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Saturday morning quotes 7.26: Rhetorical question


“Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”

– Groucho Marx

Our leading quotation is from a Rhetorical master who deftly used a host of rhetorical devices during a long career in the professional pursuit of bathos.  Among a long list of devices one may discern couched in the quote above, Marx employed antithesis (juxtaposition of contrasting ideas), enumeratio (listing detailed causes or effects), amplificatio (expansion and enhancement), auxesis (words or phrases ordered for climactic effect), circumlocution (more words than necessary), simile (comparison of unlike things with implication of a resemblance between them), dissoi logoi (contradictory argument), and of course he closes with an ignoratio elenchi (irrelevant conclusion) just prior to a rhetorical challenge to the reader.  Marx was a master of paronomasia (pun) and kairos (timing), and he employed noema (deliberately obscure language) with the ultimate goal of delectare (delight).

It’s no accident that Groucho Marx was a master of the use of rhetorical figures since he and his famous brothers were musicians, and music has always been fertile ground for the cultivation of rhetorical devices employed to “move the passions” of the listener.

We have dipped a toe into these symbolic waters in the past, but this week our quotes are drawn from the well of Warren Kirkendale from his article, “Ciceronians versus Aristotelians on the Ricercar as Exordium, from Bembo to Bach”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 1979), pp. 1-44.

“Most instrumental music of the sixteenth century falls into one of three categories: “abstract” pieces, dances, and instrumental adaptations of vocal music (intabulations). The so-called “abstract” pieces largely fulfilled a preludial function, and went by a variety of originally more or less interchangeable names, such as ricercar and fantasia.  As secular music, especially for lute, they were followed by songs, madrigals, instrumental intabulations, or dances; as liturgical organ music they served as preludes to mass sections, motets, or psalms.”

– Kirkendale, p. 2

Exordium, as mentioned in Kirkendale’s title, is defined as the introductory part of an oration, and is the Rhetorical equivalent of a musical prelude.

“Evidence that musicians followed Cicero, directly or indirectly, is provided by northern music theorists who derive their precepts from the practice of Franco-Flemish and Italian composers.  Most of them, as cantors, taught Cicero to schoolboys.”

– Kirkendale, p. 28

“The style of the earliest notated ricercars, those in Spinacino, Dalza, and Bossinensis published by Petrucci between 1507 and 1511, might be described as that of written improvisation…Their very modest length speaks against their use for anything but a preludial function.”

– Kirkendale, p. 5

We offer an example of a Recercar by Francesco Spinacino from the very first published music for the lute (1507), which we recorded as a prelude to “O passi sparsi“, a musical setting of the poetry of Francesco Petrarca by composer Sebastiano Festa (c. 1490 – 1524).  Our arrangement is an historical reconstruction, creating a solo song by melding a rather dull strophic setting for voices with a rather active intabulation for lute set by Alberto da Ripa (c.1500 – 1551). “Recercar XV” by Spinacino has an improvisatory character but is more refined than many of the abstract pieces in the first published lute book as it actually introduces thematic material and use of imitation, and the piece generally looks ahead to the more developed contrapuntal forms of music for the lute.

As an individual track, “Recercar XV” ends a bit abruptly because we intentionally used it as a prelude to “O passi sparsi”, with a rather shortened pause between the pieces.  But programmatic intent is a casualty of the current times, and if you want the intended effect, you’ll have to buy the CD—or better yet invite us to perform live.

Now for the sake of brevitas we leave you with another short quotation from Groucho that explains how we have managed to gain a bit of knowledge about our music and its context, and why we are here to tell you what we know.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

– Groucho Marx

Saturday morning quotes 7.25: Noisier


High summer is nearly upon us, and one wishes to take advantage of moderate temperatures and prise open long-shuttered windows and doors for a breath of fresh air before the onslaught of mid-American heat and humidity.  But instead of cool, calm gentle breeze, we are assailed with the constant yip of the neighbor’s yap dog, the macho revving of the other neighbor’s prize Harley, and the sadly omnipresent whine of lawn care machinery. Hay mucho ruido.

One is of a certain age when one recalls learning to use human-powered lawn care equipment like hand pruners, push mowers, foot-powered edgers, leaf rakes, and friendly but demanding straw brooms.  And having been reared as a child slave-laborer, I (RA) had the dubious privilege of learning to mow acres of grass with a sharp scythe, cultivate acres of garden with rake and hoe, spread manure with a dangerously sharp pitchfork from a wobbly tractor-pulled trailer, and pitch bales manually during high hay-fever season.  But, except for the tractor, it was all relatively quiet work.

As one who learned of practical necessity to conserve resources, I feel a sense of moral outrage when I see a neighbor (who could really use the exercise) standing still for endless hours waving his 160 decibel lawn blower in the laconic pursuit of three leaves that had the utter audacity to land on his lawn.  At least he has a minor jot of intelligence and uses hearing protection, but I have to close every window and door in order to minimize the horrible noise to where we still have to shout to one anther to be heard over the racket outdoors.

Why do we care about noise?  Because we are specialists in 16th-century music for voice and lute, and we have worked very hard to create an optimal balance of sound with a natural voice and a quiet instrument.  We value quiet.  And we value our hearing.

“According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-quarter of Americans ages 20 to 69 who reported good to excellent hearing actually had diminished hearing. This is largely caused by rising levels of ambient urban noise—sirens, traffic, construction, leaf blowers—which can lead to a range of disorders, from high blood pressure to depression to heart disease. “When I started out, I’d see people in their 60s with hearing problems,” says Robert Meyers, an ENT specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Now I’m seeing them in their 40s.””

– James Fallows, “Get off my lawn”, The Atlantic, April 2019

To catch up on the issue, we are re-visiting part of an earlier blog post that was not part of our Saturday morning quotes series.

As specialists in 16th century music, the narrow compass of our medium—voice and lute—offers us a bit more latitude for interpretive decisions but also a much less forgiving frame of reference for generalized comparisons.  Categorized as “classical” musicians, we are held to the same performance standard as a string quartet or, more aptly, a performer of art song with piano accompaniment.  Many of our non-early musical colleagues have difficulty getting past the relatively low volume of sound that is characteristic of our music, and blithely offer up suggestions for amplification.  We’ve learned that musician-colleagues fall into two general categories: 1) those who get past the initial quietness and are happily drawn into the aesthetic of our performance, and 2) those with irreversible hearing loss.

Regular readers of this blog are aware that our interpretations are entirely based on hints that we faithfully glean from historical sources.  But it is fairly obvious that public performance of music for solo voice and lute in large reverberant churches and concert halls constitutes an historically inappropriate performance practice.  Historical sources indicate that the tastefully balanced natural voice and lute are meant to be heard in small chambers with a select number of connoisseurs listening.  To that end, we gravitate toward performing house concerts or in very small venues whenever possible.

Returning to the rhetorical question: Given that it is impractical to follow historical modes of performing early music for 21st century audiences, what is the point of trying?  When it is difficult to hear the nuance of music sung in what Ronsard preferred as the natural voice accompanied by the ravishing sound of the lute, why not compromise and use a pushed but audible bel canto production and accompany with the full sound of the modern guitar?  The answer is because we care about the historical context, about the poetry and the music, about the personal and intimate aesthetic, and we care about our audiences.  We think our music offers listeners who are willing to put away their electronic gadgets for a moment just a glimpse of a rare and precious historical artifact that is increasingly difficult to find today—quiet subtlety.

Visit the original post.

And below are links to a few other posts on the topic of too much noise and not enough quiet.



Saturday morning quotes: Retro post

Time Stands Still[We are re-visiting this pertinent post from February 2011 that was not originally part of our Saturday morning quotes series.]

One of our earliest posts on this blog had to do with the modern listener’s receptiveness to old music in general and lute music in particular.  We mentioned the question of balancing voice and lute, and the relative quiet volume that results in reaching an optimum blend.  Of course, the combination of a solo voice with a single lute was never meant to be heard in a capacious cathedral, nor in a modern concert hall designed for orchestral forces.

Performing old music for modern audiences involves another important adaptive approach to address a pervasive issue – the question of attention span.  How do we effectively engage a listener for the duration of a quiet and subtle song or lute solo that lasts 7 – 10 minutes?  We have to give this question serious consideration especially in view of the cold fact that our lives today seem to be driven by electronic devices that operate at speeds much faster than a caring, contemplative human cares to process a thought.

Advantages of living in our electronic age are abundant. We can multitask to our heart’s delight, embracing a universe of ideas and cascades of random information without having to encumber ourselves with the tiresome steps of considering whether the data are relevant, or even true.  Since Google is always at our fingertips, we no longer need to be bothered with the anachronistic process of committing information to memory, let alone converting knowledge into wisdom.

Irony aside, the electronic age has happily opened amazing lines of communication, allowing us to instantaneously correspond with friends across the globe at any hour of day or night.  If the press is to be believed, the recent liberating events in Egypt were possible mainly due to lines of communication made available through internet social networking sites.  But have electronic devices truly made our lives richer?  As a species, are we happier, healthier, kinder and more considerate?  I think not.

In an editorial in the Sunday New York Times (published February 19, 2011), Maureen Dowd quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  The following quote caught my eye:

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

I return to our question, “how do we engage listeners today?”  By way of a possible answer, an anecdote.  Last week, we performed a house concert to an audience of around 40 people, most of whom were not previously dedicated fans of early music.  In planning the program, we struggled with the idea of making the music accessible to a general audience and thought we might stick to songs of a short duration (3-4 minutes), and mostly with English texts.  But in the end, we decided to take a chance and perform what we felt like playing.  This included the Dowland lute pavan ‘La mia Barbara’ (over 6 minutes) and Robert Jones’ setting of Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Over these brooks’ (over 9 minutes).  We detected no signs of unrest in the audience during the concert and we were encouraged by the level of quiet attentiveness.  After the performance, we mentioned to some audience members the length of some of the pieces.  The reaction was surprise – they had no idea that ‘Over these brooks’ lasted over nine minutes.

Performers of old music, we, as empathetic musicians, attempt to engage an audience by first allowing ourselves to be convinced of the inherent quality of the music, and then transparently allowing that music to unfold with a sense of calm or of urgency, depending on what is appropriate to the piece.  These are not new ideas, and are employed consciously or unconsciously by any effective performer.  That is, any effective performer who does not create and depend upon a cult of personality, which places the performer foremost and uses music (or whatever medium) as a mere vehicle in order to draw attention to the personality.

We presume that a member of our audience wishes be drawn into the sound world we create and, by extension, that he or she trusts us to act as guides through that sound world as we describe the lost aesthetic of a different age.  It is our responsibility to foster empathy by gently reminding our audiences of the rewards of invested concentration, and the value of a rare glimpse through the window of time for a fleeting moment (or ten) of quiet contemplation.

Saturday morning quotes 7.24 What we see

baki-medici-102019 is well along its way and circumstances have prevented us from our typical 2018 year-end summation. We usually find the start of a new year energizing and we like to take stock and plot out a theme and direction for the coming calendar year.  This year offers so many challenges on so many fronts that we are still in the process of collecting our thoughts from last year, and we are generally stunned by the many significant events of 2018, personal and global, that have rewritten the rule-book describing how the world works, and that have forced us to recalibrate the direction of our music and our lives.

Specializing in deeply considered interpretations of early music, and dedicating our time and energy to offering the fruits of our labor to audiences who are sorely in need of the quiet elegance of historical music for voice and lute, is not exactly a remunerative endeavor.  Particularly when we do not operate with the sponsorship of an organization, an academic institution, a well-endowed board, nor a mom who sets up all our gigs.  Mignarda is quite unique in that we are the genuine article; a duo of like-minded musicians who have truly made significant inroads presenting early music to a large and diverse audience based entirely upon hard work and the strength of our music.  We do not buy publicity, we do not pay for concert or recording reviews, and we do not frantically solicit “likes” on social media.  This may seem a boastful statement but, in the environment of today’s music industry, one only need examine standard operating procedure for independent musicians to see that we are unique in our approach and in our measure of success.

Gloves off. As the years roll by, it has become abundantly clear that, at least in the US, independent musicians who specialize in early music are simply not recognized by the established organizational hierarchy unless they have a direct connection of some sort within the established organizations that maintain a stranglehold on access to the more prominent early music venues, festivals, the specialized radio airplay and well-financed record labels.  How did this come to be the norm?  The answer is that, like every other aspect of modern business practice, and indeed modern life, there are among us gatekeepers who carve out a market for their product and set to work advancing their careers by concentrating on successful commercial techniques of public relations.  To put it simply, propaganda.

The gatekeeper phenomenon is an enormous factor that affects all who dwell in or on the fringes of the academic world.  Many of us have had ample opportunity to observe the gatekeeper dynamic; the toxic hierarchy of tenured full professors with butts firmly planted in endowed chairs lording over associate and assistant professors who hope their masters will someday die or (less likely) retire so that the opportunity to compete for those positions might possibly open up.  Lurking meekly in the hallways are the adjunct lecturers who hope that by cheerfully accepting the worst teaching assignments meted out with anxiety-inducing uncertainty of scheduling, and with compensation ranking well below ultra-subpar wages, there might perhaps be a glimmer of hope that, like Pinocchio, someday they will become real people.

The sad truth is that full professors will never sacrifice their positions unless they possess a keen desire to spend their “golden years” experiencing a sanitized life outside the ivory tower.  Many cling to their hard-won positions as their only source of identity and relevance.  Associate and assistant professors face playing the sometimes interminably long game, waiting for the door to open a crack and secretly hoping to peer through that crack to see their career obstacles slumped over an heirloom desk, victim of a heart attack (if they ever possessed a heart).  Spending half their academic lives treading water in muted circumspection, they have ample opportunity to absorb the many nuances of the gatekeeper’s role, and then embrace that role with a set of learned survival skills and as a matter of normalcy.  Lecturers and adjuncts must simply face the fact that they will never advance in their careers without the help of a viable connection or with an enormous stroke of good luck.  Merely by participating in the exploitation game, they are typecast by their superiors, and no matter how effective or qualified they may be, breaking out of their assumed role is nearly impossible in the face of very stiff competition by the naively optimistic crowd of hopefuls who, like Penelope’s suitors, likely await an unhappy result.

The world of early music is conjointly linked to academe.  Unfortunately.  The hard fact is the early music industry (for that is what it has become) needed scholars to lay the groundwork and provide context for recreating ancient sounds, and we applaud the good work of so many capable researchers who have sacrificed hours, opportunity, and spinal posture combing through libraries and poring over manuscript sources, ultimately providing peers, performers and the public with a host of reasons why old music is worth the bother.  But in the process, academics transferred their hierarchical “business model” to what is for all intents and purposes a niche market of the classical music entertainment industry.

Make no mistake.  Classical music as available through recordings or in public performance does not exist solely for the cultural enrichment of the world.  Classical music is a segment of the entertainment industry, and performers, no matter how rigorously trained and how innocent their personal objectives may be, are cogs in that segment of the entertainment industry.  In order for music to reach listeners, promoters advance certain performers that appear in live performances at particular venues, and promoters advance recordings through a variety of means; recording contracts, explicit agreements for radio and internet airplay (21st-century payola), and solicited (and paid-for) reviews in industry publications and on digital download formats.

This is standard operating procedure in the entertainment industry, and the field of early music is no exception.

An ethical dilemma exists when one steps back and considers that academe and the for-profit music industry collaborate to promote an idealized—and at times deliberately inaccurate—representation of historical music.  Altering history is a very dangerous, if sadly all too common, method of controlling a given message, and this is the point at which the early music industry collides with the seedy back alleys of the propaganda machine.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

– Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928

Since you have read this far, you should pause for a moment and check out the book by Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928).  This short book is available in modern edition (complete with the many original typos) with a brilliant foreword by Mark Crispin Miller that sets the context.  In a nutshell, Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was truly the architect of the modern science of propaganda through manipulating public perception, and he understood very well that the public could be sold any idea if packaged effectively.

Leaving aside the larger implications of Bernays’ definition of propaganda and its ramifications, as it pertains to the early music industry, propaganda is consciously employed to color the perception of how listeners have access to and how they embrace early music as a product.  Those who fail to understand this reality are subject to manipulation, which may be just fine for many listeners.  But those who care to peer behind the curtain will better understand how the market forces are manipulated by promoters, and they may clearly see how their choices are not in fact guided by serendipitous discovery.

Today more than ever before, “our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested”, in fact all information that enters our consciousness through electronic means has been specifically tailored either to pique our interest or fulfill a need or desire we have blithely expressed in an email or over the phone—or even at home muttering to oneself near one’s television.  This is not conjecture.  This is fact.  Early music promoters are embracing the same techniques as Amazon and Google and other organizations who know more about your tastes and habits than you can imagine.  You have been profiled and your interest in historical music has been duly noted, down to whether you prefer the soothing English cathedral choral sounds or the more cerebral (if jangly) sound of Bach’s music on the harpsichord.

The business end of early music affects all of us, whether listener or performer, and we can say without reservation that is why the story of Mignarda is so very unusual.  We created our own approach to historical music based upon our own diligent research that is equal to but separate from the academic/music industry publicity machine.  We consciously made our music available to a broad audience, secure in the premise that music performed in a direct manner and sung in a more period-appropriate natural voice would attract listeners who have not drunk the Kool-Aid of the academic/music industry publicity machine.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson




Saturday morning quotes 7.23: Standards

Cheap suit

As we approach one full score years of the new millennium, it’s time to accept that it is no longer “new”, and that the the present time is upon us.  It doesn’t seem to matter that the mantle of the present fits like a cheap suit, the times and the standards have changed and we are compelled to accept the new normal no matter how offensive the style.

Artists and professional musicians have to accept that they are now merely content creators, and that the worth of said content is determined by its usefulness to G**gle or the unfortunately pervasive social media platforms, all of which take overt steps to restrict availability of your content unless 1) you pay them, or 2) they can make sufficient ad revenue from it.  And if this isn’t offensive enough, now it comes to light that G**gle considers all individuals as mere “transient carriers” of data, which they will admittedly shape and mold to best suit their own profit-driven objectives.

But we’re here to discuss other standards that have to do with the status of early music and the lute revival in particular.  In the many and various fields of historical research, it is normal for our understanding of the past to evolve as we gain new insights from the combined efforts of scholars who may approach a subject from different angles.  The trick is to maintain a dignified respect for the scholarly pioneers and their work as we add to our knowledge base and clarify sometimes mistaken assumptions.  To reinforce this point, we take the unusual step of self-quoting from a past post on this blog:

“Suffice it to say that Leech-Wilkinson presents a survey of the rediscovery of old music, beginning in the nineteenth century and highlighting the contributions of eminent historians and musicologists including Hugo Riemann, the Stainers, Johannes Wolf, Guido Adler and Arnold Schering. In addition to remarks on the fact that most of these pioneers were Germans, Leech-Wilkinson aptly points out that their overall approach to interpretation of medieval music reflected the conventions of their own time. However, it is less useful and ungenerous to point out the multitude of faulty premises in this early but important research.”

Like the lute performance revival, we see the field of lute scholarship transitioning from that of discovery, codification and transcription of sources, to a standard of calm, reasoned and mature evaluation of the work that has come down to us by more closely examining the context in which the music was originally created and performed. Just like our late 20th-century musicologists who plunged headlong into refining what was in many cases speculative work of earlier scholars, we are now at the point where we can step back from the analytical framework and evaluate the validity of many earlier assumptions and arrive at reasonable answers to questions of attribution.

The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano, 1497-1543, edited by Arthur Ness and published in 1970 by Harvard University Press, remains the standard modern edition of Francesco’s lute music. The publication’s association with Harvard links this work directly to John Ward, probably the most important musicologist of the 20th century when it comes to music for the lute, and the work by Ness did indeed complete earlier research that was begun by Ward and his other students, drawing upon Ward’s large collection of microfilms of sources.

In his edition, Ness provided transcriptions of Francesco’s music into modern notation displayed in parallel with a modern depiction of the uncorrected original lute tablatures. Following the model of Otto Gombosi, Ness chose to organize the transcriptions according to musical phrasing rather than adhere to the sometimes nonsensical bar lines of the original tablatures. Playing from the transcriptions usually results in intelligent interpretations of Francesco’s delightful music, but there are many cases of added notes or rhythms that represent “completion” of the polyphonic ideal, and other “corrections” that are rather unidiomatic on the lute. Sadly, playing from the parallel uncorrected tablatures is not an option without extensive editing.

Ness provided a resource for a few generations of lutenists wishing to experience the sound world of Francesco da Milano, but the modern edition must not be considered a monument, rather a snapshot that represents our understanding of music by an historical figure, but collected and edited with an approach rooted in mid 20th century aesthetics. Today, we are well past the point of discovering sources of lute music, speculating as to what is what, and defending our assumptions in the court of public opinion—if today’s relatively small number of lutenists can be called public.  We are now at the point where we can and should get to the heart of the music itself and share with any listener possessing an attention span the depth and beauty of Francesco’s music for lute. To do this requires an understanding of the context of the original music with guidance by able editors who actually play the lute, and it’s high time we put aside defensive scholarly bluster supporting Francesco the ideal and learn more about Francesco the human being.

Fortunately, we have available the slightly more recent work of Victor Coelho, who melds an excellent standard of musicological scholarship with a virtuoso lute technique, resulting in truly useful insights into the music. Coelho builds on the work of earlier scholarship and provides a reality check that clarifies some assumptions as to attribution in his article, “The Reputation of Francesco da Milano (1497-1543) and the Ricercars in the Cavalcanti Lute Book”, Revue belge de Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Muziekwetenschap, Vol. 50, 1996, pp. 49-72.  It is interesting to note that this article is 24 years old, yet Coelho’s cogent and altogether reasonable findings are little known and lesser understood by lutenists today.

There are several fantasias attributed to Francesco that appear in the Ness edition that do not bear the stamp of Francesco’s particular style.  Those of us who delve into the sources of lute music and actually touch the notes on the instrument with our fingertips form a relationship with a particular composer’s compositional language, and we begin to understand that, in the 16th century, attribution of a piece of music to a particular composer frequently meant, “in the style of” rather than actually by the particular composer. We distill Coelho’s article with a few brief quotes.

“… [A] close study of these fantasias reveals such stylistic incongruities with Francesco’s authenticated output that their attribution to the lutenist cannot be accepted without a legitimate challenge. Most of them are far too long and their dense textures are totally unlike Francesco’s printed work. The fantasias develop sequences to the point of tedium and cadential points are too infrequent; the idiomatic play, which is one of the most consistent and characteristic qualities of Francesco, is contorted, static, and awkward, and the development of subjects in most of the fantasias is perfunctory. Many fingerings (tablature, of course, shows hand position) have no precedent in Francesco’s authenticated work, and the large-scale repetition found in Fantasia 77 is a formal anomaly in Francesco’s fantasias.”

– Coelho, p. 51-52

“Several of the fantasias contain quotes of earlier pieces by Francesco, which suggests the presence of parody or pastiche technique. Finally, the strongly Florentine repertory contained in Cavalcanti betrays the influence of Vincenzo Galilei whose first printed lutebook of 1563 also contained six previously unknown fantasias attributed to Francesco da Milano, all of them unica.  It is surprising that no one has ever questioned why (or how) some twenty years after Francesco’s death, six new and unique fantasias appeared at the end of a book by Galilei, and almost thirty years later another eight fantasias, most of them also unique, appear in a Florentine manuscript, one with possible ties to Galilei.”

– Coelho, p. 52

In the 16th century, there was a lively tradition of quoting bits of familiar tunes by weaving a recognizable phrase into the polyphonic texture of a fantasia.  This tradition survives today in jazz improvisation, where players will toss a sometimes surprising quote into a solo, mainly for the amusement of fellow musicians.  But we know of this tradition through deliberate quotes of passages by a famous musician scribbled into manuscripts by anonymous composers, sometimes resulting in misattribution by later editors.  This is surely the case in the fantasia designated P74 in Diana Poulton’s edition of The Collected Lute Music of John Dowland, Faber Music, 1974 (British Library manuscript Add. 31392, f. 24), which quotes phrases by Dowland both familiar and less so.

“Lute music, more than any other musical repertory of the Renaissance, was subject to quite substantial textual variation, and there are many pieces even by composers like Francesco or Dowland for which there is no fixed version or Urtext at all. This is particularly true during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the printed tradition of lute music began to experience its decline, and the transmission of Francesco’s music was dependent on the often-unscrupulous manuscript tradition, the skill of copyists, who were often students, and their personal choices.”

– Coelho, p. 52

“The layers of interpolations that can be added to a single lute piece as it is disseminated by the manuscript tradition reveal a process that can be compared to the troping of chant: the spine of the original conception remains, along with its distant, perhaps even apocryphal authorship, but the interpolations reveal efforts of modernization, pedagogy, enshrinement, revival, imitation, a striving for generational relevance, and, consequently, the making of reputations.”

– Coelho, p. 53

The best way to become acquainted with a composer’s work is to play the music in an informed manner on the instrument for which it was intended.  Only then can we understand whether a particular piece bears traces of the composer’s musical personality.

“In overall form, Francesco’s ricercars usually can be divided into distinct sections, each characterized by a new rhythmic treatment of a subject, or by a new subject. The 1563 ricercars, on the other hand, are more continuous and ceaseless, the motion unmarked by regular cadential points of rest and sectional division, and without the internal coherence one finds with Francesco. Like Josquin, Francesco approaches cadences with a ‘drive’ of increased rhythmic activity or stretto, culminating in a cadence incorporating an ornamental turn, but neither the cadential drive nor the turn is present in the Galilei ricercars, with the exception of Fantasia 73.”

“The most compelling evidence that these works are, at best, misattributed by Galilei or pastiches, lies in the presence of different chunks taken from Francesco’s fantasias that are embedded in these works.”

– Coelho, p. 62

In a similar vein, we can examine an interesting case of conjectural conclusions in the article by André Nieuwlaat, “Da Milano or Dowland?”, Geluit Luthinerie no. 76 12/2018, p. 21. Nieuwlaat makes a giant leap from fantasias attributed to Francesco da Milano in an English source, to assigning authorship directly to Dowland. There is a great deal of intriguing speculation presented, but in the end there is no positive proof that leads us to conclude that Dowland decided to try his hand at emulating Francesco’s work. While Nieuwlaat recognizes the confusing practice of an attribution sometimes meaning “in the style of” rather than actually by the particular composer, in order for rather dramatic claims to be accepted we need to adhere to a higher standard of proof.



Saturday morning quotes 7.22: On behalf of the Muses

MusesCoverClick to hear or download an mp3 of this blog post read by Donna Stewart.

We are very pleased to announce the release of our 12th album, On behalf of the Muses, which is now available to stream and download from  your favorite music sites including Amazon, Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, Spotify and Pandora.  For those stalwarts who prefer actual discs that one can hear, see and touch, we will be shipping CDs the first week of May 2019.

The album is a compilation of most-requested songs that range from DuFay’s mid-fifteenth century “Vergine bella, che di sol vestita” (canzone per Francesco Petrarca) to compositions dating from the past decade. The diverse collection includes a few very recent live recordings, debuts two of our original compositions for voice and lute, and includes our previously-unreleased very first recorded track.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may notice that we have featured some of the individual tracks on this album in past blog posts, but each track has been selected and remixed for inclusion on this new album in response to requests, and they do not otherwise appear on our eleven previous CDs.

Our album title, On behalf of the Muses, is drawn from an obscure reference in the typically obsequious dedication penned by John Bartlet in his A Booke of Ayres, 1606.  The Muses have been a part of our collective consciousness since before the time of Homer, in whose work the Muse is aptly invoked at the very opening of The Odyssey:

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns … driven time and again off course … Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will—sing for our time too.”

– Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles

The Muses traditionally numbered three from their earliest recorded mention, but their number was cubed at some later point and a reference to the nine Muses appears in the 24th book of Homer’s Odyssey, although the prevailing opinion is that the last book was not Homer’s original and was added as an essential summation by a later poet.

Nevertheless, we as Mignarda identify strongly with the aforementioned twists and turns of life and with being driven off course time and again, and we offer this collection of songs On behalf of the Muses from our ample archive of rare recordings in the hopes it will assuage our listeners until we can embrace our next focused recorded program.  And we offer a synopsis of a few pieces on the album.

“Come away, come away death”, a song text from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, unfortunately did not manage to exit backstage draped in an historical musical setting, and a few modern composers have leapt at the opportunity to update Shakespeare’s antique text with a modern treatment.  Occurring in Act II, scene iv of the play, the song is sung by Feste the Clown at the request of the Duke, who asks for

“That old and antique song we heard last night;
Methought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times.”

The Duke causes the music to be played by the ubiquitous but invisible musicians while Feste is located and dragged into the presence to sing “Come away, come away death”, the textless interlude an indication that the “antique” tune stands on its own merit without the Clown’s vocalization.  Recognizing the immense popularity of triple-time galliard tunes in Elizabethan times, we chose to set the text to the historical “Oxford’s Galliard” from the Folger lute manuscript, adding a singable melody line to carry the text but otherwise sticking to the original.  Based upon what we know of  the common historical performance of Tudor ballad tunes, our solution is at once entirely historically appropriate as well as pleasing to the ear.

“Love is not all” is a 21st-century composition for voice and lute by Ron Andrico, setting the (public domain) poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first in a more expansive song cycle.  The setting is arranged in two compact sections; a wistfully reflective exposition followed by a triple-time shift near the middle that adds tension and a dose of uncertainty before the close. Vincent’s poetry adheres to traditional forms but sensitively reflects modern themes: The song and its style owes much to a similar mashup, primarily the music of John Dowland colliding with the mood of 1960s lounge music.

“No more shall meads be deck’d with flow’rs”, by Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666) is a setting of poetry by Thomas Carew. Lanier’s evocative ayre employs our favorite ground, the chaconne.  Our performance is consciously direct and engaged as befits the genre and the historical style, eschewing the typical modern detached “art song” approach, and with its wide range of high and low notes, we used Lanier’s ayre as a test for microphone placement on our very first recording session, and thus this performance marks Mignarda’s very first recording.

“Bist du bei mir” is a deservedly well-known aria found in the 1725 Anna Magdalena Bach notebook.   Formerly attributed to J. S. Bach, the popular air is now firmly assigned to Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, and is from his opera Diomedes, oder die triumphierende Unschuld, known to have been performed in Bayreuth on November 16, 1718.  While the music of the Bach household is several generations outside the bounds of our usual repertory, we have been asked to perform the aria on several occasions and we keep it handy as an encore piece when appropriate, as in the featured live performance.

As in Homer’s Odyssey, our collection of songs is offered on behalf of the Muses that the music may, in every good sense, go straight to the heart.

” the Old Man of the Sea’s daughters gathered round you—wailing, heartsick—dressed you in ambrosial, deathless robes and the Muses, nine in all, voice-to-voice in choirs, their vibrant music rising, raised your dirge. Not one soldier would you have seen dry-eyed, the Muses’ song so pierced us to the heart. “

– Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles



Saturday morning quotes 7.21: Musical Icons

josquin-des-pres-circa-1440-1521-engraved-from-a-work-in-st-gudule-cathedral-brusselsMusical icons, whether particular composers or their specific masterworks, enter into the public consciousness and gain iconic status for a variety of reasons.

In the realm of classical music, Beethoven’s enduring symphonies are considered iconic in view of the composer’s bold harmonic language and his strident use of dynamics. But iconic musical pieces eventually become the norm and even grow tiresome over time—like the effect of having a collection of “greatest hits” stored as data on a person’s device.  But with a better understanding of the context of the composer’s creation and the significance of his or her innovation, today’s listeners who devote a little time and attention may begin to see what was so novel and what made the work so enduring.

“If we’re talking about how music was never the same again after Beethoven, there’s a problem. Harmony has a dynamic function in Beethoven. But, in life, Beethoven’s harmonies have become habitual, accepted, robbed of their capacity to crash the threshold. Music we love listening to. Music we don’t necessarily hear. Classics for pleasure.”

– Philip Clark, “How Beethoven’s symphonies changed the world“, Gramophone, July 2014.

Today, the music of Josquin Des Prez (c.1450 – 1521) is considered representative of the late 15th- and early 16th centuries, and his particular skill and compositional innovations are taken somewhat for granted. But Josquin was the “Beethoven” of his time—not because his music grabbed the listener by the lapels and bludgeoned the ears with extrovert devices.  Josquin’s music stretched musical forms and devices in common use to their limits through his skillful use of canon, his sublime melodies, and his expressive harmonic language. Remarkably, Josquin accomplished all this with the greatest subtlety; an outward sense of dignified elegance that caresses the ear based upon an inward sense of expressive text-setting that moves the soul.

Narrowing our iconic musical landmarks to the Renaissance,  Josquin’s iconic setting of the Stabat Mater soars to the surface.  The Stabat Mater text depicts the sorrow of Mary at the foot of the cross, lamenting the death of her son, a gripping emotional scene that only a grieving mother could fully understand.  The Stabat Mater text is conventionally ascribed to Jacopone da Todi, (c. 1230 – 1306), but there is an earlier copy of the text preserved in a 13th-century gradual now in the Bologna Museo Civico Medievale. The text paraphrases passages in John 19:25, Luke 2:35, Zacharias 13:6, Second Corinthians 4:10, and Galatians 6:17.  Eliminated as a liturgical sequence after the Council(s) of Trent, the Stabat Mater was restored in 1727 by Pope Benedict XIII, and is proper for Feasts of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, which occur during Holy Week and also in September.

Josquin’s Stabat Mater dolorosa setting dates from circa 1480, and might possibly be the first polyphonic setting of the text.  But the pulse is gentle, the polyphony is subtle and the melodic contours are smooth, and effective interpretation demands that we discard the spiky, angular approach that is so prevalent in modern performances of 15th-century music.

The motet for five-voices employs as a cantus firmus the tenor of the chanson, Comme femme desconfortée, attributed to Gilles Binchois (c.1400 – 1460).

Comme femme desconfortée
sur toutes aultres esgarée,
qui n’ay jour de ma vie espoir
d’en estre en mon temps consolée,
maiz en nul mal plus agravée
desire la mort main et soir.

As a disconsolate woman,
Distraught more than all others,
I have no hope of consolation
for the rest of my life,
but evermore oppressed by misfortune
I long for death morning and night.

The quotation of a popular song as a cantus firmus was an innovation in 15th-century  polyphonic motets and Mass settings, including Josquin’s own Mass on the popular chanson D’ung aultre amer by Ockeghem.  But probing into the 15th-century context, David J. Rothenberg and others have identified a host of what were previously considered  popular secular chansons on themes of love and loss as having Marian connotations. This implicit integration of the sacred and secular is no surprise to scholars who embrace the larger context of 15th-century music with an open mind, and who do not blindly cleave to the modern secularization of historical music.

Josquin’s sublime setting of the Stabat Mater was quite popular well into the 16th century, with printed versions arranged for solo lute by the likes of Valentin Bakfark, Simon Gintzler and Francesco da Milano.  Our performance for solo voice and lute is edited from an historical version published by Pierre Phalese in 1552, with the addition of a bowed viol on the important tenor line.

An iconic piece, Josquin’s Stabat Mater is subjected to a variety of approaches, many of which appear to entirely disregard the deeply emotional text.  For instance, when Josquin’s music eases into triple time he was invoking the Trinity, not adding a bit of jollification.  Without apology, we feel strongly that our historical performance medium of solo voice, lute and viol conveys the text and the emotion of Josquin’s masterpiece to its best advantage.