14.10.25, McGee and Carter, eds., Instruments, Ensembles, and Repertory, 1300-1600

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Eleonora M. Beck

The Medieval Review 14.10.25

McGee, Timothy J., and Stewart Carter. Instruments, Ensembles, and Repertory, 1300-1600: Essays in Honour of Keith Polk. Brepols Collected Essays in European Culture, 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. xx, 342. ISBN: 9782503541617 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Eleonora M. Beck
Lewis & Clark College

More than any other musicological subdiscipline, the study of medieval and Renaissance instruments relies on pictures--drawings, prints, oils, engravings--and accounts of music making. Used judiciously and skillfully, these representations fundamentally inform scholars about tuning, shape, size and uses of early instruments because so few have survived the ravages of time. Twelve distinguished colleagues, who would be inducted into the Med/Ren musicology Hall of Fame (if there were such a thing), contributed to this collection that gathers visual and written evidence about music. Excellent black and white reproductions accompany these essays, most appropriate for specialists in the field. A biography and a list of Polk's publications open the volume followed by an introductory essay explaining that "what unites all twelve of them is that they all involve musical performance during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance" (2).

The essays are organized under the headings of instruments, ensembles and repertory. Stewart Carter's "A Tale of Bells and Bows: Stalking the U-Slide Trumpet" reproduces a myriad of pictorial examples of what he calls, "a transitional brass instrument with a short U-slide" of which only two cup-mouthpiece instruments made between 1300 and 1550 are extant, neither of which has a slide. Complicating matters for Carter is the fact that some of his evidence might have been tampered with. For instance, a slide brass instrument player from Filippino Lippi's Assumption of the Virgin is believed to have been repainted (16-17). Still, the sheer number of images Carter provides certainly supports his argument of the U-slide trumpet's existence. Timothy J. McGee's essay about the medieval fiddle is of particular interest because the fiddle is ubiquitous in medieval art and literature--making, as Carter admits, the "study of the instrument extremely complicated" (32). Fiddles had four or five strings, a fixed string, a flat or rounded bridge, and were tuned in different ways. Fortunately, McGee focuses his essay on the development of the five-string fiddle, tracing it from the medieval instrument to the lira da braccio. His comprehensive piece brings together Renaissance descriptions of fiddle playing and he notes that it is "only a single step in a fuller study of the history of medieval bowed string instruments" (54).

H. Colin Slim examines, for the first time, a group of fourteen paintings, "termed Vanities...usually attributed to the same artist" that feature the lute. From his opening paragraphs, it is difficult to follow which painter and which pictures he will explore. Slim works from photographs, which presents an even greater chance for tampering than original paintings. His article traces the reproduction history of these photographs and he newly transcribes the music of lute tablature from three of them. Andrew Kirkman's essay, "Organs and Instrumental Performance at the Collegiate Church of Saint-Omer, Northern France, in the Later Middle Ages," mines fabric accounts and chapter acts from the above-mentioned church and provides a survey of organ works from the late fourteenth to the sixteenth century. He notes that his contribution is a brief speculation of "the nature of the musical practice in which they partook" (102). He writes about the canon Jacques de Houchin, whose library included seventeen volumes of music books. Houchin also owned instruments leading Kirkman to postulate that "Houchin must also have been a performer" (107).

Four articles follow under the heading of ensembles: Kristine K. Forney examines Antwerp church archives to investigate "instrumental music as an expression of religious devotion as well as a symbol of social prestige" (113). In this beautifully written article, I was gratified to find that two of her reproductions contain sliding brass instruments in sacred contexts--a reproduction of a woodcut from Liber primus missarum (Antwerpen: Susato, 1546) and an engraving from Encomium musices (Berlin, 1546)--further solidifying her argument about the fluidity between Antwerp's sacred and secular musical establishments. Gretchen Peters's article about French music takes a similar tact. Peters successfully researches the Tours and Orléans account books to provide, as Peters explains, "an accurate and detailed picture of the cities' support of music" (156). She also mentions trumpeters in these accounts, but unfortunately no information about the instruments' shapes. Peters examines elaborate descriptions of musical weddings. An image by the Tours miniaturist Jean Poyer or painter Jean Fouquet might be a valuable addition here.

Honoree Keith Polk has had an important influence on the study of Flemish improvisation in the Renaissance, and the following two articles use his research as a starting point. Adam Gilbert adds florid polyphony to the songs Es solt ein man and Cançon de pifari dco. el Ferrarese, popular German tunes played by wind musicians in Ferrara, in order to understand, as he describes, "the tools of their craft and the nature of their art." From the tunes themselves, he extrapolates musical resolutions to tricky counterpoint problems, making use of the principle of reverse engineering. In the same vein, Ross W. Duffin suggests polyphonic arrangements of German dance tunes from Ferrara. He includes an image by the busy illuminator Taddeo Crivelli from the Bible of Borso d'Este, which shows a group of men and women holding hands and dancing to the strains of three musicians, one holding a slide trumpet. Duffin concludes that "fifteenth-century professional improvisers were capable of spontaneously creating a stylish polyphonic piece out of a monophonic one" (216). His assertion rings true, since improvisation has been around long before and after the development of notation in the Middle Ages.

Repertory rounds out this book. Frank A. D'Accone's "Reclaiming the Past: Archbishop Antonio Altoviti's Entrance into Florence in 1567" might fit better with Forney's and Peters's contributions, since his essay primarily examines a historical description of a civic celebration. With great precision, D'Accone extracts accounts of musical events from the De ingressu Antonii Altovitae published by Domenico Moreni. It is quite common to find elaborate musical descriptions in Renaissance histories, but the descriptions rarely mention composers' names. D'Accone uncovers an exception in De ingressu with the singing of the antiphon Sacerdos et Pontifex set to polyphony by Francesco Corteccia (242). Louise Litterick takes on the problem of Renaissance dating, a minefield well known to art historians because of the lucrative business in fakes. Josquin des Prez has been the subject of authorship and dating debates, and in her article Litterick writes convincingly that his composition, "En l'ombre should be counted among the relatively small number of extant secular vocal pieces by Josquin before 1500" (295).

David Fallows examines sixteen sources for the anonymous Gentil madonna, which he notes is "one of the most successful songs of the 1440s," and he provides a four-voiced transcription with the text. This edition is an important contribution to the field, in which scholars have argued over the song's original provenance and its number of vocal or instrumental lines. Fallows suggests that the original song was an English ballade. The essays return to Ferrara with Joshua Rifkin's "Singing Josquin's Miserere in Ferrara: A Lesson in Ficta from Bidon?" Rifkin skillfully examines cross relations between parts of the Miserere and focuses on a sixth voice that was added by the virtuoso soprano Antonio Collebaudi, or 'Bidon,' whom Rifkin traced in an exhaustive payments list found in Modena's Archivio di Stato, Camera ducale. Rifkin argues that Bidon sang with Josquin, "from a minimum of some four months, in other words, to as many as ten months," suggesting that Bidon may have influenced the number of voices sung in Josquin's Miserere (322). Fallows and Rifkin capture the collection's strength: earnest, careful consideration of assorted medieval and Renaissance music making, which, they agree to some degree or another, is still shrouded in silence.

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Eleonora M. Beck

Lewis & Clark College