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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 17 Commercial and Literary Music
Richard Taruskin

The German counterpart to the frottola, as purveyed in the printed songbooks that appeared in Germany from 1507 (making that country chronologically the second to take up the music trade), is now known as the Tenorlied. That is the modern scholarly term for what contemporary musicians called a Kernweise (roughly, “core tune”): a polyphonic setting of a Liedweise, a familiar song-melody, placed usually in the tenor—or else a song that resembled a Liedweise setting in texture. In other words, it was a cantus-firmus setting of a lyrical melody, either traditional or newly composed, in what by the early sixteenth century would have been considered in other countries a fairly dated style.

That is no surprise. We know that Germany took up the monophonic courtly song a bit later than its western and southern neighbors. The earliest German composer of polyphonic courtly songs, the latter-day Minnesinger Oswald von Wolkenstein (see chapter 4), had been dead for little more than half a century when the print revolution transformed German music; the earliest German printed songs merely continued the process he had fairly recently initiated of adopting courtly love lyrics to the polyphonic literate tradition. Again we may observe that there is no uniform march of styles, and that styles arise and decline in particular historical and social contexts.

The Tenorlied makes its earliest appearance in the form of folksong settings in manuscripts from the second half of the fifteenth century, beginning around 1460. The earliest such manuscript, the source of the three earliest identifiable Tenorlieder, was called the Lochamer Liederbuch and came from Nuremberg in the south of Germany. The biggest source of early Liedweisen settings is the vast miscellany called the Glogauer Liederbuch from around 1480, familiar to us as the earliest surviving set of part books, which came from the German far east.

By the print period Tenorlieder were more often newly composed songs than settings of traditional Liedweisen. The one printed in Ex. 17-4 comes from Peter Schöffer’s first Liederbuch (Mainz, 1513), the third set of printed part books to see the light in Germany. Its very curious history recommends it for inclusion in a history book like this, rather than one, say, on a more famous tune or by a more famous composer. The shapely, stately tune is evidently a Hofweise, a newly composed melody in a courtly, vaguely Minnesingerish style. About the composer, Jörg Schönfelder, all that is known is that he may have been a member of the court chapel choir in Stuttgart (since other songs in the same book are by known members of that choir).

Germany: The Tenorlied

ex. 17-4 Jörg Schönfelder, Von edlr At (1513)

Germany: The Tenorlied

ex. 17-5 Johannes Brahms, Von edler Art (1864), mm. 1-10

Peter Schöffer did not include any attributions in his original print. (The authorship of its contents, where known, was determined by comparison with other sources.) Therefore, when the young Johannes Brahms came upon the book in the early 1860s (when on the lookout, as a struggling choir director in Vienna, for “a cappella” material that would not require the hiring of any extra musicians) he mistook its contents for folk songs, then the object of a craze in romantic-nationalist Europe. Struck by the stately beauty of Schönfelder’s melody, he made it the first item in a collection of Deutsche Volkslieder, German folk songs for mixed chorus dedicated to his Vienna choir and published in 1864 (Ex. 17-5). Brahms placed the tune where tunes went in the nineteenth century (that is, on top), and considerably enriched the harmony and the contrapuntal texture, but the melody is Schönfelder’s exactly, precluding the possibility that the tune was in fact a folk song in oral circulation rather than an old Hofweise that Brahms found in its actual printed source.

Brahms was a canny arranger and a very knowing one. He was a true connoisseur of old music and a virtuoso contrapuntist, perhaps the most history-obsessed composer of the whole history-obsessed century in which he lived. The technique he employed at the beginning of his arrangement of Schönfelder’s tune—that of prefiguring the tune’s first entry with preliminary imitations (Vorimitationen in German scholarly jargon) at the octave and the fifth—was one he picked up from the actual practice of sixteenth-century composers, especially Ludwig Sennfl.

Sennfl, whom we already know as the author of a magnificent tribute to Josquin des Prez, was the great master of the Tenorlied. He kept the German music presses rolling, publishing more than 250 such songs by the time of his death in 1543. In keeping with the side of him that we have already observed, Sennfl strove to bring this peculiarly German genre into the international mainstream of music as he knew it, which really meant reconciling it with the style and technique of Josquin, the “universal” paragon. He wrote Tenorlieder that subjected familiar tunes to bizarrely inventive manipulation, the way Flemish composers treated Mass tenors: by canon, by inversion, in quodlibets (“whatnots,” name-that-tune medleys or contrapuntal combinations), in contrasting modes, whatever. Even when not showing off, Sennfl fashioned his Tenorlieder with a “Netherlandish” finesse, and that ultimately meant integrating the texture.

Nowhere is this more the case than in Lust hab ich ghabt zuer Musica (Ex. 17-6), Sennfl’s clever autobiography in song. It is all about his apprenticeship at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor with Henricus (by then known as Heinrich) Isaac, second only to Josquin as international Flemish star; and the music actively demonstrates the fruits of Sennfl’s learning as described in the text. The text is a tour de force in its own right. The initials of its twelve stanzas are an acrostic of the composer’s name. (It is from this acrostic that we know he spelled his name “Sennfl,” rather than “Senfl,” as given in most sources of his work and in most modern reference books.) The tune, plainly a newly invented Hofweise, is cast in the retrospective ballad or “Bar” form of the Minnesingers, with its repeated opening phrase (all that our limited space allows Ex. 17-6 to display). But the opening of the song obviously apes the ars perfecta motet with an elaborate point of “Vorimitation,” in which the actual entrance of the tune sounds at first like just one voice out of four.

Germany: The Tenorlied

ex. 17-6 Ludwig Sennfl, Lust hab ich ghabt zuer Musica, mm. 1-15

The tune itself is a little odd, a little contrived. It literally turns the Palestrina ideal of recovered motion on its head, what with its funny downward skip of a fifth after a step, outlining a major sixth that must then be laboriously recovered by stepwise ascent. A systematic stepwise ascent of a sixth, of course, is the old Guidonian hexachord. And sure enough, Sennfl pitches his entries so that they alternately count off the notes of the “soft” hexachord on F and the natural one on C. And then, when the Stollen or opening phrase is repeated, we see the reason for the odd contrivance: the poem spells out the actual voces of the hexachord—ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la—each syllable assigned to the proper note. A “literary” device if ever there was one, it nevertheless could only have occurred (or appealed) to a practical musician. But it’s just a little joke, and Sennfl apparently did not mind that on all the subsequent stanzas of his song, the rising scale is detached from its textual referent and no longer has any illustrative role to play. The fast descending scales in the accompanying parts, some of which are in the same hexachord positions as the thematic ascending scales, also stop being illustrative after the first stanza, becoming instead one of many superb craftsmanly touches in the consummately worked-out texture.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 17 Commercial and Literary Music." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-017003.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 17 Commercial and Literary Music. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 5 Dec. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-017003.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 17 Commercial and Literary Music." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 5 Dec. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-017003.xml