Chanter sur le livre a la Renaissance: Les traites de contrepoint de Vicente Lusitano.
The practice of improvised polyphony during the Renaissance has long seemed out of reach to musicologists and performers. Vicente Lusitano, a Portuguese musician born around 1520, is most often recognized as a participant in a celebrated debate with Nicola Vicentino in 1551. Less widely known is that Lusitano is also the author of not one, but two of the most detailed music theory treatises on the practice of improvised polyphony. This volume aims to promote awareness of Lusitano's treatises by making them more widely available and by presenting extensive research on his life and works.
The book opens with an essay by Philippe Canguilhem that situates Lusitano's writings within the context of major developments in Renaissance contrapuntal theory. Particular attention is paid to Lusitanos indebtedness to earlier Iberian writings, most notably Matheo de Aranda's Tractado de canto mensurable y contrapunto (Lisbon, 1535). Canguilhem's thorough introduction to Lusitano's writings explains the important concepts of contrapunto suelto, contrapunto concertado, and abilidades. A fascinating discussion of the relationship between counterpoint and composition (pp. 21-23) introduces notions of orality and literacy to the scholarship on the historical meaning of these terms. For Canguilhem, the significance of Lusitano's writings is that they show how central improvised counterpoint was to everyday musical life during the Renaissance. The chapter includes a comprehensive bibliography of primary sources concerning the practice of chanter sur le livre up to the year 1800.
An essay by Giordano Mastrocola marks a new height in biographical research on Lusitano. The wide-ranging chapter examines key elements of Lusitano's personal identity: Portuguese nationality, racial and ethnic difference (his father was probably an African slave), cosmopolitanism in Rome, and, toward the end of his life, heterodoxy across Europe. Mastrocola rightly laments the knee-jerk scholarly association of Lusitano with Vicentino. In addition to an extended discussion of their debate (pp. 58-78)--the clearest yet in the secondary literature--the chapter presents intriguing findings that will enable future scholarship to transcend the limiting view of Lusitano merely as Vicentino's nemesis. Among these promising areas of research are his social and geographical mobility, conversion to Protestantism, and later transalpine career (possibly under a different name). Mastrocola's contextualization of Lusitano within overlapping aristocratic networks in Portugal, Italy, and Germany is very useful in this regard.
The remainder of the volume consists of critical editions and French translations of excerpts from two treatises by Lusitano. The first, Del arte de contrapunto (ca. 1550), is from a larger manuscript treatise preserved in the Bibliotheque nationale de France, shelf mark Espagnol 219. Although the Spanish-language manuscript is anonymous, the editors follow Robert M. Stevenson in attributing its authorship to Lusitano, and take a further step in asserting its status as an autograph (pp. 119-20). A short linguistic analysis by Marie-Francoise Deodat-Kessedjian establishes the influence of Portuguese and Latin on the Spanish orthography in the manuscript; this contributes additional security to the manuscript's attribution to Lusitano. Clearly, the manuscript was a work in progress. The editors preserve the flavor of its development by indicating additions, cancellations, and marginalia where they occur.
Lusitano's Del arte de contrapunto is a systematic discussion of ways to improvise counterpoint against a given voice. The first chapter proceeds logically in the manner of species counterpoint, considering in turn one, two, four, and three notes against one note of a cantus firmus. Lusitano then considers the treatment of dissonance and rhythmically-varied counterpoint. He consistently gives rules for improvising both above and below the given voice; many contemporary sources omit the more difficult latter technique. Another unusual aspect is that he provides written instruction in an oral practice. Although this was common in music theory books, Lusitano is notably frank in admitting the limitations of this practice (p. 271). Yet he clearly intends the examples of counterpoint to be read as representations of what might happen in live improvisations, not as models for the would-be composer of notated music (pp. 263 and 292).
Lusitano's second chapter considers how two or more musicians might improvise together against a cantus firmus. His ingenious solutions for this impressive, but apparently not uncommon, feat require that the voices adopt agreed-upon roles. One three-voice method, for example, specifies that the bottom part adopt the cantus firmus, with the top part embellishing a series of parallel tenths above it, and the middle part improvising within a limited set of options. The third chapter turns to the improvisation of canons. The additional constraint of improvising against a cantus firmus distinguishes his discussion of canons from that of others--for example, Thomas de Sancta Maria's Libro llamado Arte de taner fantasia (Valladolid: F. Fernandez de Cordoua, 1565).
The fourth chapter demonstrates how to improvise against preexisting mensural music (as opposed to a cantus firmus). Here the music of Nicolas Gombert serves as the basis for Lusitano's examples, which are virtuosic demonstrations of what skilled musicians could accomplish through practice. Students are encouraged to persevere in pursuit of these skills, "because, once mastered, everything else becomes easy" (p. 245, my translation). Lusitano's fifth and final chapter on composition is by far the most modest of the treatise. Here he restricts himself to more traditional topics, such as the disposition of voices in a polyphonic texture and how to begin and end a piece. One suspects that Lusitano's advice for the middle of a composition would rely heavily on the lessons from the previous chapters on counterpoint.
The second treatise presented here is Lusitano's Introdutione facilissima. The short book, first printed in Rome by Antonio Blado in 1553, is an abridgment of the section on counterpoint in the manuscript treatise. Two editions were later issued in Venice by Francesco Marcolini in 1558 and by Francesco Rampazetto in 1561. Mastrocola notes that these later editions likely served Lusitano's pupils at the university in Padua and as a work sample for prospective patrons north of the Alps (pp. 94--95). The editors give only the second part of the book; introductory chapters on the elements of music are omitted, despite receiving comment in the essays by Canguilhem and Mastrocola. The critical edition follows the first edition; changes introduced in later editions are supplied in brackets. This allows the reader to trace the evolution of Lusitano's printed text.
The most original aspect of the Introdutione is Lusitano's systematic method for improvising canons. For every possible melodic interval in the cantus firmus (i.e., up or down a second, third, fourth, or fifth), he supplies a list of rudimentary melodic formulas that will work in canon against itself and against the cantus firmus. These lists occupy twelves pages of dry prose in the first edition; a welcome appendix (pp. 373-94) illustrates them in musical notation. Musicians could improvise sophisticated polyphony by parsing the cantus firmus into sequences of intervals, then deploying stock phrases for those sequences. Lusitano's method underscores the importance of rote learning and memorization, remnants of the oral culture in which this practice originated.
As a whole, the volume's main attraction is the critical edition of the treatises. Both sources are available in various reproductions, but inconsistent orthography and punctuation and vague language make them difficult to understand. The editors clarify muddled syntax with modern punctuation and spelling in the editions. The excellent French translations provide straightforward readings of the original texts. The side-by-side editions and translations enable the editors to emphasize clarity of thought while preserving the author's distinctive literary style. Numerous appendices help clarify obscure concepts and resolve notational shortcuts. All of these editorial interventions make Lusitano's treatises easily intelligible and comprehensible.
Lusitano's music examples are essential demonstrations of his theoretical precepts. The examples are given in score using original clefs and note values, striking a satisfactory editorial balance. This allows readers to follow Lusitano's train of thought in a format close to its original manner of presentation. The examples are produced with care and, given their abundance, have remarkably few errors. Minor errors that have crept in may be corrected easily in context. In example 61 (p. 245), for instance, a signum indicating a canonic entry is placed below the second semibreve. The caption ("Fuga ad tonum sub con pausa de breve sobre el canto llano") indicates, however, that the signum should be placed one semi-breve later, at the start of the second breve. I mention this mistake only because this particular example is so special--Canguilhem notes the rarity of canons at the interval of a second below (pp. 17-18). An appendix supplies resolutions for all the canonic examples; example 61 is resolved correctly here (p. 330). The book's companion Web site gives the examples in score with modern clefs; selected examples have high-quality recordings on period instruments (http://ricercar.cesr.univ-tours .fr/contrepoint/lusitano/index.php, accessed 9January 2015).
The essays, editions, and translations each provide further evidence to support current research on Renaissance counterpoint and performance practice. (Two very recent examples include Julie E. Gumming, "Renaissance Improvisation and Musicology," Music Theory Online 19, no. 2 [June 2013]; and John Milsom, "Hard Composing; Hard Performing; Hard Listening," Early Music 41, no. 1 [February 2013]: 108-12.) Altogether, the volume reflects immense progress in these areas of study and Lusitano's place within them, all the while opening up exciting avenues for further research.
SAMUEL J. BRANNON
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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|Author:||Brannon, Samuel J.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2015|
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