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Le Concert des voix et des instruments a la Renaissance: Actes du XXXIVe Colloque International d'Etudes Humanistes. Tours, Centre d'Etudes Superieures de la Renaissance, 1-11 juillet 1991.

ed. Jean-Michel Vaccaro (Paris: CNRS Editions, 1995)

An 11-day conference was bound to produce a hefty report, and this one runs to 727 pages in a generous format. Seventeen of the 44 articles are in English, the rest in French, and the period covered is 1450-1650, with the main concentration in the 16th century. The keyword in the title, `Concert', is to be taken in its widest sense, of `sounding together'; the idea behind the conference was to bring together the-traditionally separate consideration of vocal and instrumental music, indeed to celebrate--their union. As Jean-Michel Vaccaro remarks in the opening paper, it is a curious fact that until the later 16th century composers wrote either for instruments or for voices, but very rarely for both (Willaert being a striking exception). In histories of Renaissance music, instrumental repertory receives scant notice, in part a reflection of the paucity of sources compared with those of vocal music (but also, I should imagine, the fewer modern editions available until recent years). Moreover, it is a commonplace that instrumental music, long viewed with suspicion or disdain by the Church Fathers and humanists, needed to emancipate itself from vocal music. Vaccaro maintains the contrary, that the different spheres in which vocal (learned, polyphonic, written) and instrumental (popular, monophonic, improvised) music operated coalesced in the 16th century. This was the theme proposed for the conference, and responded to in a number of different ways.

With so many contributions it is impossible to give mare than an overview of the main themes here. Howard Brown sets the stage by emphasizing that the seeming rarity of sources of instrumental music is purely illusory: instrumentalists mainly played `vocal' music, and it is incumbent upon instrumentalists today to be more adventuresome in arranging Mass movements, motets, chansons and madrigals for their instruments-and not to shy away from mixed ensembles, for which there is plenty of non-musical evidence. Some of this is furnished in the contributions by Richard Sherr, who discusses instrumental motets, and William Prizer, reviewing the instrumental repertory of Paris 676 in the context of two letters by Giovan Alvise Trombon of 1494 and 1505 on arrangements of motets for six to eight wind instruments.

The musical evidence of the practice of arranging vocal music is obvious from the titles of pieces in intabulations. This was a major theme of the conference, with papers by Isabelle His on Adriaenssen's Norum pratum musicum, Christian Meyer on Arnold Schlick's arrangements for voice and lute, Stefano Mengozzi on Alberto da Ripa's lute fantasies, Dinko-Fabris on `airs' for singing and dancing in Italian lute tablatures, Victor Coelho on Raffaello Cavalcanti's lute book of 1590, Annie Coeurdevey on articulation signs in intabulations of airs de cour, Fran,cois Dry on Spanish intabulations, Piotr Pozniak on Polish tablatures, and Laszlo Viragh on Bakfark's intabulations.

Other participants examine vocal music for instrumental elements: Frank D'Accone discusses a Sienese publication of 1515 (where musical training as an instrumentalist or a singer seems to make little difference to compositional style), and Jacques Barbier considers onomatopoetic elements in hunting and battle songs (including how to train your hounds by musical signals). Louise Litterick brings the evidence of prosodic structure to bear on the vocal/instrumental question by examining stress patterns at the level of word, phonological phrase and intonational phrase; Hayne's Allez regretz is confirmed as a vocal setting, but the methodology offers less clear-cut evidence in Josquin's De plus en plus (where the text added by the editors may not be the original one). Paolo Emilio Carapezza, likening chords to phonemes, investigates the change in timbre from prima prattica to seconda prattica music in terms of a `linguistic chain'. John Griffiths develops methodology for quantifying vocal and instrumental elements in solo instrumental music.

On the vexed question of songs without texts, John Kmetz presents evidence that texts were learnt by heart from collections of verse or printed song sheets, some consisting of translations to be sung `in der weiss' ('to the tune of . ..') with the name of a tune (parallel to the Italian `cantasi come'). Even dance melodies were considered usable tunes. Conversely, the music could be learnt by heart; this must have been the case when singing atrophic texts, where the extra verses are not underlaid to the music. Extrapolating from this argument, it appears likely that a source texted only in the cantus does not preclude vocal rendition of all the parts.

However, David Fallows posits that earlier untexted German pieces (before the emergence of the Tenorlied, based on a received tenor line) are probably instrumental; indeed, they have much in common with the French repertory. The earliest partbooks known, the Glogauer Liederbuch of c.1480, seem to have come about as the most practical notation for instrumentalists; elbows could get in the way of three or four instrumentalists gathered around a choirbook (but see the five Spanish ministriles clustered around a choirbook in the illustration on p.670!) It is suggestive that many of the instrumentalists at northern Italian courts were in Fact German.

Dance music is considered by Raymond Meylan (basse dance and Hoftanz), Georgie Durosoir (ballets de cour) and Robert Spencer (Dowland's dance-songs: first the music, then the text). Some papers concentrate on sources: Laurent Guillo on types of tablatures and Henri Vanhulst on a hitherto undescribed manuscript partbook in Bruges. Others deal with instrumental music in a theoretical context--Don Harran, Stefano Lorenzetti, Philippe Vendrix--and some with theoretical problems such as modal designations and transposition (Veronique Lafargue K,Ross Duffin). Anthony Rooley traces Ficinian ideas on the supremacy of poetry over music up to Dowland.

Few papers concern performance practice. One of the more interesting is Paolo Fabbri's on synodal legislation on music following the Council of Trent: several documents expressly prohibit instruments (except the organ) at Mass, especially at the Elevation. The authorities came down hard on the custom of instruments playing at the ceremony of a priest's first Mass (and dancing and gambling at Mass (!) or the festivities following it). However, such restrictions are found in only five of the 33 synods consulted, indicating (as do payment records) that instrumental participation in Masses was widespread in the second half of the 16th century; see also Rodrigo de Zayas's paper on Spanish ceremonies. In alternatim performance with the organ, `missing text' is to be supplied either by being spoken aloud, or by one person chanting it together with the organ-which presumes that the organist retains the chant, whatever else he is doing: here is a graphic example of a `concert' of voice and instrument.

The social context was not neglected. Iain Fenlon provides an overview of the status of music and musicians in the early Italian Renaissance, Robert Lindell fills in gaps in our knowledge of music at the imperial court after Charles V, Jeanice Brooks explains why the Comtesse de Retz was so favoured with musical dedications, Franco Pavan publishes new documents on Francesco da Milano showing how a gifted son could support his relatives, Marie-Madeleine Fontaine investigates the musical interests of the poets Jodelle and Aneau, Jean-Pierre Ouvrard the poems collected in Claude -Pontoux's Gelodacrye amoureuse (1579), Daniele Becker musical echoes in Spanish literature, and Frank Dobbins discusses amateurs and professional musicians and what they played. Iconographical evidence for performance practice is presented by H. Colin Slim (a villanella by Lasso in an anonymous painting), and Nicoletta Guidobaldi considers the concert as a pictorial theme.

And what are the lessons for modern-day performers? I can do no better than to quote from Howard Brown's opening remarks. He calls for a radical rethinking of the repertory:

Instrumentalists should realize that the repertory they play is vaster than they have realized, and slightly more difficult of access. Viol and recorder players, lutenists and harpsichordists should understand that they should begin to teach us how to listen to sixteenth-century motets, madrigals and chansons arranged for instrumental ensemble or solo instruments, end they should explore more aggressively than they have the kinds of concerti involving mixed ensembles of voices and instruments ... Up to now, too many modern instrumentalists interested in sixteenth-century music have artificially restricted their repertories to those [pieces of] abstract instrumental music and dances that appear to have formed only a relatively small portion of the music actually cultivated by instrumentalists during the Renaissance.

In the opening remarks of his paper David Fallows recalls the long-running `painful dispute over the place of instruments in fourteenth--and fifteenth-century song', and--the subsequent loss of interest (and employment) in instrumental performances. The impact of Gothic Voices' Machaut record was profound, and it showed us how effective an all-vocal performance could be--so effective that it sounded absolutely right. Latterly Gothic Voices have begun to sound more and more like instruments, by sometimes vocalizing lower parts. Times are changing; their newest disk startles the unwary listener by opening with a purely instrumental performance--a three-lute rendition of a chanson by Binchois.
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Author:Blackburn, Bonnie J.
Publication:Early Music
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1996
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