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Musica Scientia: Musical Scholarship in the Italian Renaissance.

Musical scholarship in the Renaissance is a large and complex topic that has resisted any easy survey. The endless debates about tuning systems, the problem of the mathematical basis of music, the question of Greek modes and their relation to ecclesiastical modes, the attempt to revive the fabled effects of Greek music in modern practice, the relation of music to poetics, the conflict between theory and practice, especially with regard to the categorization of consonances: all these subjects and more exercised generations of writers, often to an exceedingly acrimonious degree. That the heat of these debates has tended to cover them in smoke has made clarification of the issues difficult indeed.

The two scholars who have contributed most to our understanding of this field are D. P. Walker, in a series of pellucid essays, and Claude V. Palisca, most recently in his magisterial Humanism in Italian Renaissance Musical Thought. Both approached the subject by topic. Ann Moyer proceeds chronologically, from 1480 to 1600, examining each author for historical awareness, use or rejection of received knowledge, innovation, and quality of argumentation, a method that makes it difficult to follow the thread of any one controversy. Moreover, many technicalities have been skirted, perhaps in an effort not to frighten off intellectual historians. Since the author herself is not entirely at home with these technicalities, what may seem plausible on the surface cannot always be trusted. Serious misunderstandings mar the discussion of Ramos's tuning system (not "the centerpiece of his treatise") and his criticism of Guido's hexachord theory (she misapprehends the concept of "mutation"), Aaron's "quattro modi da gli antichi" (which have as little to do with Boethius's modi as with Aretino's: Aaron is discussing mensural modes, and the "antichi" are fifteenth-century authors), and Vicentino's revival of the Greek genera in modern music (tetrachords were not viewed as "simple, four-note modules that could be easily interchanged and replaced by modules from another genus when a given altered note was needed," thus "offering a solution to the technical problems of accidentals in music composition").

It comes as some surprise to read that Tinctoris, called an Aristotelian because he rejected the music of the spheres, "never developed his general ideas about music in any detailed or systematic way and did not train a succeeding generation of scholars" and that Gaffurius "did not himself develop a fully coherent or consistent system of thought about music." Such statements can be traced to Moyer's emphasis on musica speculativa, at the expense of the writers' contributions to practical music (which certainly are "detailed," "systematic," and "consistent"); authors whose treatises tend more to the practical are often labeled "minor." The intersection of musica theorica and musica practica in the Renaissance produced results of far more interest than the obligatory bow to antiquity in the ubiquitous laus musicae.

Moyer is more successful in tracing the broader issues that occupy the later sixteenth century when mathematical preconceptions were questioned in light of physical experience, leading to new discoveries in acoustics, and fresh approaches to poetics and rhetoric were extended to music. New to many music historians will be her discussion of Raffaele Brandohni (whose De musica et poetica unfortunately remains unedited, apart from some excerpts in A. de La Fage's Essais de diphtherographie musicale of 1864, not mentioned), remarks about music in the introductions to editions of Euclid, and commentaries on Vitruvius's chapter on music, principally in the translations of Daniele Barbaro (1556) and of Cesare Cesariano (1521, incorrectly credited to Agostino Gallo and Alvisio da Pirovano), who frequently refers to Gaffurius, using some of his diagrams.
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Author:Blackburn, Bonnie J.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Words:595
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