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The Instrumental Consort Repertory of the Later Fifteenth Century.

Jon Banks. The Instrumental Consort Repertory of the Later Fifteenth Century.

Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006. viii + 186 pp. index. append. tbls. bibl. $89.95. ISBN: 0-7546-5340-4.

Jon Banks's study, The Instrumental Consort Repertory of the Late Fifteenth Century, fills a significant gap in discussions of Renaissance music. He outlines the true nature of late fifteenth-century instrumental ensemble music, where it is found, and what its characteristics are. Banks warns us that we cannot simply take for granted that music without words must be instrumental, and he argues that the instrumental repertory has to be contextualized on the basis of its sources.

His first task is to define the instrumental consort repertory and its context of sources. He identifies the core group of manuscripts, principally Italian chansonniers whose contents are largely untexted. Basing his observations on work previously done by Warrick Edwards, Louise Litterick, and David Fallows, and by examining the musical characteristics of the songs themselves, he is able to separate truly instrumental music from songs that simply have no words attached to them. He begins with a group of works identified by Warrick Edwards as res facta pieces. These are cantus firmus settings in which a tenor or superius line of a polyphonic chanson is lifted, literally intact, and surrounded by new lines in an obviously rhythmically and melodically nonvocal style, the most famous examples of which include the numerous arrangements of Hayne van Ghizeghem's De tous biens plaine. To this Banks adds works with at least one voice encompassing a range of not less than two octaves and a third, which he concludes must be for lute consort.

Banks further argues that despite the appearance of a lute repertory written and printed in tablature, the lute consort repertory in textless chansonniers, written in mensural notation, was the product of the intersection between the vocal repertory of the chapel and the humanistic repertory of the improvisatori. In fact, many of the composers of these pieces were well-known singers, like Alexander Agricola and Johnnes Martini, and many composers of the time were known to have played the lute. Banks adds to this repertory a group of pieces he calls "consort ricercare," a category that includes pieces which have always been assumed to be instrumental, like Josquin's La Bernadina. Banks forms his categories from the musical characteristics, but he always ties this music back to how the pieces group themselves within particular manuscripts and prints, and how the sources themselves fall into particular categories. That is, the music and the sources form a web of intertwined contexts.

Despite his well-grounded scholarship and inexorable logic, Banks chooses to couch his conclusions in a language that undercuts our certainty of his correctness. He uses such words as suggests, seems, and should. One wonders if his argument is a tightly constructed framework or merely a house of cards. Further, it is when Banks discusses the sources themselves that other questions begin to arise.

He tells us that just because individual works, manuscripts, or prints are without text, it does not necessarily mean that they are instrumental. However, in trying to explain how singers would use these sources he fails to mention the most logical explanation, a separate book with just the texts. Curiously, this is a scenario for which we have evidence, though somewhat later. One other troubling thing about the sources is Banks's assumption that the chansonniers were used for performance, or at least rehearsal. This is the traditional assumption of scholars from generations past. Nonetheless, it is hard to explain how three lutenists could play from a manuscript measuring 17 x 24 cm. without visualizing one player sitting in front of the verso page, one standing and the third sitting in front of the recto page, playing left-handed. Of the manuscripts in Banks's Table 4.1 (Textless Chanson Sources) eight are of the dimensions just cited (as are the Petrucci prints), three are smaller, and two are closer to 30 x 20 cm., as is a third not listed in this table. The larger, folio, manuscripts have sometimes been associated with wind band repertory.

Despite one's misgivings about these secondary issues, Jon Banks's study of the Renaissance instrumental repertory is a solid piece of research and clearly accomplishes what it set out to do: identify and define the repertory written for instruments, rather than voices, in the late fifteenth century, and to distinguish the kinds of instruments for which they were composed.

MITCHELL P. BRAUNER

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
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Author:Brauner, Mitchell P.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
Words:748
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