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Praecepta musicae poeticae.

Gallus Dressler. Praecepta musicae poeticae.

Eds. Olivier Trachier and Simonne Chevalier. Collection Epitome musical. Paris and Tours: Minerve-Centre d'Etudes Superieures de la Renaissance, 2002. 242 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. [euro] 43. ISBN: 2-86931-098-6.

Gallus Dressler is one of a number of sixteenth-century German composers who have, for the most part, not achieved widespread fame. This region, however, was a fruitful area for music theorists. While the more famous Renaissance treatises have been available in modern editions and translations for some time, this edition of Praecepta musicae poeticae is an example of the attention now dedicated to less well-known, yet quite important, writers on music.

Born in 1533, Dressler received his initial training in his native Nebra (Thuringia) and studied (briefly) at the academy in Jena before being hired as cantor of the Magdeburg Lateinschule (where he succeeded another noted writer on music, Martin Agricola). Dressler went on to earn a masters degree from Wittenberg University and was eventually appointed deacon at Zerbst. Even without the attention garnered by his theoretical works, Dressler might still be known today for his compositions, which can be found sprinkled throughout Lutheran sources; he is especially known for his interest in setting texts effectively, and this is a link between his activities as composer and theorist.

Dressler is an important figure in the study of musica poetica, a subject intended to be considered equal in importance to musica theoretica and musica practica. Dressler wrote Praecepta musicae poeticae in 1563-64, but it was not printed until it appeared, edited by Bernhard Engelke, in Geschichtsblatter fur Stadt und Land Magdeburg 49, no. 1 (1914-15). This 2002 edition of Praecepta musicae poeticae is a fine scholarly effort intended (as explained on the back cover) to "rend hommage a son engagement et a l'extreme qualite de son travail."

This publication opens with a much-needed updated biographical overview, which provides good information on available sources and the limits of their information and accuracy. Its chronological structure provides a context for Dressler's theoretical output, coming in the midst of an active composing and teaching career. The editors also address some theories posed by earlier scholars, such as the Dressler's possible study with Jacob Clement (a.k.a. Clemens non Papa), an idea first posed by Wilhelm Martin Luther in 1941. This link to Clement is based particularly on the fact that Dressler used numerous excerpts from the Flemish composer's works as examples. This theory is refuted by the editors, who point out that Hermann Finck used similar Clement examples in his Practica musica of 1556. Certainly, Clement's motets appear quite frequently in contemporary German printed anthologies.

The chapter entitled "Questions generales" presents both the strength and the weakness of the editorial commentary. Organized into several sections, this chapter establishes a context for Praecepta musicae poeticae, including a discussion of the influence of previous theorists. One section discusses sources used by Dressler as models, from Franchino Gaffurio to Heinrich Faber. While this chapter of the critical commentary provides a substantial context, I think the editors could have gone a bit farther in discussing the general musical scene in Germany during Dressler's era, which was an arena of considerable activity. In addition, there is not much discussion of the possible impact of Melanchthon or other German humanists, beyond calling for new research. These ties have been substantial topics of discussion in earlier studies of Dressler. The decision to include commentary from Bernard Engelke's 1914-15 edition was a pleasant surprise. Translated into French, the extensive foot-noting provides updated information.

The edition of the treatise itself was accomplished with care. The original Latin text is presented on the left-hand pages, in an ur-text edition. Musical examples are presented in an approximation of the same format found in the manuscript (choirbook format, etc.). The right-hand pages present the translation into French, as well as score presentation of the musical examples, a distinct aid to analysis. Errata are clearly identified in the notes. Just one weakness is noted here: only two pages of the manuscript are presented in facsimile, and they are provided to contrast scribal techniques. While the ur-text presentation of the text is certainly easier to read, this publication would have been improved with the inclusion of additional facsimile pages from the primary source.

Additional sections follow the body of the treatise. A number of excerpts of works by composers, including Clement, Dressler, Crecquilon, and Luther, can be found in the "Annexes musicales" section. Each is identified by its placement in Praecepta musicae poeticae, with commentary on the nature of its use as an example. A lexicon provides definitions to important terms, with references to points in which they are used in Praecepta musicae poeticae or in other sources. A bibliography is provided, as is a convenient index of proper names.

This edition should be considered a valuable addition to our growing list of Renaissance theoretical works being made more readily available to scholars. It will be a helpful source for experts, certainly, and those who have an interest in Dressler can gain much, not only from this treatise, but also from its solid accompanying commentary.


Kenyon College
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Heuchemer, Dane
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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