Papal Patronage and the Music of St. Peter's, 1380-1513.
The famous aerial view of the dome of St. Peter's provides an immediate and powerful evocation of the majesty of the Roman Catholic Church and of the city where it is headquartered. It was not always so. For much of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance the popes lived outside of Rome; and when resident in Rome they often preferred the basilicas of S. Giovanni Laterano and S. Maria Maggiore as venues for papal ceremonies. The situation changed forever with the coronation of Nicholas V (r. 1447-1455). A central theme of Christopher Reynold's engrossing treatment of music at St. Peter's is the crucial part played by this pontiff in the development of the basilica as the chief architectural symbol of the Western Church, and of its music and liturgy as a central statement of papal authority. Subsequent popes, especially Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484) and his nephew, Julius II (r. 1503-1513), introduced additional changes that were deeply influenced by those of their predecessor.
The most significant and enduring of Nicholas's reforms of music at St. Peter's was the employment of musicians adept in polyphony and trained in the choir schools of northern France and the Low Countries. Such musicians had been employed for decades in the pope's private cappella, but to Nicholas belongs the credit for establishing a parallel policy at the basilica, using enhanced salaries and patronage to attract qualified northern singers to St. Peter's. Indeed, so successful was this policy, that it proved a training ground for singers who later moved on to the more prestigious (and more highly salaried) papal chapel and to other court chapels. Reynolds traces, through the meticulous use of archival documents, the emergence, dominance, and eventual decline of the northern musician at St. Peter's - a story embedded in the larger issue of papal politics during the embattled later fifteenth century.
One cultural artefact at St. Peter's particularly distinguishes that music establishment: the manuscript SPB80, a collection of polyphonic masses and motets intended for performance at the basilica, copied circa 1475. Reynolds quite reasonably devotes a considerable amount of his book to a study of various aspects and implications of this important music source. In part 1, the author uses SPB80 as primary source documentation for musical practice at the basilica (ch.4). Using archival references, intensive physical study of the manuscript, and the details of Roman (and papal) liturgical practice, Reynolds makes a most convincing case both for the provenance of this manuscript (previously thought to have originated in the north) and for its contents as a repertoire continuously performed at St. Peter's from the 1450s.
In part 2, several anonymous masses in SPB80 are subjected to scrutiny for musical elements that might lead to attribution to a specific composer, or (even more interesting, in my view) to association with known composers of works represented in this manuscript or elsewhere. While not all the associations signaled by Reynolds are equally convincing, I think he makes a particularly strong case for Faugues as the possible composer of the Missa Pour l'amour and as the musician and scribe employed at St. Peter's, Guillaume des Mares. The interrelationships between works by the papal singer Puyllois and compositions in SPB80 are also intriguing.
Part 3, perhaps the most innovative and provocative, attempts to situate the musicians of St. Peter's and the works in SPB80 in the humanist environment of Rome and the papal court. Reynolds makes a persuasive case for viewing composers' use of allusion to other secular works in the counterpoint of their masses as an example of rhetorical practice, in line with what humanistic authors were doing with classical and contemporary literary texts. Reynold's book, in sum, is an exemplary treatment of an important topic: thoroughly researched, incisively and engagingly written, and full of original insights.
PAMELA F. STARR University of Nebraska
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|Author:||Starr, Pamela F.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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