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Renaissance Music In Theory

Time capsule for this episode: 1163

What is good music?  This has been a topic of debate for centuries, and scholars and theorists have never been short on opinions.  This hour we’re exploring some of the composers whose music has earned a so called “stamp of approval.”

In his monumental treatise, the Dodecachordon, 16th-century Swiss music theorist Heinrich Glarean highlighted composers whose compositions represented the highest musical achievements of the time.  Let’s listen to music by three of these composers:  first, Antonio de Cabezón’s musical gloss on the Benedictus from Josquin des Prez’s Missa L’homme Armé, following that, a Mass movement by Antoine Brumel and a motet by Jacob Obrecht.

Another composer mentioned by Heinrich Glarean in his Dodecachordon is the French composer Antoine de Févin.  Glarean writes that Antoine was a follower of Josquin des Prez.  After leaving his home town of Arras, in the late 1480s, Antoine de Févin came to work as a singer and composer for Louis XII of France, around the year 1507.  Antoine’s Requiem Mass in honor of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, wife of Louis XII, was composed for an impressive funeral that lasted a total of forty days.

The Venetian School

Composers active in Venice from roughly 1550 to 1610 crafted works in what were considered “traditional” and “modern” styles.  The emergence of musical innovations such as multiple choirs of voices and instruments, echo effects, and other creative uses of musical space mark a turning point in the development of Western music.

Music theorists like Gioseffo Zarlino and Thomas Morley made note of a “modern” musical style, and even went so far as to  separate “modern” and “traditional” music into disparate camps.  Today, we consider a number of these music theorists, and composers like Adrian Willaert, Giovanni Croce, and Andrea Gabrieli heralds of a new music that blossomed during the Baroque.

Featured release

Founded in 1986 at Oxford University, the vocal and instrumental ensemble I Fagiolini currently presents as many as fifty world-class performances throughout Europe and North America per year.

Our featured recording is by I Fagiolini and contains music composed by Alessandro Striggio, a friend of the influential Italian music theorist Vincenzo Galilei.  I Fagiolini premiers Alessandro Striggio’s forty-part Missa Ecco Si Beata Giorno in a new version for voices and instruments. This massive polyphonic work appears beside the motet that most likely inspired it: Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium.

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