IIIG: The Frottolists and their contemporaries

Italian creative ability in the field of music seems to have declined after the first quarter of the quattrocento, not to recover its vitality for some fifty years. As far as we can now tell, Bartolomeo Brolo was the only Italian composer of consequence active during this interval. However, in the 1470's a new blossoming of native composition occurred. At about the same time the recently invented art of printing was applied to monophonic music. Early in the 16th century it was also applied, on a large scale, to polyphony. Since much of the polyphonic music that was printed then dated from the later decades of the 15th century, our sources for the art forms of that period include early prints as well as MSS.

Among the most important of these sources are the prints of secular music published by Ottaviano de' Petrucci , especially, for present purposes, those devoted to Italian music. Whatever the contribution of Michel de Toulouze may have been, Petrucci is the man whose position as a printer of music is analogous to that of Gutenberg as a printer of books. Even though Petrucci was not the first to print music or even the first to do so from movable type, he was the earliest to accomplish printing in an important way with respect to music other than plainsong. Printed music naturally gained wider circulation than MSS. The appeal to a larger audience is reflected in Petrucci's departing from custom by providing solutions to verbal canons.

The frottola and Related Types

The term frottola (derived from frocta --"a 'mixture' of unrelated thoughts and facts") has been used in both a generic and a specific sense, with resulting confusion. For example, Petrucci , in his Frottole . . . Libro Quarto, included strambotti, ode, and sonnets, as well as frottole proper. He did, however, separate the categories in the table of contents. Almost all the Italian secular poetic forms of the period from c. 1470 to 1530--i.e., the forms just mentioned plus the capitolo and canzone --were covered by the designation, used generically. These pieces replaced the rondeau and bergerette in the favor of courtly circles, especially in northern and central Italy. They are, in fact, every bit as much formes fixes as the rondeau ,etc. It is strange to find them coming into fashion in Italy just when the formes fixes were dying out in the north.

The birthplace of the new art was Mantua, with the courts of Ferrara and Urbino playing auxiliary roles. Of the several factors favorable to its growth, the most formative was undoubtedly the patronage of the highly intelligent marchioness of Mantua, Isabella d'Este, daughter of Hercules I of Ferrara, niece of Beatrice of Aragon, and music student of Johannes Martini . Like most women of her circle, she had received instruction in dancing as well as in music, but unlike them, she made the arts an integral part of life rather than a superficial one. In what was once her study in the ducal palace at Mantua, Ockeghem 's Prennez sur moi may be found worked out in marquetry. Many of the great artists of Italy stood on terms of mutual respect and friendship with her. Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, and Castiglione paid her homage. Ariosto (in Orlando furioso ) called her "that friend of illustrious works . . . liberal and magnanimous Isabella."

The recitation of poetry was completely enjoyable to Isabella and her circle only when given a musical setting. Serafino dall'Aquila (d. 1500), the leading poet of strambotti, served at Mantua at the height of his fame, in 1494. Like many poets of the time, he was skilled in singing verses to his own accompaniment on the lute. Some of the anonymous settings of his strambotti that have come down to us may well be based on his own performances, a number, no doubt, being his own compositions. After Serafino, the most prolific poet of amorous lyrics was Galeotto del Carretto (c. 1470-1530). He was one of the numerous authors who regularly sent verses to Isabella to have them set to music by one of the two great frottolists at her court.

These composers, Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Marco Cara , were the direct cause of Mantua's renown as the center of the new art. Their fame was already high when, c. 1495, they began their activity at Isabella's court. Tromboncino, who was a man of stormily emotional temperament, often found himself in trouble, eventually murdering his unfaithful wife and her lover. In time, however, his talent earned him forgiveness even for this.

On the whole, very little is known concerning the Italian frottolists. We are not even certain of the place of origin of Filippo da Luprano, one of the most prolific. Michele Pesenti (not to be confused with Michele Vicentino, also a frottolist) and Giovanni Brocco were from Verona. Antonio Capriolli came from Brescia. Francesco d'Ana was, at first, organist at San Leonardo in Venice, and then from August 20, 1490, second organist at St. Mark's. Lodovico Fogliano , whose Musica theorica (1529) comes much closer to propounding the system of just intonation than did, the earlier treatise of Ramos, composed, as did his brother, Giacomo . Many other names could be added, for compositions of the frottola family were written by laymen and priests, nobles and commoners alike.

The style of such compositions was half popular, half aristocratic. Popular tunes were often used, but in a manner designed to please the cultivated listener. Such material attracted the frottolists as "an object of mirth and mockery, though also of a secret yearning to descend into the lower sphere of supposed vulgarity." They incorporated into their pieces the beginnings of many popular songs and the complete versions of others. Sometimes a frottolist was, in the old tradition, both poet and composer.

The melodic line of the typical frottola has small range and many repeated notes. The contrast to the Franco-Netherlandish style is striking at the cadences (other than the last), where the feminine rhymes so prevalent in Italian are set to repeated notes (rarely to a step or leap). The contrast is heightened by the Italian fondness for clear-cut phrases, in which all voices begin and end together. Cantus firmi, in the very few instances in which they occur, may lie in any voice.

The general trend after 1510, as evidenced by the contents of successive frottola books, was in favor of the more serious forms, the canzone, sonnet, and oda. The last known printed collection of frottole appeared in 1533, but their essence nevertheless continued alive in other forms. The lighter types of frottola developed into the villanesca, while the more serious forms were infused with Franco-Netherlandish style trends to bring forth the madrigal.

Sacred Music; the Laude

Although Tromboncino , Cara , and their fellow frottolists were essentially composers of secular music, they wrote some church music also. Petrucci printed two collections of Lamentations of Jeremiah, both in 1506, and Trom- boncino, Weerbecke and Erasmus Lapicida are represented by settings in Book II. Book I, which contains some material other than Lamentations, ends with a Passio sacra, not a real Passion despite its opening word, by Francesco d'Ana

Canti Carnascialeschi

The canti carnascialeschi or carnival songs, or, as they are sometimes called, the Florentine frottole , were sung in Florence during the carnival season.

The Sacre Rappresentazioni, etc.

If the canti carnascialeschi, performed before Lent and some time after Easter, in the Calendimaggio, were of a frivolous nature, more serious matter was provided for performance during Lent by the sacre rappresentazioni. These religious plays derived from two sources. One was the type of devozione (or dramatized lauda ) that was an enactment, as a play in verse, of the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. (There were also devozioni associated with Christmas.) The custom of offering these presentations had spread throughout trecento Italy. The other source was the elaborate celebration in Florence of the feast of her patron saint, John the Baptist. This was celebrated yearly with processions--which included cars decorated to represent religious subjects--and with tableaux and mimes on specially erected stages in all the public squares. Such spectacles might include a Resurrection, with a tomb bursting open with a loud explosion, or an Assumption of the Virgin by singing angels. The spoken drama of the devozione and the mimetic and musical spectacles of the feast of St. John fused into the sacra rappresentazione.

The rappresentazioni were usually enacted in church--and even here with the aid of spectacular scenic effects. Brunelleschi designed a Heaven in the vaults of a certain church, with doors that rolled back with a sound like thunder to reveal the Eternal Father enthroned in glory among the heavenly host.

Instrumental Music

The scarcity of instrumental music surviving from 15th-century Italy might cause us to underestimate its importance in its day. But literary sources show that it was used often-in church services, festivities, receptions, social gatherings. For example, at the celebration of the wedding of Costanzo Sforza and Camilla of Aragon at Pesaro in 1475, the guests heard not only two antiphonal choruses of sixteen singers each, but "organi, pifferi, trombetti ed infiniti tamburini." When Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, went to Florence in 1471, he took along forty players of "high" instruments. The nobility retained numerous instrumentalists to accompany their singers and to render solos and ensemble music. Instrument collections in the various palaces included lutes, viols, harps, flutes, etc.

The sacre rappresentazioni were preceded by instrumental preludes, which followed the prologue. Pictures show children playing instruments in the performance of such dramas; there is evidence also of a children's instrumental ensemble functioning at Ferrara in 1472.

Beginning with the 14th century, and perhaps earlier, bands of wind instruments had been employed by such cities as Florence and Lucca. Civic records include references to trumpeters, pifferi, and bagpipe players, The usual wind band seems to have had about eight or nine players.

The oldest print of Italian organ music extant dates from 1517 but many collections of such music must have existed in the 14th century; an inventory of the Cathedral Library at Treviso mentions a "liber pro organis" as far back as 1364-1.

The oldest Florentine organ of which we know was built c. 1299. Beginning with the trecento, the fame of Tuscan organ builders spread through the peninsula. Venice produced a great builder in Fra Urbano, who constructed a famous organ for St. Mark's in 1490 and remained active at least forty years. This instrument was added to the earlier organ there, so that the quattrocento saw Venice able to boast of antiphonal organ-playing, a position shared by Naples. At Brescia, the Antegnati family achieved a fame they were to maintain through four generations. In addition, numerous Germans and Frenchmen competed in Italy with native organ builders.

Fifteenth-century Florence, as we have seen, was the home of the celebrated organist Squarcialupi and a place where Isaac played organ likewise. We have the names of several quattrocento organists active at St. Mark's. Francesco d'Ana 's service as organist at St. Mark's has already been noted.

Stringed keyboard-instruments were favored in the home, especially, it would seem, in the accompaniment of frottole . Some late 15th-century makers of cembali, etc., are known by name. The Antegnati, famous in the 16th century not only for their organs but also for their lutes and viols, may deserve credit for the high standing of Brescia as a lute- and viol-making center from c. 1495 on. Tinctoris states that the viol was used generally "for the accompaniment and ornamentation of vocal music and in connection with the recitation of epics." But 15th-century Italy no doubt saw it used also independently and in viol and mixed ensembles.

Dance Music

The keyboard music mentioned above consists of transcriptions of vocal music. Transcriptions as well as imitations of such music constitute one of the three main categories of Renaissance instrumental music, the other two being dance and improvised music (the last category overlapping the other two and the second overlapping the first). Examples of 15th-century dance music survive in the Italian dance treatises of the time. These examples are monophonic. Domenico of Piacenza, dance master at Ferrara, whose pupils spread his art all over Italy shortly after 1450, was clearly a central figure. Among his disciples was Guglielmo Ebreo of Pesaro (perhaps identical with Giovanni Ambrogio da Pesaro ) who taught at Florence and whose book is one of several known Italian dance manuals of the period. It includes a number of tunes as well as choreographic directions for many dances, two of which are credited to Lorenzo de' Medici and many to Domenico. Another dance theorist of the time whose treatise likewise includes tunes is Antonio Cornazano.

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