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Saturday morning quotes 5.43: Ides of March



Just as, amid cabals of his treacherous court,
Suspecting each rich curtain of a knife,
A king broods heavily,
Even so, aware that flesh and bone are restless
With secret news and undefined intention,
Sits on his shaking throne my winter soul.

– H. C. Long, Poetry, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Dec., 1915), p. 133.

Ever since Shakespeare came up with the effective dramatic construct of the Soothsayer with “a tongue shriller than all the musicke” (The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I, scene ii), the Ides of March have had an uneasy and ill-fitting association with portending doom. The Ides of March signified something quite different historically, before the season became tainted by Roman political machinations.

It turns out that the Ides of March originally marked the festival of the Roman deity, Anna Perenna—not to be confused with Anna Karenina, yet another tale of treachery and retribution.  March, the month of Mars, was the beginning of the old Roman year, and the festival of Anna Perenna fell on the occurrence of the first full moon of the year, the Ides of March.   As per Ovid, the festival was celebrated at the grove of the goddess and was renowned for much licentious merry-making involving libations and lechery.

And as for the murder of Caesar, scholars across the ages have attempted to unravel the crime:

“On the Ides of March the plebs celebrated the Annae festum geniale Perennae (corresponding  to  the  chief day of the  Hindu  Holi) near the banks of the  Tiber (Ovid, Fasti iii. 523-42, 675-96).  Rome was, therefore, empty of the lower classes.   Is  this  why  the  nobles chose the  day  for the assassination of Julius  Caesar?”

– C. M. Mulvany, The Classical Review, Vol. 19, No. 6 (Jul., 1905), p. 305

The current time of the year means something altogether different to adherents of the Christian religion, festivals of old Roman deities having become quite passé.  But as singers everywhere prepare for the rigors of Holy Week and a jubilant Easter, we slip in a slightly bawdy nod to the Roman festival with a song by Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c .1513 – 1556) who, like all thinking people of the 16th century, led a more integrated life and tempered his enormous output of sacred music with the occasional frivolity.

From our recording Au pres de vous,  we give you “Venes mes serfs et Bacchus adorons”. Enjoy.

Saturday morning quotes 5.42: Clichés

“We need to have our cake and eat it, keep our finger on the pulse, take to the field, be in the spotlight, make the best of a bad job.  Once out of the tunnel, once the goose is cooked, nothing gets in our way, we keep our eyes peeled, a needle in the haystack, the tide turns, television takes the lion’s share and leaves just the crumbs, we’re getting back on track, listening figures have plummeted, give a strong signal, an ear to the ground, emerging in bad shape, at three hundred and sixty degrees, a nasty thorn in the side, the party’s over…”

Umberto Eco (1932 – 2016), Numero Zero, Translated by Richard Dixon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2015.

Clichés tend to surface as any fad or phenomenon peaks, declines and begins to wear out its welcome.  So it was for the Roman Empire.  So it was for rabid and merciless capitalism in the US.  So it has become for early music, a fad that gathered strength and momentum in the late 1960s and 1970s and probably peaked by the fin de siècle.  The medium of dissemination and transmission of early music was, strangely enough, the digital CD.

“The CD will be seen within a history of industrial design as the quintessential product of the 1980s-clean, shiny, a beautiful object in itself which creates a perfect, pure sound. It is the ultimate fetish object which allows the listener the ideal state of disavowal of the body of the performer. The particular ideology of sound of the 80s was one of purity and cleanliness, of static-free, interference-reduced, pristine brilliance. It is precisely this ideology which the English a cappella groups represent.”

Donald Greig, “Sight-Readings: Notes on “A cappella” Performance Practice”,  Early Music, Vol. 23, No. 1, Flute Issue (Feb., 1995), pp. 124-148.

The CD is now an emblem of days of yore, the days before the public was convinced that their activities, interests, knowledge, entertainment―their very lives―could be compressed into data to be accessed via a plastic phone that fits in your pocket, requires an expensive monthly payment, and works sometimes.  In the age of Google, the CD, the English choral sound in early music and the solo lute recital are now all passé.

While it is possible that an interest in early music in general and music for the lute in particular could be fostered and sustained, it turns out that the very organizations that are dedicated to promoting early music actually act to limit access and exposure.  At least in the US, these organizations are built upon cliquish connections and an unfortunately misguided idea of exclusivity, promoting the same artists that have been in the game for 30 years, with rare and occasional opportunities for a few students of those long-lived artists.  In essence, these organizations are nothing more than fan clubs.

At the beginning of the early music phenomenon, the stereotyped lutenist was a nerdish teen in a turtleneck or a crusty oldster who, like Arnold Dolmetsch, probably made his own instrument and plucked the poor thing with purpose, using a right-hand technique indistinguishable from that of Andres Segovia.  The next phase saw those nerdish teens mature and inform themselves just enough and, while keeping the turtleneck, they procured better instruments which were played with pointless velocity.  Then along came the marketers who turned a quote from a positive concert review into a tired cliché, which the susceptible audience bought for a while. To be fair, some of those long-lived artists ditched the turtleneck and managed to maintain a sense of discovery and enthusiasm for their music.

Now the stereotyped lutenist is anyone who can afford an instrument; mostly mature males with a comfortably safe retirement account, or young classical guitarists with the parentage and wherewithal to buy a lute and spend several years studying in Europe.  It is an unfortunate reality that today middle- or lower-income musicians who show promise will never have an opportunity to afford a lute and, more importantly, certainly never have the opportunity to spend the several years of study it takes to play the lute well.

The Lute Society (UK) has for many years maintained a rotating stock of lutes that may be hired, and some prominent luthiers have made it a point to make affordable higher quality instruments available especially for students.  The US lute society has recently warmed to the idea of obtaining and hiring instruments (which I proposed to an unresponsive board in 2000), and one wishes them well in this enterprise to enhance access to instruments.  But one hopes this gesture is accompanied by a sustained and nurturing approach to offering young students of all income brackets the time and attention it takes to develop not just mechanical technique, but a quiet, attentive mind necessary to understand and appreciate the instrument and its music.  Otherwise, it’s still a fan club.

Saturday morning quotes 5.41: Fortuna

RotaFortuna500x500The ancient symbolism of Fortune’s Wheel, randomly turned at the capricious whim of the goddess  Fortuna, strikes us as much more appropriate to describe life’s ups and downs than the less reality-based myth that honest  hard work always results in success.  Today more than ever, a successful career is really the result of having been born in happy circumstances, or otherwise the serendipitous result of having stumbled upon the right connections.  Plain and simple.

The idea of blind luck guided by the fickle hand of the goddess Fortuna applies to all but is particularly applicable to those who choose to dwell in the (increasingly absurd) political realm. William Baldwin alluded to the phenomenon in his preface to the Mirror for Magistrates (1559), a collection of poems:

“…whiche might be as a myrrour for all men as well noble as others, to shewe the slyppery deceytes of the wauering lady, and the due rewarde of all kinde of vices.”

But we get ahead of ourselves.  The idea of Fortune’s Wheel is as old as the origins of the wheel itself, and dates to the earliest surviving records of a civilized culture, as demonstrated in David M. Robinson, “The Wheel of Fortune”, Classical Philology, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct., 1946), pp. 207-216.

“Whoever first conceived the idea of the wheel―whether in Babylonia, where solid wheels were known as early as 3000 B.C. and wheels with axles as early as 1600 B.C., or in Egypt, where actual wooden wheels with bronze rims have been found as early as the fifteenth century B.C. and from the fourteenth century in Tutenkhamon’s tomb―made a wonderful invention. It assisted the progress of civilization and the means of transportation. But, even if the wheel was known before the Greeks, the metaphor of the Wheel of Fortune, I believe, began with the Greeks.”

– Robinson, p. 207

Leaping ahead in time to the age of Shakespeare, we read that the theme of the Wheel of Fortune applied to those who would rule was a common concept, as quoted from Raymond Chapman, “The Wheel of Fortune in Shakespeare’s Historical Plays”, The Review of English Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1950), pp. 1-7.

“The uncertainty of kingly state is sometimes described in medieval literature by the Latin formula, regnabo, regno, regnavi, sum sine regno. It is impossible to determine whether these words arose from the Fortune-theme or had an independent beginning, but by the end of the Middle Ages the two were inseparable. The four states of the king correspond to the four positions on the Wheel of Fortune―rising, ruling, falling, and cast off. It is often maintained by medieval writers that the act of getting on the Wheel at all is voluntary, and that those who aspire to greatness expose themselves wilfully to the vicissitudes of Fortune. This view is developed by Boccaccio, who describes how he saw in a dream men climbing a wheel with the words ‘I reign,’ while others, falling, cried ‘I am without reign’.”

– Chapman, p. 2

More specific to the plays of Shakespeare, Chapman identified many textual references to the ever-turning position of the wheel, particularly in the history plays.

Fortune raises men to the seat of kingship or casts them down from her ever-turning Wheel. This conception of a relentless alternation of rise and fall is clearly susceptible of extended dramatic treatment. It is the pattern which lies beneath Shakespeare’s history-plays, particularly as a linking theme of the great tetralogy. Throughout Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V, he had the regnabo formula in mind. As well as direct references to Fortune, there are metaphors of rising and falling to describe the changing luck of the chief protagonists.”

– Chapman, p. 3

Fortune’s Wheel is a familiar theme in poetry throughout the ages, and thus pervasive in musical settings.  “Fortuna desperata”, an anonymous song (some attribute to Busnoys) composed around 1470, was extremely popular in its original three-voice format, but was also fodder for quotation, expansion, decoration and arrangement, including a handful of mass settings by luminaries including Obrecht and Josquin.  Arrangements are found as late as 1560, surprising in an era when musical tastes were in rapid transition.

An excellent anthology of versions of “Fortuna desperata” is Fortuna desperata: Thirty-Six Settings of an Italian Song. Edited by Honey Meconi. (Recent Researches in the Music of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance, 37.) Middleton, Wisc.: A-R Editions, Inc., 2001.  Meconi believes the musical qualities of the piece, nominally in the lydian mode, ensured its ninety-year lifespan, and that the reason it lived on was because the “superius and tenor are each well-constructed and memorable, and [were adaptable due to] the beguiling melodic and rhythmic simplicity of their lines” (p. xvi).

Apart from the musical qualities of the song, the textual theme of the ever-turning wheel of Fortuna still resonates with all thinking persons capable of self-reflection. For those interested in the historical symbolism, a worthwhile and enlightening discussion can be found in the 2012 dissertation by Mary Lauren Buckley,  Fortuna desperata: a study of symbolism.

We have mentioned the theme of Fortune’s Wheel in the distant past in relation to our CD, La Rota Fortuna,  a recorded tribute in honor of the 500th anniversary of Francesco Spinacino’s 1507 book of lute music, the very first published music for the lute. The recording features vocal versions of several pieces Spinacino arranged for lute solo and duet, providing some insight into the popular music of the time.  Judging by reports of streams and downloads, the most popular track on the CD is our heartfelt and rhythmically supple rendition of “Fortuna desperata”, which may be heard here.


Umberto Eco (1932 -2016)

With time flying, as it must, with events reported instantaneously by the ubiquitous 24-hour news outlets, as they will, we are offered a microscopically-detailed view of the ripening and eventual demise of many cultural icons.  Surely this is due to a serious overabundance of cultural icons dwelling in a seriously overpopulated world, but there you have it.  Individual readers might be mourning the recent loss of their own favorite actor, writer, pop star, or real musician, but among our most cherished cultural icons, Umberto Eco occupied a very prominent position.

Umberto Eco was appointed Professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna in 1975, having previously made a particular study of medieval aesthetics as later published in his Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (1986).  Aside from his many collections of essays, other favorite novels by Eco include The Name of the Rose (1980), Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) and, more recently, The Prague Cemetery (2011). As an indication of his universal popularity, even Eco may have found a bit of twisted pleasure in the fact that all of the above books may be had today for one cent each.

We have quoted Umberto Eco on more than one occasion and, when it comes down to a summation of the reason we bother to publish this blog, there is absolutely nothing that can be said that Eco did not state more eloquently.

“…It would hardly be a waste of time if sometimes even the most advanced students in the cognitive sciences were to pay a visit to their ancestors. It is frequently claimed in American philosophy departments that, in order to be a philosopher, it is not necessary to revisit the history of philosophy. It is like the claim that one can become a painter without having ever seen a single work by Raphael, or a writer without having ever read the classics. Such things are theoretically possible; but the ‘primitive’ artist, condemned to an ignorance of the past, is always recognizable as such and rightly labeled as naïf. It is only when we consider past projects revealed as utopian or as failures that we are apprised of the dangers and possibilities for failure for our allegedly new projects. The study of the deeds of our ancestors is thus more than an antiquarian pastime, it is an immunological precaution.”

― Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language

While we don’t necessarily agree with all of his viewpoints, Umberto Eco captured the essence of our age and he will be missed.

“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

― Umberto Eco

Saturday morning quotes 5.40: Dante

“It has been well said that the study of Dante is a liberal education. There is, in truth, scarcely any subject of interest left untouched by the transfiguring power of that master-hand. Theologian, philosopher, poet, statesman, historian, man of science, painter, sculptor, musician may all alike find an answering and inspiring note in the lines of the “Divine Comedy.” Nothing escapes Dante’s notice; and, among other things, the student is struck by the poet’s sensitiveness to sound in general.”

– Author unknown,“Music in Dante’s Divine Comedy”, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 36, No. 629 (Jul. 1, 1895), pp. 446-448

Dante Alighieri (c.1265 – 1321) was a poet best known today for having made the leap from the usual Latin, writing a major work in the Italian vernacular.  La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) employs a carefully organized, highly symbolic format to describe a journey through Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven).  Dante’s elevating journey is an ascent rife with rendezvous among many historical figures, and fraught with sometimes terrifying encounters with creatures that symbolize human failings or merits.  With his divine example of femininity, Beatrice, as tour guide, Dante finally attains paradise, which is likewise described in great structural detail.

If Dante‘s journey were made into a film today (it has, but let’s just move on) it would be full of horrifying imagery and set to a soundtrack that leaves nothing to the imagination, which is how Hollywood shapes symbolic emotional content so that it may appeal to modern listeners. Using cliched orchestrated diminished scales and various degrees of demented dissonance to describe the symbolism of every scene, the audience is released from the onerous task of thinking for themselves and instead led by eyes and ears down the director’s supermarket aisles.

As it turns out, Dante created his own imaginary soundtrack in the text of La Divina Commedia through a host of musical references that complement the abundant literary devices.  But if we are guided by the received notion that music of the thirteenth century consisted mainly of the troubadour’s unsophisticated monophonic melodies, we would be mistaken. Francesco Ciabattoni enlightens us with evidence that indicates a more pervasive use of polyphony in Dante’s era. We quote from his  study, Dante’s Journey to Polyphony, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2010

“In the thirteenth century the word organum was also employed to refer to any form of polyphony.  Ordinal books, Lives of the Saints, and libri usuali teem with expressions such as cantare cum organo and discantare…- formulae which instructed singers to improvise a second, a third, and, in some particularly solemn circumstances, even a fourth voice over the given chant…”

– Ciabattoni, p. 10

“Historical and musicological evidence tells us that Dante’s exposure to polyphony was such that we should actually be surprised if he had not made polyphonic songs an important element in his poem.  Indeed, we see that polyphony is employed for the distribution of grace, as an allegory of political peace, and as a complex symbol of the reconciliation between unity and multiplicity in the universe.  Furthermore, we note a clear musical design by which Dante fashions the soundscape of the three otherworldly realms [Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso] respectively structured by cacophony, monophony and polyphony.”

– Ciabattoni, pp. 11 -12

Apart from his rather conventional misinterpretation of how the lute figures in music of Dante’s time, Ciabattoni’s study sheds light on the uses and symbolic qualities of medieval music.  If we limit ourselves to surviving iconographic representations of musical instruments from the thirteenth century, it’s far too easy to draw hasty conclusions that the lute was only used to play single-line dance tunes.  However, there are also early depictions of  lutes played with the fingertips and, if we take into account disposition of left-hand fingerings, one can surmise that lutenists played polyphonic music far earlier than surviving notated examples lead us to believe.

Saturday morning quotes 5.39: Airs de cour

The term, airs de cour, describes four- or five-part polyphonic songs extracted from extravagant spectacles of music and dance staged at the French royal court, known as ballets de cour.

Not unlike more modern songs drawn from popular musicals by Gershwin or Kern and published with piano accompaniment, evocative French airs were arranged and published for domestic use in the then standard performance format of solo voice and lute, enabling the less illustrious members of the public to indulge in the latest hit tunes whistled by those in the royal court. While the genre reached its peak of popularity around 1620, Adrian LeRoy’s, Livre d’air de cours miz sur le luth par Adrian Le Roy (Paris, 1571) is acknowledged as the first publication of airs for voice and lute.  LeRoy’s settings favored the poetry of Ronsard and his polyphonic accompaniments for the lute were creatively rhythmic and demonstrated an early example of the arpeggiated style, much later designated style brisé by 20th-century musicologists. 

“Although the word brise was used in the seventeenth century to distinguish a type of ornament, the term style brise was apparently coined in the twentieth century. After an exhaustive search through dictionaries, lexicons, theoretical treatises, practical sources, and contemporary accounts, I am unable to find a single example of the term style brise used in any previous century.”

“If there is no historical precedent for the use of this term, why do so many authors use it in a way that suggests one? While some authors may have believed that the term had historical usage, others may have used the term to point to the French origin of the style itself. But using a foreign-language term in this manner runs the risk of misleading the reader into assuming a use of the term in the period being discussed.”

– David J. Buch,Style brisé, Style luthé, and the Choses luthées, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 1 (1985), pp. 52-67

While many intabulated lute accompaniments exhibit the movement of independent voice lines, melodies of airs de cour were composed to closely follow word accents, and were conceived within the syllabic constraints of Musique mesurée à l’antique.  Of course, there were also examples of elaborate vocal ornamentation, as can be found in Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle (1637) among other sources.  This ornamented style lived on later in the 17th century through the much simpler airs with sparsely figured basses by composers Sébastien de Brossard and Michel Lambert.

Of particular interest is the selection of airs published by Jean-Baptiste Bésard (1603), including “C’est malheur” and “Quelle divinité”, which appeared a bit earlier than the better-known series of publications edited by Gabriel Bataille and printed by Ballard.  While Bésard’s publication keeps the modern editor quite busy just sorting out the multitude of errors, the extensive series of airs published by Ballard between circa 1607-1640—approximately 800 airs collectively—includes many examples of interest that clearly exhibit important interpretive information such as mensural changes in time and tempo, as well as many signs and symbols in the lute accompaniment that give very specific performance indications.

As can be heard on our 2006 recording, Divine Amarillis, we particularly appreciate the pairing of the lute instrumental “Campanæ Parisiensis” (Bells of Paris, attributed to Jacques Gaultier) with the air, “Divine Amarillis”.  These two familiar pieces appear in an orchestrated form mid-way through Ottorino Respighi’s second Ancient Airs and Dances suite (1917).

Saturday morning quotes 5.38: Boccaccio

“…Dioneo picked up a lute and Fiammetta a viola, and they began softly playing a dance tune…the Queen began to dance a carola with the other ladies and two of the young men; and when that was over, they all began to sing gay and carefree canzonetts. In this manner they continued until the Queen felt that it was time to retire…”

Il Decamerone, Prima giornata

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375) is best known today as the author of Il Decamerone (The Decameron).  Without delving too deeply into his biographical information and sidestepping for the moment the significant thread of symbolism that runs throughout his work, we cut to the chase and examine Boccaccio’s treatment of music in his collection of stories.

Our quotations are drawn from two articles: Howard Mayer Brown, “Fantasia on a Theme by Boccaccio”, Early Music, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Jul., 1977), pp. 324-339; and Marco Cerocchi, “Boccaccio’s Decameron as a Primary Literary Source for the Musical Movement of Ars Nova in Italy”, Italica, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Winter, 2007), pp. 679-690.

Written in the Italian vernacular, Boccaccio’s Il Decamerone presents what was for the time a unique framework; a collection of 100 stories as related by a brigata of young men and women who have fled Florence to escape the ravages of the plague. Self-made music was integral to daily life at the time in worship and as entertainment. Cerocchi gives a bit of background that provides a context for music of Boccaccio’s time:

“Within his treatise entitled Ars Nova (“The New Art”, 1320), Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361), one of the great intellectuals of his time and a friend of Petrarch, laid the ground work for this new practice. By making use of binary tempo segmentation within his own compositions, de Vitry’s ideas were in opposition with medieval norms. Previously, only time segmentations in three units, intended to represent the Holy Trinity, was considered “perfect” by the Holy See and, therefore, permitted for use in liturgical chants.”

“Targeted arguments were made in opposition to the type of multiple voice polyphony that characterized Ars Nova. It was alleged that such an elaborated style would distract parishioners from, rather than focus them on, the religious rituals that were being performed. Under this musical scheme, different and independent melodic lines are sung simultaneously, and it was thought that such a confluence of sounds would affect the comprehension of the words being sung, and consequently, the meaning of the sacred scriptures. Because of the staunch resistance offered the Papal Curia in the form of this argument, the use of such polyphony was disallowed in the sacred works of the time, effectively confining its application to secular songs. The latter benefited greatly as a result, allowing the popularity of such profane music to overshadow that of sacred compositions during the fourteenth century.”

– Cerocchi, p. 680

While this description seems overly simplified, it is an accurate assessment based upon the surviving evidence without speculating as to the nature of music that may never been written down at all.  Needless to say, the musicians of the brigata most likely sang and played monophonic songs and dance tunes.   Moving on to the nature of music in Il Decamerone, Cerocchi describes the scene:

“Boccaccio’s Decameron is the first work written in prose to bear the hallmarks of the new attitude toward music promoted by the Ars Nova.  In it, a merry “brigata” [group] of three young men and seven women takes refuge within a villa near Florence, in order to escape the plague that ravaged the city in 1348.  Music assumes a pivotal role throughout the course of their daily activities, offering the reader a glimpse into people’s perception of this art form during Boccaccio’s time.  Songs and instrumental works provide a buffer from the suffering that is occurring elsewhere and allow the characters to pass their time in a rather blissful and lighthearted manner…”

– Cerocchi, p. 681

“Throughout the short stories, Boccaccio makes extensive use of music’s earthly qualities as a means of effectively separating his “merry group” from the tortuous events which are unfolding just beyond the borders of their self-created sanctuary. These ten individuals engage in frequent musically oriented activities, usually accompanied by dancing.  As a result, the pain and anguish, which might otherwise torment these young survivors of the plague, are effectively kept at bay. The author uses music, much as a physician might a medicinal compound: as a means of alleviating suffering. Beyond its capacity to provide a safe haven for his characters, music is employed as a means of delineating for the reader, the sharp contrast that exists between the reality of these ten people and the torment experienced by those outside of their fellowship.  It is not hard to imagine the bleakness of Florence, which exists just beyond their Villa’s boundaries, ravaged by plague and poignantly devoid of music.”

– Cerocchi, p. 683

Howard Mayer Brown made a closer examination of musical references in Boccaccio’s text, surviving musical sources, and what we know of music as a social medium to determine just what sort of personalities are described and what sort of music the brigata may have played.

“ Quite aside from its literary distinction, the Decameron supplies us with valuable information about the musical practices of the trecento, since the band of young Florentines began and ended each day singing songs and dancing, and some of their stories allude to music. The Decameron, along with other literary works that include descriptions of contemporary life, and paintings, miniatures and other pictures that show us how the world looked to 14th-century artists, are especially helpful in answering two kinds of question—how did music sound in the 14th century, and what place did it have in society—that are otherwise difficult to answer, and that need to be asked as urgently as those dealing with style, genre and compositional technique that seem to pre-occupy musicologists almost to the exclusion of everything else.”

– Brown, p. 325-326

“…In some of the stories the degree of refinement in a character is measured partly by his musical abilities.  There is, for example, the uncouth son of a Cypriot nobleman, whose story is recounted on the fifth day (story 1). Upon falling in love, he cultivates the art of being a gentleman, abandoning his coarse, rustic accent in favour of a more seemly and civilized manner of speech; he learns to ride and make war, and he even becomes an accomplished singer and musician. In another story (eighth day, story 9), Simone, newly arrived in Florence to set up a practice after having received his degree in medicine from the University of Bologna, brags to his new friends about how educated he is. He can tell stories, he says, and even sing. But his singing wins him faint praise. ‘With a cacophonous voice like that’, replies his friend, ‘you could charm the vultures out of the trees.’”

– Brown, p. 330

“In short, the Decameron leads us to sharpen our perceptions of the social uses of music in the trecento, and helps us to evaluate the surviving music against a background broader than merely the history of manuscripts containing polyphony…Boccaccio does not tell us precisely who his young Florentines were, but we can assume, I think, that they were the sons and daughters of rich merchants and bankers, connected by family marriages, bonds of friendship, and class ties. They cultivated music as a social grace. Some of them played instruments and most of them sang. Sophisticated single-line melodies setting refined and elegant amorous lyrics sufficed for their musical needs, along with a repertory of dance tunes now largely lost.”

– Brown, p. 337


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