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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

A NEW DISCANT STYLE

Chapter:
CHAPTER 10 “A Pleasant Place”: Music of the Trecento
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Giovanni de Cascia’s madrigal Appress’ un fiume (“Hard by a stream”) shows every distinctive feature of the budding trecento style (Ex. 10-1). The opening stanzas (tercets) enumerate a veritable shopping list of the ingredients that went into defining the bucolic scene—the “pleasant place” (in Latin, locus amoenus) inherited from the classical authors of’ “idylls” and “eclogues” like Virgil and Theocritus—within which all pastoral lyrics were set: a stream, a shade tree, flowers in bloom. It is the setting familiar from paintings and tapestries of noble outings, the same noble villas and their grounds where these agreeable songs were generally performed. The human ingredients are likewise idyllic: a beautiful lady, her graceful dance, her sweet song. In the ritornello the lady—Anna, of course—is secretly named within the word “fall in love” (an[n]amorar).

The setting is for two supple men’s voices whose ranges lie about a fifth apart, with a common fifth in the middle that enables them to make cadences by occursus—that is, to the unison. Two-part discant counterpoint with occursus is something we have not seen in France since the twelfth century, and never in secular music. It is the characteristic madrigal texture. But it is no throwback. Everything else about the style is so new and fresh that the texture, too, is best seen in context as an Italian innovation—or, if you like, a reinvented wheel.

The way in which the music clothes the text is likewise characteristic. It is descriptive on several levels. Every line of the poem starts with a small melismatic flourish on the first accented syllable and ends with a large one on the last accented syllable, with most of the words occurring midway, in a clump. The words and music thus “alternate,” so that the melismatic singing does not unduly interfere with verbal comprehension. We habitually call such singing “florid,” perhaps without even realizing that the word derives from flos (plural flores), Latin for flower. The fourteenth-century Italians were in no doubt about this. Their word for “florid” singing was (and is) fioritura, “putting forth flowers,” and Michael Long is surely (and illuminatingly) right to compare the obligatory melismas to “audible projections of the flowery landscapes of madrigal poetry,” and to suggest that “the music of the madrigal was draped across its text like the floral garlands of which poets and theorists were so fond.”4

A New Discant StyleA New Discant StyleA New Discant Style

ex. 10-1 Giovanni de Cascia, Appress’ un fiume (madrigal)

It was to accommodate this kind of floral music that Italian musicians developed their lengthiest and most elaborate meters. Appress’ un fiume is composed in what Marchetto and his followers called duodenaria—division by twelve. In transcription the breve is represented by the full measure (dotted half note) and the most characteristic melismatic motion is by sixteenths grouped in fours, making twelve to a bar in all. (The occasional triplets were designated by special curlicues—they even look like floral fronds!—added to the note-stems.) But look what happens in m.17, when the text describes the ladies’ dance: the meter changes (from .d. to .n. in the original notation), duodenaria (3 × 4) giving way to novenaria (3 × 3)—motion by triplets (that is, alla gallica, “Frenchwise”). Even then “French” meant “fancy.”

Notes:

(4) Long, “Trecento Italy,” p. 253.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 “A Pleasant Place”: Music of the Trecento." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 4 Jun. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-010003.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 10 “A Pleasant Place”: Music of the Trecento. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 4 Jun. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-010003.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 “A Pleasant Place”: Music of the Trecento." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 4 Jun. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-010003.xml