origins) was the first to draw attention to the ostinato phenomenon presented in the early Trecento canonic repertoire. His arguments were, however, mainly based on analyses of two-voiced madrigals (Ogni diletto, Cavalcando, Giunge‘l bel tempo) rather than three-voiced cacce, which are the focus of the present article.

11 The static and sectional construction of the caccia's texture (as opposed to the late fourteenth-century French superius canons) has been pointed out by Newes, Virginia, ‘Chace, Caccia, Fuga: The Convergence of French and Italian Traditions’, Musica Disciplina, 41 (1987), 2757, at 37Google Scholar.

12 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 96–8, at 97 (mm. 42ff.). Most references to cacce in this article will be to this edition and idem, ed., Italian Secular Music, Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century 6–8, 10 (Monaco, 1967–77), hereafter abbreviated as PMFC. For a diplomatic edition of Oselletto selvagio, Per sparverare and Segugi a corta, see Huck, Oliver and Dieckmann, Sandra, eds., Die mehrfach überlieferten Kompositionen des frühen Trecento, 2 vols. (Hildesheim, 2007), 2: 59 and 294–317Google Scholar. For editions of three newly discovered Reg cacce, see Gozzi and Ziino, ‘The Mischiati Fragment’, 306–14. Another important edition is Sucato, Tiziana, ed., Il codice Rossiano 215 (Florence, 2003), 133–6 (Or qua conpagni)Google Scholar. See also Pirrotta, Nino, ed., The Music of Fourteenth-Century Italy, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 8 ([Rome], 1954–64)Google Scholar.

13 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 77–9, at 78 (mm. 69–71).

14 Ibid., 97 (mm. 41–3, 45–7, 49–51 and 54–5; see also Ex. 1); and ibid. (mm. 69–71, 79–81, 89–91 and 99–101). See also Huck and Dieckmann, 1: 111–12 and 2: 313–14.

15 See Abramov-van Rijk, Elena, Parlar cantando: The Practice of Reciting Verses in Italy from 1300 to 1600 (Bern and New York, 2009), 322Google Scholar.

16 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 74, and PMFC 6: 62–3 (mm. 10–12, 20–2; 28–30, 39–40, 48–50).

17 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 75, and PMFC 6: 63–4 (mm. 57–9, 67–9, 76–9).

18 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 75, and PMFC 6: 64 (mm. 87–8 and 97–8).

19 The same compositional idea can be observed in a much later piece written by Niccolò da Perugia, La fiera testa. A cadential pattern consisting of two concords – G/e/b and F/f/c – is repeated (with a few slight changes in the second half of the strophe) throughout the whole section, making its last appearance in the final cadence. See Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 50–2, and PMFC 8: 141–3 (mm. 5–6, 10–11, 15–16, 20–1, [24], [25–26], 35–6, 40–1 and 47–8). Square brackets are occasionally used here to indicate a different variant (reduced, embellished, etc.) of the pattern under consideration.

20 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 48–9, and PMFC 7: 10–11 (mm. 65–9, 78–82, 91–5 and, finally, 104–8.

21 Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 47–8, and PMFC 7: 9–10 (mm. 5–7, 18–20 and 41–3; 31–4 and 44–7).

22 Pirrotta, Nino, Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque: A Collection of Essays (Cambridge, MA, 1984), 5171 (‘New Glimpses of an Unwritten Tradition’)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and 72–9 (‘The Oral and Written Traditions of Music’). The early madrigal repertoire offers many examples of brief melodic and harmonic patterns, especially in the cadential area. See, for example, Huck, Oliver, Die Musik des frühen Trecento (Hildesheim, 2005), 105–17Google Scholar.

23 Toliver, Brooks, ‘Improvisation in the Madrigals of the Rossi Codex’, Acta Musicologica, 64 (1992), 165–76, at 166CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 Note that Examples 2–7 provide a synoptic diagram of the excerpt under consideration, not a usual score (as in Exx. 1, 8–11). In all the examples, the top voice (cantus I) is indicated as ‘I’, the middle voice (cantus II) as ‘II’, and the tenor as ‘T’.

25 See Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 91–2, and PMFC 8: 189.

26 Another illustrative example of an irregular repetition pattern is Lorenzo's caccia A poste messe (see in particular cantus I, mm. 22–39). This caccia has been discussed at length in Main, Alexander, ‘Lorenzo Masini's Deer Hunt’, in The Commonwealth of Music, in Honor of Curt Sachs, ed. Reese, Gustave and Brandel, Rose (New York, 1965), 130–62Google Scholar.

27 A close examination of the tenor voice and its functions in the caccia's texture has been undertaken in Martinez, Die Musik des frühen Trecento, 49–53, and Baumann, Die dreistimmige italienische Lied-Satztechnik im Trecento, 44–9.

28 See Marrocco, Fourteenth-Century Italian Cacce, 64–5 and 20–1, and PMFC 8: 72–3 and 6: 7–8, respectively.

29 This might reinforce Kosaku Toguchi's idea (‘Sulla struttura’, 67–81) that the caccia could have employed more than two canonic voices at the early stage of its evolution.

30 ‘In numero canentium habere vult talis ordo, qualis dictus est in mottetis, scilicet quod, quando unus ascendit, alter descendat, tertius firmus stet, quartus pauset, quintus rumpat.’

31 Margaret Bent has persuasively shown close textural links between the Italian motet and caccia in her groundbreaking study of the former genre, The Fourteenth-Century Italian Motet’, in L'Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento VI, ed. Cattin, Giulio and Vecchia, Patrizia Dalla (Certaldo, 1992), 85125, at 104–6Google Scholar.

32 This part of research owes much to John Griffiths's discussion (Hunting the Origins, 12ff.) of various harmonic models in the Trecento canonic repertoire, with an emphasis on the two-voice canonic madrigals.

33 The FP version offers ‘f’ instead of ‘e’ in m. 15; an extra ‘c’ in m. 29; ‘e’ instead of ‘d’ in m. 36; and, finally, ‘a’ instead of ‘e’ in m. 37. It could well be that the same original with Marchettan stemless semibreves (and perhaps with an archaic ‘cantus mixtus’ writing) was differently ‘translated’ by the FP and Lo scribes. See the most recent contribution to this particular notational problem by Gozzi, Marco, ‘New Light on Italian Trecento Notation’, Recercare, 13 (2001), 578, at 50 ffGoogle Scholar.

34 Two pieces share many particular ornamental figures including an exceptionally rare one from the final cadence of Segugi a corta (cf. mm. 61–4 and mm. 110–13 in Piero's piece).

35 Interestingly, the stylistic proximity of the two pieces has already been noted by Nino Pirrotta, who went so far as to propose Piero's authorship of Segugi a corta. Piero e l'impressionismo musicale del secolo XIV’, in L'Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento I, ed. Becherini, Bianca (Certaldo, 1962), 5774, at 66–68Google Scholar. Although this attribution was subsequently questioned, the two pieces could be considered a good couple, bonded as they are by many common musical gestures.

36 Testifying to this tendency are different settings of the same text (including Si com' al canto) and the famous ‘Perlaro’ cycle. On the former, see von Fischer, Kurt, ‘Das Madrigal “Si com' al canto della bella Iguana” von Magister Piero und Jacopo da Bologna’, in Analysen. Festschrift für Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Breig, Werner, Brinkmann, Reinhold and Budde, Elmar (Stuttgart, 1984), 4656Google Scholar; concerning the latter, the most recent contribution is Nosow, Robert, ‘The perlaro cycle reconsidered’, Studi musicali, nuova serie, 2/2 (2011), 253–80Google Scholar.

37 This term is proposed in John Griffiths, Hunting the Origins, 15.

38 For an overview of ‘cantus planus binatim’, see Gallo, F. Alberto, ‘The Practice of Cantus Planus Binatim in Italy from the Beginning of the 14th to the Beginning of the 16th Century’, in Le polifonie primitive in Friuli e in Europa, ed. Corsi, Cesare and Petrobelli, Pierluigi (Rome, 1989), 1330Google Scholar. See also Margaret Bent, ‘The Definition of Simple Polyphony. Some Questions’, in Le polifonie primitive in Friuli e in Europa, 33–42.

39 See editions and facsimile reproductions in Petrobelli, Pierluigi, ed., Le polifonie primitive di Cividale (Cividale del Friuli, 1980)Google Scholar; Gallo, F. Alberto and Vecchi, Giuseppe, eds., I più antichi monumenti sacri italiani (Bologna, 1968)Google Scholar. See other examples in Rusconi, Angelo, ‘Testimonianze di “polifonia semplice” nelle biblioteche di Bergamo’, in Un milennio di polifonia liturgica tra oralità e scrittura, ed. Cattin, Giulio and Gallo, F. Alberto (Bologna, 2002), 133–59, at 141–4 and 158Google Scholar; and Martinez, Die Musik des frühen Trecento, 125 and Appendix XII. For an overview of Cividale sources, see Michael Scott Cuthbert, ‘Trecento Fragments and Polyphony Beyond the Codex’, Ph.D. diss., Harvard University (2006), 230–76,

40 See Marrocco, Thomas, ‘The Newly-Discovered Ostiglia Pages of the Vatican Rossi Codex 215: The Earliest Italian Ostinato’, Acta Musicologica, 39 (1967), 8491CrossRefGoogle Scholar. His analysis was reproduced in the edition of the madrigal, PMFC 8: 211.

41 Ibid., 86.

42 Other examples of the ostinato procedure and voice-exchange technique include Giovanni da Cascia's In sulla ripa (cf. two melismas, mm. 13–24 and 25–37, particularly the tenor line, PMFC 6: 38–9). The voice-exchange technique is used in two later madrigals, Astio non morì mai by Andrea da Firenze (PMFC 10: 4, mm. 1–8) and Non più infelici by Paolo da Firenze (PMFC 9: 150–3, mm. 1–15).

43 See, for example, Bent, Margaret, ‘A New Canonic Gloria and the Changing Profile of Dunstaple’, Plainsong and Medieval Music, 5 (1996), 4567, at 60CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also the discussion of the Old Hall canons and their presumable political context in Oliver Vogel, ‘The Canons of the Old Hall Manuscript: Music and the Structuring of National Representation’, in Canons and Canonic Techniques, 47–59.

44 Bent, Margaret, ‘Pycard's Double Canon: Evidence of Revision?’, in Counterpoint, Composition, and Musica Ficta (New York and London, 2002), 255–72, at 268Google Scholar.

45 Bent, ‘A New Canonic Gloria’, 60–1.