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21.09.24 Lindmayr-Brandl/Kolb (eds.), Gaspar van Weerbeke

21.09.24 Lindmayr-Brandl/Kolb (eds.), Gaspar van Weerbeke


Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl and Paul Kolb, in their volume Gaspar van Weerbeke: New Perspectives on his Life and Music, have done a masterful job of assembling a team of scholars who apply a cornucopia of hermeneutics in order to flesh out a picture of a Renaissance composer, renowned in his lifetime and, according to the editors, all but forgotten until the 19th century. [1] The elegant font, ample tables and musical examples--some in full color--thorough references, and sturdy binding make the price of 50 Euros a bargain. While hoping for more attention to musicians and artists who occupied places on the margins of history, it is nonetheless gratifying to see that these essays connect Weerbeke to a constellation of musicians including many of lesser renown.

Gaspar van Weerbeke was born c. 1445 in Oudenaarde, a municipality in the diocese of Tournai in East Flanders, a center of tapestry production from the 15th to 18th centuries. His place and date of death are still matters of conjecture, but it is likely that he died after 1517 either in Mainz or in Rome. A quotation from the beginning of Klaus Pietschmann's introductory chapter seems apt: "Anniversaries are often a welcome opportunity to engage more deeply with composers who have yet not been granted the attention they deserve" (35). One hopes that this volume, beautifully copyedited by the pre-eminent musicologist Bonnie J. Blackburn, will lead to conferences around the contributions of others mentioned in connection with Gaspar, such as Alexander Agricola and Johannes Ghiselin (Verbonnet), and that these resulting collections will produce the same quality of scholarship as seen in this book.

Some years ago, when my colleague Stephen Campbell and I were teaching a course on art and music in Renaissance Ferrara, we couldn't resist bringing Weerbeke into the narrative. Although the composer's connections to the Estensi were tangential, it was impossible not to consider his critical role in bringing musicians from the north to Milan and eventually into the orbit of the Ferrarese court. In fact, a look at the contents of this rich compendium of essays on the composer reveals his connections not only with a constellation of Italian musicians and sources, but also with French, Burgundian, Swiss and German ones. Aside from individuals connected to music and music making, Gaspar was associated with some of the great artists and poets of the day, including Leonardo da Vinci and Guillaume Crétin.

The individual essays focus on new perspectives on Weerbeke's life and works. The introduction provides a review of previous work on the composer. In his own time, he was held in high esteem despite an omission of his name or any of his musical examples in Heinrich Glarean's influential treatise, Dodecachordon, published in 1547. He was, however, by no means the only composer of his era to be left out. That aside, an entire volume of his masses was published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1507. Gaffurius in the Practica referred to his music as "most pleasing." Fast forward to nineteenth-century scholars including Edmund van der Straeten, Johann Forkel, and Peter Wagner (24) who made mention of Weerbeke in their writings. Some like August Wilhelm Ambros, while not always positive about Weerbeke's style, cited his full mastery of counterpoint. In the twentieth century, apart from two dissertations, Gaspar was either ignored or treated tangentially, or, as in the case of André Pirro's 1940 Histoire, which included handwritten transcriptions of Weerbeke's music, little consulted. An interest in early music in Gottingen following the war, spearheaded by Rudolf Gerber, a member of the Third Reich, resulted in a dissertation on Weerbeke by Gerber's student Gerhard Croll, completed in 1954. Croll, while at a conservatory in Dusseldorf, transcribed Weerbeke's "Missa O Venus bant" and developed an interest in the composer. Two years before completing his dissertation on the composer, he published an article with a catalogue of Gaspar's work in Musica Disciplina (1952). Following his death, Croll's doctoral student Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl, one of the current editors of this volume, became the beneficiary of her advisor's materials on Weerbeke, making it possible for her to complete his work on the edition, supplemented in part by Eric Fiedler's transcriptions of Gaspar's masses.

This current volume is divided into three sections with six chapters devoted to his biography, six to his masses and motets, and three in the last section to his more elusive and far fewer secular compositions. Pietschmann's chapter on Weerbeke's biography explores reasons behind the composer's decision to spend most of his career working in Italian establishments. While we know that he worked for much of that time in Milan, Paul Merkley's chapter, with research in the Milanese archives carried out together with his late wife Lora Matthews-Merkley, shines new light on his financial transactions and his relationships with non-musicians during his time in the employ of the Sforza family. Sean Gallagher uncovers personal documents and letters that reveal previously unknown facts about Gaspar's family and his association with a number of singers and their patrons. Art historian Laure Fagnart suggests that the composer be considered among other suspects as the subject of Leonardo da Vinci's famous portrait of a musician now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan. She includes Gaspar alongside Leonardo's contemporary, the musician/theorist Franchinus Gaffurius; the artist's other friend, the lutenist, actor, and singer Atalante Migliorotti; and even the composer Josquin des Prez as potential sitters. Grantley McDonald offers a comprehensive picture of Gaspar van Weerbeke's life at the Burgundian chapel, connecting him to musicians whose names include some of the well-known composers of the day as well as singers and instrumentalists whose fame lies on the margins. McDonald's research into their duties and pay records provides new insights into the relative values of members of the chapels of Philip the Fair, his father Maximilian, and grandfathers Charles the Bold and Frederick III. Jeannette Jones fills in some gaps in what we know about Gaspar van Weerbeke's brief time at the French royal court, focusing on Guillaume Crétin's Déploration. Cretin's poem on the death of Ockeghem includes names of eight leading composers of 1497, almost all having a connection to the chapelle of Louis XII--Agricola, Verbonnet (Ghiselin), Prioris, Josquin, Gaspar (Weerbeke), Brumel and Compère--and singers, at least one of whom is singled out, Jean Fresneau, possibly because he was not only a singer, but also a composer. In his eulogy, Crétin entreats another poet, Molinet, who honors the memory of Ockeghem with a Latin ballade and a French poem Nymphes des bois, set by Josquin on the death of his teacher, mentioning Brumel, Compère, and Pierson (Pierre de la Rue) among others who should don the clothes of mourning. While the absence of a name may not be particularly significant, the presence of Gaspar's name in Crétin's list suggests, according to Jones, that apart from his membership in the Sforza court in Milan, Weerbeke was also likely a member of the household of the King of France around 1498.

Fabrice Fitch, in the first of his two chapters on Gaspar's music, "'Under the Radar' or 'Caught in the Crossfire?'" suggests that we "consider these composers on their own terms rather than as mere satellites of their putative standard bearers" (105). He asks the question--as he did with another of what he calls "the generation formerly known as Josquin," the composer Agricola--how we can "account for the discrepancy between his modern-day reception history and his contemporary fame?" (106). This is a key question. Fitch explores the biases behind why Gaspar (and let's include Ghiselin here), renowned in Europe, with stints at major musical establishments in Italy, acting as agents for bringing in new talent from abroad, are understudied and underperformed today. In his second chapter, Fitch presents a new method of analyzing the motet cycles. In between these two chapters, Agnese Pavanello explores the Marian motets, offering new insights. Ottaviano Petrucci is an important figure, the first printer of polyphonic music with the Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A (Venice, 1501). His first printed collection of motets, Motetti A (Venice, 1502), contains more compositions by Weerbeke than by any other composer included in the edition. Added to mentions by Gaffurius and the Dutch humanist Matthaeus Herbenus, the importance afforded Gaspar by Petrucci and his editors has implications regarding the respect and appreciation for the composer in his own time.

Other contributions turn to more specific works by Weerbeke. Wolfgang Fuhrmann writes on the tradition of Stabat Mater compositions, in vogue beginning at the end of the fifteenth century. He places Gaspar's in the orbit of these five-part tenor motets, including anonymous settings as well as those by Josquin, Gaffurius, Cornysh and others. Fuhrmann, while trying to avoid teleological constructions, applies the standard analytical tools to establish an earlier date for the composition of the motet. He bases the new date on stylistic elements, such as use of imitation and repeated melodic modules (202), common in the Milanese works of Weerbeke and Compère, that are absent in this Stabat Mater. It is curious that Fuhrmann cites, as an example of the dangers of using stylistic change, Hermann Finck's unfavorable comparison of Josquin's contrapuntal style with that of Nicolas Gombert. This contemporary critique fails to acknowledge Gombert's reputation as a convicted child molester. It must have had little effect on the appreciation of his music. Paul Kolb examines Weerbeke's masses in commemoration of the long-awaited publication of the edition. Studies of Gaspar's eight complete mass cycles and two independent Credo settings apparently have been overshadowed by the greater attention to his motet cycles, despite the presence of Weerbeke's masses in several Petrucci prints, one devoted entirely to his works in the genre. Kolb also re-examines the questionable attribution of an anonymous mass in Jena 21. This provides an opportunity to include a beautiful plate of a Missa Pange lingua, the opening cycle in the manuscript, known to be by Josquin, as well as a less colorful plate of an anonymous mass that follows the one by Gaspar. Kolb makes an excellent case, aided by closer readings of compositional features and scribal details, for it being one of Weerbeke's later works. [2] Because of the importance of Petrucci's having devoted an entire printed volume to the Masses of Gaspar, Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl focuses on the sources, editing and reception of the work. As of this time, the number of editions and reissued editions (not taking into account the surviving copies) "comprise fifty-six manuscripts and twenty printed books, including theory treatises and music collections, of which three-quarters were published by Petrucci" (226). Of these, Lindmayr-Brandl chooses the 1507 Petrucci print, Misse Gaspar, the complete set of four partbooks preserved in Bologna (Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica, Q. 65). She includes source maps, facsimiles from the 1507 edition, musical examples, citations in theory textbooks, such as Sebald Heyden's Musicae, id est artis canendi, libri duo (1537), and other evidentiary materials in her story of the importance of Petrucci's edition.

In the third and final section on the much smaller corpus of known secular compositions, David Fallows attempts to clear up scribal confusion between Gaspar, Gaspart and another composer of the era, Japart, while at the same time suggesting that attributions of songs to Weerbeke continue to be ambiguous. [3] One case of conflicting attribution is "La stanghetta" that Erich Jas suggests more rightfully belongs to the opera omnia of Heinrich Isaac. Isaac and Martini (both involved in some way with the compilation of the Florentine manuscript Banco Rari, 229) and Ghiselin wrote many pieces with "La" in the title. These pieces are thought to be intended for performance as instrumental music. Carlo Bosi suggests that the combinative chanson "Bon vin / Bon temps," attributed to "Gaspart" in the Florentine manuscript 2442, is a later piece. Applying a number of epistemological tools, he offers a hypothesis as to the identity of the younger composer.

In a roundtable published in the Journal of Musicological Research in 2021, Marian Wilson Kimber stated that "Bringing a book to fruition requires a tremendous amount of intellectual and emotional labor. The completed volume is not only the work of the author, but has usually benefitted from a host of other people: archivists and librarians, outside readers, editors, indexers, and cover designers, to name just a few." With this description in mind, other publishers should continue to produce collaborative work of the sort presented by Brepols. Having contributions by European and American-trained scholars with diverse interests and perspectives helps create a picture of a multi-faceted man whose works continue to fascinate; they also provide insight into the artistic community in sixteenth-century Europe. These future efforts would also benefit from including more scholars from outside the discipline of musicology. While there is inevitable overlap and repetition in collections such as this, each essay offers new insights and materials. One hopes that their work will serve as a model for future projects devoted to Renaissance composers whose lives and works need attention following the ravages brought about by centuries of waning interest and neglect. An additional shout out to the editors and their publisher, Brepols, for making the volume Open Access. This is especially good news in the wake of the demise of the print division of Oxford University Press, one of the oldest and most venerable printing houses in the world.

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Notes:

1. Weerbeke is also cited by Charles Burney and others in eighteenth-century histories. Much of their information comes from citations by Weerbeke's Milanese contemporary, the theorist/composer Franchinus Gaffurius.

2. As noted by Kolb, Zoe Saunders, in a transcription and analysis of the mass in her dissertation, suggested that it was by either Martini, Compère or Gaspar.

3. One also finds his name spelled "Gaspard" and "Jaspar."