The Ars Nova in Italy

THE sudden appearance of an apparently fully-developed Italian Ars Nova simultaneously with the French is not easy to explain, though it is clear that the musical sources do not give a full picture of the situation. Only one manuscript dates from the first half of the century and even that is quite short. Processional works intended to be performed by the young cathedral clerks on Holy Days when they took part in sacred plays have little in common with trecento secular music and date from around 1300. The polyphony is of the simplest, though in its note-against-note style it may have influenced the early Italian madrigal. At all events, it is evident that the Italian method of notation was fully developed quite as soon as the French owing to the description of both methods by Marchettus of Padua. It seems admissible that Philippe de Vitry played the role of an innovator to some extent in his Ars Nova, but Marchettus is obviously describing a traditional system of notation in the Italian one. Indeed, he prefers certain aspects of the French system, as for instance the placing of the long note first in 6 time. On the other hand, the Italians employed more different kinds of measure than the French and would often change time more than once in the course of a piece. Their notation was also very suitable for the display of strings of short notes in coloratura style, as against the French way of writing in jerky dance rhythms which were frequently interrupted by rests or disturbed by syncopation. But it was limited by the fact that it was normally impossible to cross the equivalent of our barline. From judging after the event it appears that the Italians developed the notational system of Petrus de Cruce, who limited groups of semibreves forming breve groups by dots at each end of the group. All that was necessary was to systematize the procedure and have groups of six semibreves for a 6 bar, nine for a 9 bar, eight for a 4- bar, and so on. The addition of tails below and above certain notes to define their values may well have been borrowed from the French, in which case the influence of the French Ars Nova would be clearly marked but not fundamental.


These two forms thrived above all in the earliest trecento compositions, and indeed the caccia is considered to be based on the madrigal form. Practically, there is no connexion between the fourteenth- and sixteenth-century madrigal. The earlier form is usually for two voices and has a relatively fixed poetic structure (cf. Fenice fu by Jacopo da Bologna). This consists of a number of short stanzas, usually two or three-line strophes, followed by a concluding line or two lines known as the ritornello. The ritornello is usually clearly set off from the rest of the piece by a double bar and often by a change of time. In the work of a composer like Giovanni da Cascia (cf. Nascoso el viso and Nel mezo a sei paon) each line has its opening and concluding coloratura passage, so that a three-line stanza can be quite long. For this reason it is customary to sing the same music to each strophe, though in his three-part madrigals Landini has the vocalized coloratura passages at the beginning and end of each stanza only, making the whole piece through-composed with new music for each stanza. The three-part madrigals are, however, exceptional in some way, whereas the two-part form is standard with text in both voices like the conductus. This means that, although single voices of madrigals were sometimes performed on their own in fourteenth-century Italy, such pieces were considered incomplete unless there were at least two distinct parts. Jacopo da Bologna actually has a two-part and a three-part version of the same text (Uselletto selvaggio), which is one of the frequent attacks on amateur composers and musical theorists such as appear in both French and Italian Ars Nova music. He says the world is full of little masters who write a few madrigals or motets and consider themselves Philippe de Vitrys or Marchettus de Paduas. The first piece is a typical two-voice madrigal, but the second has the two top voices in canon and the lower part accompanying independently. At least, this is true till shortly before the ritornello, where the two top voices become independent themselves. This piece is usually called a canonic madrigal, but it is essentially a caccia. Of Jacopo's twenty-nine madrigals, some of the two-part ones like Quando veggio seem rather immature, but the best of them, like Non al suo amante and Fenice fu, are more effective than anything by Giovanni or Piero. There is a sureness about the melodies, which do not fall into short groups of conventional motifs, but have a unity which is almost modem. Three-part works in caccia style are successful, e.g. Sotto l'imperio, but this is not always the case with the other three more dissonant three-part works. The motet Lux purpurata / Diligite justitiam is a half-way house between the developed madrigal and the three-part French motet. It is not isorhythmic and does not borrow its slow-moving tenor from plainsong, but has quick upper parts, individual texts, and a simple but effective hocket at the end.

The caccia (e.g. Gherardello's Tosto che l'alba), like the French chace, is canonic throughout, but differs from the French form in having only the two top voices in canon instead of all three. Its texts are similar too, describing any exciting scenes in absolute realism, and these range from hunting to fires, battles, and even crab-fishing. Short lines of verse often alternate with longer ones and all the sounds are imitated, the barking of dogs in hunting, the ringing of bells, sounding of horns and the shouting in a fire, the fanfares of trumpets in a battle. Most composers wrote only one caccia, though Piero is an exception with five canonic works out of nine known compositions, and Niccolo da Perugia wrote three.

The caccia still has much in common with the madrigal: for instance it retains the coloratura passages and the ritornello, and quite often the canon is not continued throughout. When it is, there is a fresh start at the ritornello, which may well be in a different type of measure, as in the madrigal. The verse form is usually free, in contrast to the strictness of the madrigal, which sticks to its three-line stanzas and eleven-syllable lines. The music still has the same breadth generally, though the descriptive passages often bring in short, sharp exclamations and imitations of fanfares. It is typical of the madrigal style that almost staccato passages with one syllable to a note contrast vividly with coloraturas, and, unlike early Ars Nova French music, triplets occur frequently in passages which are essentially in duple rhythms.

The sudden appearance of a fully developed tradition of madrigal writing may well be connected with certain local courts and princes of northern Italy, and Padua, the home of Marchettus, was important musically throughout the fourteenth century. In 1328 it was taken over by the Scaligeri of Verona and shortly after this, in 1332, Antonio da Tempo wrote one of the three important treatises on the lyric poetry of his time, dedicating it to Alberto della Scala. Alberto, who was a great patron of the arts, and his brother Mastino Il ruled the two cities from 1328 to 1337- It has been suggested that the oldest trecento manuscript contains music performed in Padua during this period, and certain references confirm this, particularly since the iguane or nymphs inhabiting the hills near Padua are often mentioned in the texts. All the pieces are anonymous in the manuscript, but some of the later ones are attributed elsewhere to Giovanni da Cascia and Piero. Doubtless these composers started their careers in Padua and then moved to Verona, for most of their music dates from the 1340s, like that of Jacopo da Bologna. We know that all three competed together at the court of Mastino II, and indeed the use of the same or similar texts is proof of this activity. As at the French courts, love was often the subject and a certain set of madrigals set by these composers is concerned with a lady called Anna who lives in a lovely garden near a river and close by a tree called a perlaro.

Giovanni da Cascia, who is also known as Johannes de Florentia, has left us sixteen madrigals, all two-part works, and three caccie. The madrigals are models of clear harmony and flowing melody. There is none of the jerkiness to be found in, for instance, the ballades of Machaut. Instead the upper voice, e.g. in Appress' un fiume, which is more elaborate than the lower one, sustains lyrical coloraturas of great charm over the supporting tenor, which harmonizes in simple octaves, fifths, and unisons. These long lines are made to live by the varied rhythms they employ, first slower notes, then semiquavers, then triplet quavers, while the text is often pronounced in clearly contrasting staccato quavers. In the caccie, which employ three voices, there are more rests between voices, often for the purpose of contrast or, when they alternate between voices in quick succession, to create a feeling of excitement, as in Con brachi assai.

Jacopo also worked for the Visconti of Milan, for four of his works are dedicated to Luchino Visconti. One is dated 1346, and he probably entered the service of this prince about that year, though Luchino died in 1349. Mastino and Alberto died in 1351 and 1352 respectively, and it seems as though this first generation of composers died with them.

The scene changed to Florence in the second half of the century and interest focuses on the work of Francesco Landini, partly because his biography is well defined, but most of all because of his 154 extant works, which have all been published. The other composers who could hardly have lived later than 1400 are shadowy figures because so little is known about them and their considerable output has only recently been published. They include Bartolino da Padua (a Benedictine monk), Lorenzo Masini, Gherardello da Firenze, Abbot Vincenzo da Rimini, Donato da Cascia (another Benedictine), and Niccolo da Perugia. Niccolo, with twenty-one ballate out of forty-one compositions, seems to have spent some time in Florence, perhaps 1360-65, since several of his compositions have texts by Franco Sacchetti, but he also wrote a piece in honour of the Visconti of Milan. A frequent tendency to a more popular tone makes his works particularly satisfying to present-day listeners. Such is the case in an amusing dialogue Donna, posso io sperare, in which the upper voice is the suitor and the lower the unyielding lady. Often there is here only one voice singing at a time. Ciascun faccia per se is equally short, but more reminiscent of the continuous madrigal style.

Landini was a master of numerous instruments, in spite of his blindness, and seems to have studied the seven liberal arts, philosophy, and astrology. His madrigals amount to no more than twelve, and of these the two-part ones are evidently the earliest and follow the pattern of the earlier generation, under whom Francesco seems to have studied. The three three- part madrigals are all mature works and individual studies in special techniques, namely three-part canon, the simultaneous combination of different texts in motet style, and isorhythm. The one caccia (Cosipensoso) is concerned with fishing and proceeds in 6/8 time till the ritornello, like many another work of this kind. After the stir and flurry conjured up by the triplets of this "French' rhythm, the ritornello proceeds in duple rhythms with calm thoughts about a group of lovers and their welcome to the composer

Although it was so popular in the first half of the century, the madrigal lost favor later on. The influence of French music became more and more powerful as the century wore on, and undoubtedly Florence was a centre of this influence. A recently published treatise written in Italian for the use of girls at a Florentine convent is entirely concerned with French methods of notation and rhythm and the pieces quoted are from French sources. The Chantilly Codex itself with a repertory of French music was written in Italy and probably at Florence, since a mid-fifteenth- century note on the front page refers to an Italian owner with the name of a famous Florentine family. Moreover, pieces were obviously copied direct from the manuscript into one of the most important Florentine trecento manuscripts. Certain Florentine composers like Gherardello da Firenze and Donato da Cascia seem to have continued writing madrigals, but it is possible they belong to the decade or two immediately after 1350. Gherardello anyhow died about 1364 and his death was mourned by Franco Sacchetti and Francesco di Simone Peruzzi, the former an important source for poetry set to music by trecento composers. Indeed, there are many such cases where musicians did not write their own poems, though such names as Petrarch and Boccaccio do not often occur in Italian music of this period. There are madrigal settings of Boccaccio by Lorenzo and Niccolo and of Petrarch by Jacopo (Non at suo amante), Niccolo, and Bartolino, but Sacchetti's poems form the basis for at least twelve known compositions. Lorenzo must be coupled with Gherardello, and Donato, since he left ten madrigals out of some seventeen compositions. Bartolino da Padua also wrote ten madrigals, but three-quarters of his output consists of ballate and apparently he was active even after 1400. If he is a slightly younger contemporary of Landini, Niccolo da Perugia may be a slightly older one, since out of forty-one compositions sixteen are two-part madrigals and four caccie. The position of Johannes Ciconia has only recently been clarified. Long known as the composer of motets dating from around 1400, addressed to Paduan nobilities, he is now known to have made a much earlier Italian journey between 1358 and 1367 and to have been active at Liège. His madrigals must have been written about 1360 as must his compositions on caccia-like texts. He is one of the earliest northerners to make the trip to Italy which was to become normal after the return of the Papal Choir from Avignon to Rome. In Ciconia's case, however, an early success at Lucca must have been followed near the end of the century by close connexions; with the Carrara family of Padua, where he was a canon, and finally by commissions from Venice, which conquered Padua in 1406. His extant madrigals comprise three two-part works and one three-part piece, which is addressed to the lord of Lucca (Una panthera in Marte). The use of imitative technique is striking, and Ciconia led in the development of this procedure which was to be of the greatest importance in Renaissance music. Two of these works show frequent changes of time signature, an indication of early date, though the style is not wholly Italian.

Some of his madrigals and ballate are, however, hard to distinguish from works by Italian composers. For instance, the two-part madrigal Cacciando un giorno with a caccia text has a long textless introduction, staccato crotchets for the text, brief imitations and repetitions of short snatches of melody. It is a clean-lined, pleasing work to modern ears, as is the more poignant ballata, Merce, merce, o morte, which is anonymous but very like other works of Ciconia and in any case a small masterpiece. Although Ciconia wrote several fine isorhythmic motets, the new non-isorhythmic motets like the brilliant O felix templum jubila, which is full of novel features, are of most interest. Here the trumpet-like tenor supports an opening in imitation which is so arranged that the second voice does not come in till the first has finished, giving an echo effect. This technique is particularly developed at the Amen where, over fanfares in the tenor, short phrases are triumphantly echoed through the upper voices till the final cadence.

Paolo da Firenze, also called Tenorista, wrote eleven madrigals out of a total of some thirty-three works. These are probably earlier works than his ballate, which are full of complex rhythms indicating early fifteenth-century French influence. The fact that he was Abbot of Pozzoveri near Lucca doubtless accounts for the presence of one of his compositions in the Lucca codex, but he seems to have been a member of the suite of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli, with whom he must have travelled about.


After Paolo the madrigal was abandoned altogether, and the same may be said of the caccia, though Zacharias wrote a piece with an independent text in the tenor, portraying the hustle and bustle of the market-place. The caccia type of text continued to be used throughout the fifteenth century, but was divorced from canonic technique. In this form it is reminiscent of the programme chansons of Clément Jannequin in the sixteenth century. The ballata was a smaller form than the madrigal or caccia, though it could attain considerable length, and was usually in three parts. Its origins stretch back into the thirteenth century, but, although it was never altogether neglected by trecento composers, it only achieved distinct popularity in the second half of the fourteenth century and then to, such an extent that it became the only Italian secular musical form. Unlike the madrigal, which was essentially polyphonic, the ballata was originally for a single voice and in the first half of the century the oldest trecento manuscript contains five pieces of this kind out of twenty-nine compositions. Gherardello has left five monodic ballate too and so has Lorenzo Masini, but the madrigal had made polyphony too general in the fourteenth century for this state of affairs to last, just as in France the essentially monodic virelais acquired first one more part and then another. The virelai and the ballata have much in common, since both begin and end with the music of the refrain, both have a middle section consisting of two identical parts, and both follow this middle section with a concluding passage before the refrain based on the metre and the actual music of the refrain. It is strange that the virelai was practically abandoned in France while the ballata attained such popularity. The two-part ballate tend to be like the madrigals and have text in both parts, but with the three-part form there is a much smaller proportion of works with text in two parts out of three (as in Gran piant' agli ochi) than with text in only the top part like the French ballade and rondeau. This is but one sign that from the 1360s onwards French and Italian traditions were equally powerful. The notation too shows French influence, for the dots conveniently marking off measures in Italian notation begin to disappear, doubtless owing to increasing rhythmic complication and particularly syncopation. Frequent changes of time signature become rare and the use of different colored notes and different note-shapes more usual. The Italian time signatures themselves disappear eventually in favor of the French. But before French and Italian notations become indistinguishable, there is a period of balance best typified by the ballate of Francesco Landini.

Out of his 155 compositions, 141 are ballate. The fact that 92 of these are for two voices only is indicative of the transition period when Landini flourished, for even in Italy the two-part works had diminished in size and popularity by the end of the century. Not only did three-part writing come into fashion, but, where French influence was most prevalent, four-part writing too was cultivated. However, three-part work remained the norm, and even two-part compositions continued in popularity till the end of the trecento. Indeed, if the early two-part madrigal can be considered as a product of both organum and conductus traditions, the late trecento two-part ballate represented in the works of men like the Provost of Brescia (Prepositus Brixiensis) and Petrus Rubeus show so little independent part-writing that they can be called simply conductus, like the early fourteenth-century Paduan processional works. The Provost of Brescia has left four ballate of which two have the typically Italian two-voice form with text in both parts and two the French three-part form with text in the top part only. The Italian tendency to simplify the lower parts results in a greater impact by the flowing upper voice, as in I ochi d'una ancolleta. In a two-part work like O spirito gentil on the other hand the parts move together more, though it is difficult to resist the charm of repeated motifs in dialogue, for instance, at the words 'tu m'ay percosso'.

In Landini, however, the French influence is at its most fruitful stage (as in Amar si 1i alti tuo gentil costumi). Native talent is not Frenchified, but the Italian style incorporates French features into the music if it so desires. Thus 1 and 9 time are by no means as common as one might expect, and in fact 4 time is most usual. The use of French texts and forms is extremely rare, for only one piece has such a text and one a form incorporating the ballade-like repeat of the first half of the composition. It has to be admitted, nevertheless, that the French habit of breaking up the melodic line with rests is becoming noticeable in Landini, as also a loss in breadth. Still, his works reveal a pure melody which may be called classic, together with simple accompanying parts which enhance and bring out its charm. The texts are very much the same as in a writer like Machaut, in other words they are concerned with courtly love. It is not unusual for all three voices of a threevoice ballata to have the text, as in Nessun ponga sperança, though this procedure is most exceptional in French music. Still, there must have been considerable flexibility about the matter of which voices were sung, since one, two, or all three voices could have text and we know instruments were in frequent use.

Niccolo da Perugia wrote twenty-one ballate out of forty-one compositions, and it is striking that all except one monody are two-part works. Some of them are relatively short and simple, while others follow Florentine examples. Bartolino da Padua also wrote mainly two-part ballate but he has also left five three-part examples. The French influence is clearly marked in the chopped-up melodic lines, syncopations, and varied rhythms. Andrea dei Servi, who is mentioned in the accounts of Pistoia Cathedral in 1366 and 1380-89, is known by thirty ballate and perhaps a single French ballade. If Andrea has left practically nothing but ballate, Paolo is exceptional in writing so many three-part works, in fact, three times as many as his two-part ballate. Johannes Ciconia's dozen ballate include a work addressed to Francesco Carrara of Padua who died in 1393 as well as masterpieces like Lisadra donna and O rosa bella. It is not excessive to describe Ciconia in these pieces as the originator of modern methods of motivic development. Not only do we find the repetition of a motif at a different pitch in one part, but the snatch of melody may well be passed between two parts in dialogue, thus breaking down the barriers that had existed between individual voices in medieval music. Admittedly, the organa of the Notre Dame school had shown a similar relationship, described under the general term color by contemporary writers, but this was largely disguised by crossing parts, while Ciconia stresses it by placing rests before and after the motif.

It is necessary to distinguish among Zacharias, Nicolaus Zacharie, and Antonius Zacara da Teramo, though doubtless there is some confusion in the manuscripts among these names. Zacharias is particularly attractive in his simple twopart ballate like Benche lontan mi trovo and Gia per gran nobelta. He is nevertheless capable of much more elaborate writing, as in his motet Letetur plebs / Pastor, which is in the new imitative style without isorhythm. In his famous Gloria with the trope 'Gloria, laus et honor' in the middle voice, he shows more independent part-writing than do many French works and at the same time is a match for any French writer in his capable. but unobtrusive handling of rhythm.

Nicolaus seems slightly younger than Zacharias, who is described as a papal singer in one source, but Nicolaus himself wrote a ballata addressed to Martin V and these two names may apply to one and the same man. In any case all these men must have been writing around 1400, and here the simple two-part ballata style of Zacharias is particularly significant. The handful of secular compositions by Antonius Zacara are not so easy to place, but it is likely that his Mass movements based on these songs were written after 1400. One very modern feature to be found in his works is the frequent repetition of words or short phrases. Usual as this may be today in vocal music, in the Middle Ages such repetitions were generally avoided and their introduction must be considered a novelty. In spite of frequent use of the lively French 6 time, his Italian origin is evident in the more human melodic line. The harmonies too are more modern in sound than those of writers like Jacopo da Bologna and Giovanni da Cascia. Antonello da Caserta too wrote half a dozen ballate of which all except one are for two voices, but, like Filippo da Caserta, he is best known today for his three-part compositions on French texts. These are as complicated rhythmically as any produced by native Frenchmen and show extended syncopations, the combination of different measures in all three voices, in fact, all the paraphernalia of late Ars Nova French music in its most extreme forms. Sometimes it was even necessary to give written instructions under the music as to how the notes were to be read. Antonio da Civitate was also fond of French texts and seems to have copied Machaut's poetic style. Nevertheless, in a virelai by. him the technique is that of the caccia and the characteristic Italian line of eleven syllables tends to intrude into French decasyllables. Bartholomeus de Bologna, a prior, wrote secular compositions in both the French and the Italian manner, but none have been preserved with French texts. One of his Italian ballate opens just like a rondeau by Binchois, and this and another form the basis of two of his own Mass pieces, a Gloria and a Credo.

Matteo da Perugia, a singer at Milan Cathedral in the early years of the fifteenth century, left a large collection of music compared with other composers of the period, though again twenty- two out of thirty pieces are French songs.He is complete master of the flexible rhythms and syncopations of the late Ars Nova, as in the ballade, Le greygnour bien, but many simpler pieces have great melodic charm, like the virelais, Dame souvrayne and Belle sans per. Even the canon Andray soulet is cheerful and harmonically satisfying to modem ears. The same cannot be said of the two Italian ballate, which seem experimental, move in low registers, and have little melodic appeal. It is in his Glorias that the distinctive melodic character of this composer's work is most apparent, particularly where one part imitates another. His vocal duets with accompaniment are his best work, and unite all that is good in late Ars Nova techniques with Italian melody and craftsmanship. In quite a number of cases he composed contratenors to two-part compositions, and this happened with works by Machaut, Ciconia, and Grenon.


Compared with the large number of secular pieces which have been preserved, sacred music is but poorly represented in Italian trecento manuscripts. Gratiosus de Padua is known by only two Mass settings and a lauda, the religious counterpart of the ballata. These pieces may date from around 1400, while actual trecento Mass settings are only preserved in a Gloria by Gherardello, a Credo by Bartholus, a Sanctus by Lorenzo, and an Agnus by Gherardello. These compositions were put together as a whole in the manuscript, but, as with complete French settings of a similar character, they may not have been written as a cycle. This is suggested by a concluding Benedicamus domino in three parts written by Paolo. Nevertheless, the other four pieces are all in what we would call D minor, and in two-part madrigal style with several changes of time signature; and it seems possible that Paolo wrote his piece specially to complete the cycle. One specialist thinks Bartholus is not Bartolino da Padua but Bartholus de Florentia, a composer otherwise unknown but who is actually reported by the historian Villani to have written a Credo. Gherardello too apparently wrote a Credo and a Hosanna which have not been preserved.

By the end of the century three-part works are normal in sacred as in secular music but, although French influence is strong enough to impose the style of the solo song with textless lower parts on the Mass, such men as Engardus and Zacharias continue to put the text in all three parts. The influence of the caccia is noticeable in a Gloria by Matteo da Perugia, whose late Ars Nova complexities are expressive and exciting. He also borrows the motet style for two works in four parts. In spite of the appearance of many lesser-known names like Barbitonsoris and Mediolani, Ciconia is probably the most important Mass and motet composer in early fifteenth-century Italy. It is not altogether clear which are his innovations and which belong to other composers. The alternation of solo duet sections with three-part chorus occurs in his Glorias and Credos as in those of Guillaume Legrant. This practice could have an English origin, while the use of a full text in all three parts of the chorus sections, which occurs in certain Mass movements, may stem from Ciconia himself or the group of composers which includes Engardus and Zacharias. Certainly it is evident that he had a predilection for thematic relationships between parts, often by imitation, but even this trait occurs, for instance, in Matteo da Perugia.

There is ample evidence to show that the motet was cultivated in fourteenth-century Italy to a degree which is not even remotely indicated by the manuscripts. Jacopo da Bologna was at one time the only Italian composer before Ciconia with a motet to his credit (Lux purpurata radiis / Diligite iustitiam). Like other compositions he wrote, it is in honour of Luchino Visconti, and so it must be dated before 1349. Isorhythm. is absent and, in fact, the Italians were not keen about this technique, but there are different texts in both upper voices as in French works of this kind. Recently one voice of another motet with an acrostic giving the name Luchinus was discovered, and it seems likely that it is a further work by Jacopo. In the same manuscript another single voice was discovered whose text apostrophizes a great Venetian doge, Andrea Contarini. The work must, therefore, have been written between 1368 and 1382. Moreover, the composer names himself in the text as Franciscus, and it is unlikely that this could be any other than Francesco Landini, who is known to have been paid for writing five motets in 1379. If the story is true, he was publicly crowned with a laurel wreath by King Peter II of Cyprus in Venice in 1364 as a testimony to his achievements in both music and literature. Out of three motets to be found in the Modena Codex Engardus is the composer of one and the other two are anonymous. The isorhythmic motet style is cultivated with such complexities as tenor melodies repeated backwards or with diminished values.

The valuable fragments already mentioned contain a motet in honour of John the Baptist in two-part madrigal style, even down to an Amen which takes the place of the ritornello. Ciconia seems to have taken an interest in such works, for he is represented by two two-part motets, one of which has been dated 1363. The tenor of this work is an early example of the fanfare-like tenors which gradually become more prevalent in Mass and motet and suggest the use of a slide trumpet. Together with a second similar part as contratenor, a very strong harmonic basis can be formed, as in Ciconia's motets in honour of the Paduan bishop Albano Michiel (1406) and St Nicholas. Although he often retains an isorhythmic framework, Ciconia was sufficiently influenced by Italian usage to write two motets with identical texts in both upper parts, which are unified by thematic relationships, while the tenor is free. None of these factors escaped the assimilative brain of Guillaume Dufay, who was to follow in the steps of Ciconia with a motet on St Anthony of Padua.

Antonio da Civitate was one of the few composers of the late trecento who wrote in isorhythmic motet style, for instance in a piece in honour of Giorgio Ordelaffi, lord of Forli, and his wife. Antonius Romanus wrote motets for two doges and Giovarmi Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua. All are four-part works and one is isorhythmic. Composers under French influence like Bartholomeus de Bologna, Corrado da Pistoia, and Zacharias wrote not only in ballade style but also in Latin, rather than turn to the dignity of the motet. However, this preference may have been caused by the greater capacity of the late-fourteenth-century ballade to express rhythmic nuance and virtuosity, since these works were expressly written for one of the schismatic popes. It seems as though in the long run Italian composers could not keep pace with the northerners, of whom they became mere imitators, and, while isorhythmic motets continued to be written for Italy by men like Guillaume Dufay, Dunstable and the English popularized the free liturgical motet with its melodic and harmonic novelty.


While France had left nothing in the way of instrumental music, and England only a few arrangements of motets and one or two estampies for keyboard, trecento Italy preserved for posterity a number of dances for a single instrument of the stnng or wind family together with a large collection of keyboard music, mainly arrangements of vocal music. The monodic pieces consist of eight estampies, four saltarelli, a trotto and two compositions called Lamento di Tristano and La Manfiredina. The estampies are longer than the saltarelli and trotto, though they are constructed in the same way. The saltarelli must have been played very quickly in some cases and the frequent use of fanfare-like motifs suggests the use of a stringed instrument like the viol.

The keyboard manuscript contains no less than forty pieces, though an accurate total can only be given when the whole collection is published. This is due to the absence of titles for many compositions, though twenty-nine have them. The general appearance of these works on the page corresponds to the modern piano score, with fairly long notes in the lower part and rushing semiquavers in the top one. The manuscript probably dates from about 1400 and the majority of works in it seem to be arrangements of vocal pieces taken from the French and Italian repertoire of polyphonic song. Composers represented are Guillaume de Machaut, Pierre des Molins, Jacopo da Bologna, Bartolino da Padua, Francesco Landini, and Antonio Zacaria da Teramo. These settings are usually highly ornamented in the top part as compared with the vocal originals, but they are never written for more than two parts, no matter how many parts the original had. An important discovery was that there were five arrangements of Mass pieces for keyboard, probably organ, in the manuscript, and these were written to alternate with each distinct section of sung plainsong, like the later organ Masses of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Interestingly enough, all five pieces, three Kyries and two Glorias, are based on the music of Vatican Mass VII. In other words, the notes of the plainsong are set out in the tenor, usually one note to a bar with slight variants and repetitions.


There is probably more information available about the performance of music in fourteenth-century Italy than about that in France, but even here it is restricted. The reports of payments to minstrels are interesting, but do not lead to a better knowledge of actual music. One thing, however, is clear, namely that wind instruments were extremely popular, whether in the form of trumpets, pipes, or shawms. It is also evident that large bodies of singers or instrumentalists were most exceptional. In fact, there is rarely mention of more than two or three men. At Milan in 1407 the cathedral was reduced to the services of one singer, Matteo da Perugia, though later we find three men serving as soprano, tenor, and contratenor, clear indication of the vocal performance of three-part compositions.

Three literary works give detailed descriptions of the way music was executed in trecento Italy. These are Boccaccio's Decameron, Giovanni da Prato's Il Paradiso degli Alberti, and Simone Prodenzani's Il Saporetto, dated respectively 1353, 1389, and ca. 1400. Although music usually begins and ends each day in the Decameron, the other two works are more interesting for what they actually say about musical performance. Giovanni da Prato discusses the meetings of a group of Florentine intellectuals at the villa Paradiso owned by the Alberti family, and they talk about philosophical matters and tell stories. This ideal circle of contemporary notabilities includes Francesco Landini, who tells a story about a musician whose serenade so enthralls a local despot that he is taken into his service. On one occasion two girls sang one of his ballate and everyone was much affected; even the birds were moved to be silent, then to sing with redoubled energy, and finally a nightingale came and perched on a branch right above Francesco. In Il Saporetto the hero is a virtuoso called Sollazzo who sings and plays on any instrument, and the works performed are often named. They come from the French, Italian, German, and Spanish repertory and include sacred as well as secular music. It is interesting to find that madrigals can be played as harp solos, for this surely necessitates some form of arrangement or adaptation to the possibilities of the instrument. Singing to the accompaniment of lute or viol is also mentioned in trecento literature, and an Italian picturebook of the period shows a singer together with a portable organ and viol.

It is easy to describe in general how music was performed in Italy at this time, but nothing like so simple in detail. Two-part madrigals might have been performed by voices alone, or discreetly accompanied by instruments, or even on instruments alone. Obviously voices and instruments were almost interchangeable. But it is clear that performance by voices was normal for the two-part madrigal and Mass music. For three-part works with textless lower parts instruments like the viol appear more desirable, though the possibility always exists that textless lower parts were sung and simply followed the text of the upper part. This is suggested in Italian works where a part may have a text in one manuscript but not in another. Still, it is the present custom to perform any part without text on instruments. As in France most dance music was improvised and must have often been in three parts, considering the popularity of wind ensembles such as shawm, bagpipe, and trumpet. Italians seem to have been more interested in solo performance than the French and therefore it is likely that they were more prone to use a single instrument like the harp, the lute, or the small organ for independent performances of polyphonic songs. It is more difficult to assess the role of such instruments in the accompaniment of the top part of a three-part song. They may have been highly ornamented, like the existing keyboard arrangements, or they may simply have doubled the voice and sometimes replaced it. Future research may provide answers to some of these problems.

After Denis Stevens (1960)

IIIA: The Florentine Group