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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

WHAT INSTRUMENTALISTS DID

Chapter:
CHAPTER 9 Machaut and His Progeny
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Proof of this ballade’s distinction (or at least its popularity) is its inclusion, a generation or more after the composer’s death, in a north Italian manuscript from about 1415 that is the earliest extant source of music composed or arranged for keyboard instruments. It is called the “Faenza Codex” after the Italian town to whose public library it now belongs. It may originally have been prepared by or for a church organist, because it contains a certain amount of service music, including an arrangement of the Kyrie Cunctipotens genitor, with which we are already familiar in both its original form (Ex. 2-14b) and as adapted for polyphonic performance (Ex. 5-8). The organ arrangement in the Faenza Codex is somewhat like the latter in concept. It is arranged in score, with the lower staff (left hand part) confined to the plainsong melody, held out as a tenor, while the right hand part carols away in a very florid counterpoint. Ex. 9-9 contains the first section.

What Instrumentalists Did

ex. 9-9 Cunctipotens genitor from Faenza Codex

The arrangement of Machaut’s De toutes flours follows the same idea. Ex. 9-10 gives the “A” section. It adapts Machaut’s tenor as a cantus firmus, meanwhile transposing it up a fifth, lightly decorating it, and recasting its rhythms from simple-into-compound-duple patterns (or, in Ars Nova terms, changing the prolation from minor to major). Over it the right hand plays a version of Machaut’s cantus that is so overgrown with embellishment as to be scarcely recognizable. (It is easiest to recognize at the musical rhyme: compare Ex. 9-10 at mm. 23 ff and 56 ff with the corresponding passages of Ex. 9-8.)

This arrangement (or intabulation, as arrangements for keyboard are often called) is extremely suggestive. It gives us grounds for surmising what instrumental virtuosos did at a time when practically no instrumental music was written down. Instrumental music, too, started out as an “oral” culture, if the term oral can be expanded to encompass the digital, based on listening, practicing, and emulating; and it left few traces before the sixteenth century for historian-sleuths to interpret. A book like the Faenza Codex, therefore, is a precious document. It reveals the way in which “standard”—or “classic”—vocal compositions may have provided highly skilled instrumentalists (like today’s—well, yesterday’s—jazz virtuosos) with a repertoire for specialist improvisation.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009007.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 Oct. 2014, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009007.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 Oct. 2014, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-009007.xml