Session 52 (Themed Papers): Le istitutioni harmoniche of Gioseffo Zarlino: contemporary readings and re-readings

Friday, 9 July 2021, 10.30-12.30*, Room 217 | Chair: Philippe Vendrix (CESR-Université de Tours)

*Starts earlier than the other sessions

Session Abstract

Published in 1558 in Venice, the treatise Le istitutioni harmoniche, by composer and theorist Gioseffo Zarlino (1517 – 1590), can be read as an état des lieux of the musical thought of his time. The four parts of its extensive volume present a well- established theoretical system, which linked speculation and polyphonic musical practice, and tensions that resulted from the emergence of new aesthetic and epistemological perspectives in music.

If the Zarlinian text was praised by his contemporaries, read, re-read, quoted and paraphrased by his successors, becoming one of the main if not the main musical theoretical reference of his time, he nevertheless challenges us in the present, always inviting new readings and new explorations of meaning. This thematic session seeks to explore ways of reading the treatise using different interpretative angles, such as categories in the fields of language, iconography and iconology, or even the sciences of man, raising questions about the process of translation and edition of Zarlino’s treatise today.

Latinitas and licentia: the recommendations of Gioseffo Zarlino in Le istitutioni harmoniche on the use of consonances and dissonances | Paula A. Callegari (Universidade Federal de Uberlândia)

In Le istitutioni harmoniche, Gioseffo Zarlino defines as one of the basic premises for a good musical composition that it must be composed primarily of consonances and only incidentally of dissonances. This premise is discussed and the recommendations on the use of consonances and dissonances in the counterpoint are analysed, taking as reference the definitions of latinitas and licentia derived from Rhetoric. After presenting how the author deals with the norms of musical-grammar relative to these intervals, warnings against possible errors are given, exposing how the evaluation of particular cases can justify their use as licenses.

Iconography in Gioseffo Zarlino’s Istitutioni Harmoniche: possibilities and interpretation problems | Maya S. Lemos (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)

In 1966, musicologist Edward Lowinsky proposed an interpretation of one of the miniature prints that adorns the princeps edition of Le istituioni harmoniche. The illustration supposedly represents the satyr Marsias just before being skinned by Apollo, in reference to the theoretical opposition between Zarlino and Nichola Vicentino: on one hand Zarlino’s apollonian, judicious and moderate position, and, on the other, Vicentino’s damning hubris. This interpretation is tempting and invites us to explore meanings in the treatise’s iconographic program. Difficulties concerning the publishing practices of the time arise, however, and raise questions about the deliberate choice of the miniatures that illustrate the initial letters of each chapter.

Between theory and practice: a musical anthropology by Zarlino | Massimo Privitera (Università di Palermo)

Zarlino bases his Le istitutioni harmoniche on the concept of “musico perfetto” (perfect musician), in which the theorists approach the practice and the practical musicians rise to the theory. In order to address both theorists and musicians Zarlino adopts a double expressive register: he uses terms and concepts of the Greek-Latin musical theory but matches them with the corresponding words used in the daily practice (you read often “as the practicals say” and other similar expressions). In my paper I will analyze this communication strategy and discuss some exemplary passages, to show how Zarlino’s attitude can be considered as an ante literam anthropological approach.

From the 16th century theorist to 21st century readers: translating and publishing Gioseffo Zarlino’s Le istitutioni harmoniche today | Renato Borges (Independent Scholar), Massimo Privitera, Maya Suemi Lemos & Paula A. Callegari

Gioseffo Zarlino’s erudition, rational inquiry mastery and attention to musical practices make his Le istitutioni harmoniche a comprehensive treatise on music theory and activity of his time. The conceptual, language and practices differences of then and now give rise to challenges when translating the treatise. These challenges are driven even further by the conciliatory attitude of the theorist when dealing with different lexical sets in his own writing. We present our current work on translating the Terza parte to Brazilian Portuguese, discussing sources, references and translation questions on language barriers and on musical concepts used by Gioseffo Zarlino.