Session 46 (Free Papers): Polyphony as a political act

Thursday, 8 July 2021, 17.00-19.00, Room 217 | Chair: Esperanza Rodríguez-García (CESR-Université de Tours)

Viva el Gran Re Don Fernando (Historia Baetica, Rome, Eucharius Silber, 1493). Ekphrasis and pragmatics of printed music | Pablo Massa (Universidad de Buenos Aires)

An in-quarto incunable printed in Rome on March 7, 1493 by Eucharius Silber contains what is believed to be the first polyphonic secular song ever printed, and the earliest extant example of theatrical music: Viva el Gran Re Don Fernando, an anonymous frottola or barzelletta. From Alfred Einstein (1949) to Fenlon & Guidobaldi (2002) scholars have wondered about the provenance of this music and its relationship with the main component of the book: Historia Baetica by Carlo Verardi, a historical play in Latin prose celebrating the conquest of Granada (1492) by the Catholic Kings of Spain. Most of the scholar literature has found no relationship between the music and the play other than a shared subject and encomiastic purpose, and many scholars doubt if the music was actually sung at the premiere of the play in April 1492, as it is believed. Our aim is to understand the semiotic function of this piece of printed music within the 1493 edition by Silber. We start by considering this edition as a politically-aimed act of discourse where the inclusion of each of its components, as well as their material arrangement, was dictated by a complex web of political, diplomatic, and personal interests which involved the Pope himself, the Spanish cardinal ambassadors in Rome, the authors, and the printer. In this context, we try to show how and why the printed music works here as a rhetorical figure of ekphrasis (illustration) of the mise-en-scene, the theatrical quality of the celebrations held in Rome on occasion of the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Kings of Spain. Also, Viva el Gran Re is a deliberate pragmatic alert to the reader about the performative core of Historia Baetica, a play in Latin prose of an entirely new genre that could be likely mistaken for a Lesendrama or a purely literary panegyric.

Cecidit corona capitis nostri – A lament for a Portuguese king in the age of Josquin and further relations between motets in the Quis dabit tradition | Bernadette Nelson (CESEM, NOVA FCSH)

In 1520 King Manuel I presided over the reburial of the first two kings of Portugal at the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, an occasion marked by sung Matins and a Requiem mass. It has been proposed that a motet honouring the 12th- century king Afonso I, Si pie domine (P-Cug MM 32), might have been performed at this event (Rees, 1995); its style certainly points to composition at around that time. Yet intriguingly, as recently identified by Alvarenga (2018), this motet has certain textual details in common with the adaptation of Festa’s Quis dabit oculi attributed to Ludwig Senfl in Ott’s 1538 Secundus tomus novi operis musici (its only known source). While Festa’s Quis dabit was composed on the death of Anne of Brittany in 1514, the Senfl version honours that of his patron Emperor Maximilian (d. 1519). Nonetheless, there exists some debate about the date and origins of this textual adaptation, including the suggestion that this was only done (by Ott) in 1538. How the Portuguese composer became acquainted with the ‘Senfl’ version is an intriguing question: was it merely through the transmission of this late print, or was there perhaps a more direct connection with the Imperial court of Maximilian given its close relations with the Portuguese court? As discussed in this paper, besides links with the Festa/ Senfl motet, Si pie domine in fact reveals connections or a familiarity with several well known and especially mourning motets by northern composers, including Josquin, thus aligning it with other musical laments for rulers and the nobility stemming from Isaac’s setting of Poliziano’s Quis dabit capiti meo.

Gombert’s Sancte Joannes apostole and the personal devotions of Emperor Charles V | Catherine Saucier (Arizona State University)

“O Saint John… drive away the darkness of my sins! … May he who delivered you from the vat of boiling oil deliver me from the danger of eternal death”. Thus exclaim the singers performing Nicolas Gombert’s four-voice motet Sancte Joannes apostole (published in 1539). This prayer-like appeal in the first-person singular is unusual for polyphonic music, better suited to supplications from a collective rather than an individual. Previous scholarship on the subgenre of the first-person prayer motet, originating in the late fifteenth century, has noted textual similarities to the prayers transmitted in books of hours—particularly the non-standard items that betray the personal preferences of a specific patron.

In this paper, I identify and examine unrecognized connections between Gombert’s motet Sancte Joannes apostole and a prayer to St John the Evangelist copied in two books of hours belonging to Gombert’s patron, Emperor Charles V. Not only does the motet text quote extensively from this prayer, but the depiction of John’s proximity to Christ echoes the language of the commemorative chants recited during this private devotion. Moreover, musical emphasis on John’s miraculous survival from the ordeal of the boiling oil—a symbol of his martyrial status—mirrors votive imagery that became increasingly standard in these books. This case study offers an alternative to the predominantly Marian focus of most prayer motet scholarship and exposes, through the documented activities of Charles V and his singers, the intersecting dynamics of patronage, performance, and personal devotion.

Gascongne’s Christus vincit and the politics of sacred ceremony | Simon Frisch (The Juilliard School)

Mathieu Gascongne’s Christus vincit, one of vanishingly few polyphonic settings featuring the laudes regiae, seems to have appeared at the crux of political jockeying between Pope Leo X, the French crown under Francis I, and the Gallican church. Its only complete known source (both notes and text) is the 1534 second book of the Motettorum series published by Pierre Attaingnant, printer and seller- designate of the king for music, with the rubric “Pro rege nostro.” Although the motet is frequently cited as a coronation motet in secondary literature, on reexamination of the particular textual variant of the lauds used we can place it more probably at festal crown-wearing Easter ceremonies at Notre Dame and as a thematic foil to the Concordat of Bologna of 1516. More accurately situating the motet in its relationship to contemporanous political and institutional eddies also elucidates a distinctive compositional strategy of Gascongne’s in projecting the divine (therefore juridic) pouvoir of Francis I as he sought to restore papal relations and assert authority over the French Parlement and Gallican church. Following Borghetti’s suggestion to consider such music “together with [its] paratexts,” the paper therefore works from this context to consider it as an effective analytical case study. Motivic saturation, voice interactions, and treatment of dissonance in the litany, together with a particular curation of significative saints and the implied place and time of performance, collectively constitute a politico-theological argument for eliding the figures of Francis I and Christ.