The Medieval Review 10.02.13

Nádas, John L. and Michael Scott Cuthbert. Ars nova: French and Italian Music in the Fourteenth Century. Music in Medieval Europe. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009. Pp. xxiv, 569. $275 978-0-7546-2708-1. .

Reviewed by:

Gary Towne
University of North Dakota

Opening this collection of essays is like arriving at a party and finding old friends, intriguing new acquaintances, and a few exciting celebrities you have always wanted to meet. I say this as a brief apologia. In my own scholarship and teaching, I have encountered and used some of the articles myself and assigned some to students, but, having a field somewhat removed from the focus of this book, and teaching in a program with a general focus, some of these articles have not come to my attention before, although I have heard discussion of their contents. This publication's collection of these writings in one place is of immeasurable value to me in revealing the roots of the last four decades' revolution in thinking about fourteenth-century music.

Thomas Kelly, Series Editor, in his Preface (xi-xii), states the goal of providing "an overview of the best current scholarship in the study of medieval music. Each volume is edited by a ranking expert or experts, and each presents a selection of writings, mostly in English which, taken together, sketch a picture of the shape of the field and of the nature of current inquiry." He continues, with historiographical musings, to explore the misnomer of "medieval" with respect to music history, the distortion of historical parallax, in which "the twentieth century looms enormous while the distant Middle Ages appear comparatively insignificant" and the rationale for choosing the series' chronological organization. Within this overall series scheme, individual volumes, like that one discussed here, are organized topically. Each volume contains essays (largely in English) photographically reproduced from an international range of journals, proceedings, Festschriften, and other essay collections. Those in this volume arise from a span of nearly forty years, concentrating toward the end of that period.

The earliest of the collection's twenty-seven essays is Nino Pirrotta (1966), "On Text Forms from Ciconia to Dufay" (265-274), and the latest is Michael Cuthbert (2004), "Zacara's D'amor languire and Strategies for Borrowing in the Early Fifteenth-Century Italian Mass (419-439)." Five essays come from the 1970s, eight from the 1980s, 10 from the 1990s, and the remaining two in 2001 and 2003. The rational for selection clearly follows the preface's description. Some works (like Pirrotta's) first brought essential materials from other disciplines to our musicological study; most other articles have caused a critical re-thinking of areas. This explains the crescendo of materials in the last three decades of the millennium and their extension into recent years, a period when such studies have been particularly abundant and fruitful. And, although these essays represent points of light in fourteenth-century studies, the editors have wisely, graciously, and usefully included an annotated bibliography of some 70+ additional writings "For Further Study" (xx-xxiv).

The [editors'] Introduction begins with a general discussion of the book and its contents, arranged by particular themes. The themes include Periodization and Boundaries, Sources, Composers and Theorists, Literary Studies and Secular Song, Sacred Music and Motets, and Performance Practice. The beginning explains this book's particular importance to scholarship. "More so than for any other period in Western music of the past millennium, our collected knowledge of fourteenth-century music is contained in, and advanced through, scholarly essays...perhaps there is something more intrinsic to this material that resists neat summation by a single authorial voice. Contradictions and gaps in understanding abound in the ars nova...." (xiii) The collection addresses these lacunae and the great scholarly leaps of recent years in articles arranged in nine categories keyed to those of the introductory material. I list them below (some with abbreviated titles, so that readers of this review may also identify "old friends and intriguing new acquaintances" for themselves. Part I, Periodization and Boundaries, contains "Novelty and Renewal in Italy: 1300-1600," and "Ars Nova and Stil Novo, " by Pirrotta, with "Magister Egardus and Other Italo-Flemish Contacts," by Reinhard Strohm, and Ursula Günther's, "Problems of Dating in Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior." Part II, Sources, contains Strohm's "The Ars Nova Fragments of Ghent." Part III, Music Theory, presents "A Phantom Treatise of the 14th Century? The Ars Nova," by Sarah Fuller. Part IV, Composers, includes "Francesco Landini and the Florentine Cultural Elite," by Michael P. Long, "Gratiosus, Ciconia, and Other Musicians at Padua Cathedral," by Anne Hallmark, "Further Notes on Magister Antonius dictus Zacharias de Teramo," by John Nádas, and Andrew Wathey's "Musicology, Archives, and Historiography."

Part V, Literary Studies, begins with the only non-English article in the book, Pierluigi Petrobelli's "'Un leggiadretto velo' ed altre cose petrarchesche" followed by "Lyrics for Reading and Lyrics for Singing in Late Medieval France," by Lawrence Earp, "On Text Forms from Ciconia to Dufay," by Pirrotta, noted above, the book's earliest, and David Fallows' "Leonardo Giustinian and Quattrocento Polyphonic Song." Part VI, Secular Song, includes a fourth Pirrotta article, "New Glimpses of an Unwritten Tradition, "Improvisation in the Madrigals of the Rossi Codex," by Brooks Toliver, "Landini's Musical Patrimony," by Michael Long, "Machaut's Balades with 4 Voices, by Elizabeth Eva Leach, and Yolanda Plumley's "Playing the Citation Game in the Late 14th-Century Chanson." Part VII, Sacred Music, contains Kurt von Fischer, "The Sacred Polyphony of the Italian Trecento, and Michael Cuthbert's "Zacara's D'amor Languire and Strategies for Borrowing in the Early 15th-Century Italian Mass." Part VIII, Motets, includes "The Emergence of ars nova," by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, "Myth and Mythography in the Motets of Philippe de Vitry," by Andrew Wathey, "Imitation in the Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior," by Virginia Newes, and Margaret Bent's "Deception, Exegesis and Sounding Number in Machaut's Motet 15."

The concluding Part IX, Performance Practice, presents "Machaut's 'Pupil' Deschamps on the Performance of Music: Voices or Instruments in the 14th-Century Chanson," by Christopher Page, and Lawrence Earp's "Texting in 15th-Century French Chansons: A Look Ahead from the 14th Century." Performance practice makes a logical conclusion, since it deals with the ultimate musical realization arising from the preceding research, and certainly these articles have already had a significant effect of both edition and performance of fourteenth-century music. But these two essays are by no means the only gems in the collection. In the beginning, the editors' Introduction (xiii-xxiv) is a very perceptive epitome of the contents to follow. Beyond its topical arrangement, it summarizes each essay and places it in a global context. The introduction also indicates certain themes that crystallize around essays and groups of them, even outside the topical boundaries. Reinhard Strohm's two essays describe increased musical communication and musicians' travel throughout Europe, and greater geographical spread of polyphony, including more urban centers.

Sara Fuller's essay on Vitry's Ars nova, disproves earlier assumptions of this work as a primal treatise, yet without lessening its importance as a tradition of musical education. Likewise, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson provides convincing new analyses for ascription of works to Vitry, and Andrew Wathey explores the often obscure mythography of Vitry's texts. Lawrence Earp and Elizabeth Leach discuss literary and musical aspects of Machaut's secular music, while John Nádas and Michael Cuthbert shed new light on Magister Antonius Dictus Zacharias de Teramo.

Nino Pirrotta's primacy in the number of articles included reflects the importance of his theme: the relation of written and unwritten traditions in Italian music and the literary underpinnings of both. Pierluigi Petrobelli, David Fallows, and Brooks Toliver follow in this path. Michael Long and Virginia Newes elucidate cadences, imitation and other issues of musical structure, while Yolanda Plumley explores literary devices in late songs by several composers. Long also clarifies Landini's place among the intelligentsia of Florence. Kurt von Fischer and Anne Hallmark describe the growth of the known Trecento sacred repertoire, and the context for its performance, notably in Padua. Finally, Ursula Günther and Andrew Wathey make important contributions to dating, nomenclature, and historiography of the late fourteenth century. In all, this book is a glittering casket of scholarly jewels.

That does not mean that the book is flawless--none is. Daniel Leech-Wilkinson is called David on p. 22, although he is cited correctly elsewhere. And, although these editors cannot be held responsible, spelling and hyphenation errors are noticeable in one of the non-English language source journals. The difference in page formats, coupled with the change in typefaces and sizes as one proceeds from one article to the next is also a bit unsettling at times. On the whole, though, given the borrowed nature of the contents, the book is very well produced: the printing is clear, the paper is of a good weight, the binding is strong, and, if I have not said enough already, the contents are valuable documents of the medieval musicology of recent decades. The price does give me pause, though perhaps I am too nostalgic for book prices of some years ago. Still, $275.00 makes me wonder about the audience and market for this book, and particularly for the seven-volume set.

These essays are of use primarily to scholars and doctoral students, but libraries serving those populations are likely to have most of the original publications, or easy access to them through interlibrary loan. On the other hand, the high price tag puts the set (at least) out of reach of many modest, general music libraries like that where I teach. This is unfortunate, because, these articles in general, like most great scholarly work, have good writing, with clear premises that are well developed, even where the reasoning is complex. As such, I have and will eagerly assign them to undergraduates and master's students for the experience of reading real scholarly prose and experiencing musicological discoveries; the set could be very useful at such institutions if its price were a bit more modest. But, in any case, as a merit-based selection of articles, the fact of their inclusion is just as important as the contents themselves. And, as stated, the contents are gems. Ars Nova: French and Italian Music in the Fourteenth Century is a valuable collection that collects and sums up critical decades of scholarly development in fourteenth century music, and I evaluate it very highly.