Session 37 (Free Papers): Polyphony in the 14th century

Thursday, 8 July 2021, 11.00-13.00, Room 209 | Chair: Antonio Calvia (Università degli Studi di Pavia)

De minimis. A few observations on the evolution of tempo in 14th- century France and Italy | Giacomo Ferraris (Università degli Studi di Pavia)

The problem of the evolution of tempo in the fourteenth century, in France and in Italy, has obviously come up in multiple studies over the last decades, but it arguably has yet to be addressed in a comparative perspective. In this talk we are going to examine how the general tendency to a slowdown of the tempo, which has long been recognised as an important feature of the musical evolution between the late 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, may have been specifically affected by two factors: namely, the increasing adoption of the major prolation (not yet used in the preserved compositions attributed to Philippe de Vitry) in the regimen of minim equivalence that characterised the French ars nova notation since its inception, on the one hand; and the progressive differentiation of the Italian divisiones secundae and tertiae (from a regimen of generalised breve equivalence within binary and ternary tempo to one of minim equivalence between divisiones) on the other. In particular, we are going to examine how those developments relate both to the innovations brought about by the so-called Petronian notation (the closest antecedent of both the French Ars nova and the Italian Trecento notational languages) and to the evolutions seen over the rest of the century, with the gradual convergence and eventual coming together of the two notational dialects.

New findings on Ars nova fragments from Vienna | Andreas Janke (University of Hamburg)

The Stadtbibliothek of Nuremberg (Germany) and the library of the Benedictine Stift Melk (Austria) preserve several well-known Ars nova fragments, all of which may have come from the same liber motetorum, which is now assumed to have been made shortly after 1400 in Vienna at the collegiate school of St Stephens or at least to have been in use there (D-Nst Fragm. lat. 9 and 9a; A-M MS 749). At least two scribes copied polyphonic mass settings (by Johannes Ciconia and Antonio Zacara da Teramo, among others), and secular compositions, such as Guillaume de Machaut’s ballade De petit peu.

Building on the research of Reinhard Strohm and Michael Cuthbert, I will take a fresh look at the fragments, especially D-Nst Fragm. lat. 9 and 9a. The aim is to discuss hitherto unresolved questions about writing processes and thus about the genesis and use of the original manuscript. Among other things, this concerns questions about the chronology of copying, but also the purposeful deletion of certain parts. In my paper, I will be able to present several new findings regarding the two Nuremberg fragments, especially about the previously unidentified palimpsest.

The Gaudent brevitate moderni: Treatises and the transmission of Franconian teachings in late medieval Italy | Federico Zavanelli (University of Southampton)

At the turn of the fourteenth century, Franco of Cologne becomes a major auctoritas in the field of mensural music, and his teachings underpin subsequent music theory. While his Ars cantus mensurabilis (c. 1280), is certainly known in Italy shortly after its appearance – several Italian anthologies include Franco’s treatise and it is the principal reference on mensuralism in Marchetto da Padova’s Pomerium (c. 1320) – his thought seems to have been transmitted chiefly in summaries of the treatise. Franconian principles regarding simple figures and ligatures, mensural rules, pauses, and rhythmic modes, appear in many brief texts known as the Gaudent brevitate moderni treatises (GBM) after their incipits, which are copied continuously until the late fifteenth century. Of the 16 documents preserving 18 GBM, at least nine originated in Italy; these last are collected in diverse manuscript types such as music theory anthologies intended for display or personal use, and even books covering the most disparate subjects.

This paper investigates the reasons behind the GBM’s long tradition and concentration in Italy, and also whether their contents adapt to new theories or not. For example, some GBM treatises are more sensitive to some of the novelties of post-Franconian and Trecento notations than others. In contrast, there are more conservative ones – especially those copied later – more faithful to Franco’s principles. To better understand these dynamics, I consider the Italian GBM from different angles: an examination of codicological features and typologies of the hosting manuscripts; an analysis of contents contextually to the ongoing development of notational theory at the time of the copying process; and lastly, a proposal for a reasoned chronology.

Teretismata and Kratemata: Meaningful nonsense syllables in the Kalophonic style of Byzantine chant | Vassileios Varelas (Uppsala University)

The tradition of use of nonsense syllables in Greek music has its roots in Ancient Greece, as a system of solmization in gnostic music, based mainly on the Greek alphabet’s seven vowels. Their use is found to be a common tradition later and up to date in Byzantine music performance. These nonsense syllables te, re, to, ro, ti, ri, reappear first during the 14th century in musical compositions in Byzantine music of the Byzantine empire, called teretismata, obviously derived from teretismos, thus the practice of singing upon nonsense syllables beginning from t and r, as already described by Manuel Bryennious in his treatise the Harmonics, written the 13th century A.D. Both teretismata and kratemata were interpolating musical parts whose soloistic technical features constituted the ornamental basis of the kalophonic compositions. The latter characterized the the golden age of Byzantine chant, the Byzantine Ars Nova and the new musical style appeared in the 14th century, the melismatic Kalophonic or Beautified style of Byzantine music. In this style, the music compositions present extended melismatic ornamentation with interpolating prolonged musical passages of soloistic coloraturas called teretismata and kratemata, based on nonsense syllables. The 14th century is characterized by the appearance of great masters in Byzantine music. During this period, the kratemata reached their artistic peak, but after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 by the Turks, the musical production remained still until the late 16th century when they revive again. From the 17th century, the Byzantine music was influenced by the Ottoman and Persian music and a significant number of Greek musicians started copying or imitating these musical styles. This resulted to a significant number of new composed secular kratemata, although discrete traces of kratemata in profane secular music can be detected back to 13th-15th centuries. The theoretical consonance between Byzantine music’s treatises written between 11th and 13th century and earlier treatises on the ancient Greek music written by ancient authors, indicates that the Byzantine theorists extracted material from the ancient world.

The present work aims to study the meaningful function of the nonsense syllables in teretismata and kratemata compositions of Byzantine chant. For this purpose, their historical background and origin, and their functional role in culture and music of the Byzantine tradition, will be studied, critically analyzed, and presented.