Trecento Italy: ballata, madrigal, caccia

January 10, 2010

After a week singing Purcell, time to get cracking in preparation for next semester’s Medieval and Renaissance music course. I could start chronologically with the Greeks, but I’ll jump in anywhere and built up a picture, jigsaw-wise, not that I’m unfamiliar with the trajectory from Gregorian chant to Monteverdi. Today’s random notes relate to vocal music from C14 Italy. I’ll deal with instrumental music (British Library MS) separately. Obviously this is in draft – I will keep adding bits and pieces over time; this is an exercise really in getting my thoughts and impressions together. My starting point is the CD by The Newberry Consort, entitled “Il Solazzo: music for a medieval banquet”. Il Solazzo (Solace) is the title of an allegorical text by Tuscan poet Simone Prudenzani written near the end of the C14. It’s a collection of 18 ballate or dance-songs (none have melodies) which tell tales of sin and viciousness.  A lot of the music (described and mentioned by title) is extant elsewhere in surivving collections of trecento polyphony.

MS Sources

Squarcialupi Codex (350 compositions from C14, compiled c1415); Codex Faenza; Codex Cottona. Instrumental music comes from British Library MS 29987.

Other source material

Boccaccio’s Decameron recreates Florence of 1348; Giovanni da Prati’s Il Paradiso degli Alberti is set in 1389 and includes references to Francesco Landini.


Between both Jacopo da Bologna and Francesco Landini, we seem to be spanning the entire 14th century.

Jacopo DA BOLOGNA (c1310-1386). Born Bologna adn worked in Verona and Milan. 28 pieces in Squarcialupi.

Francesco LANDINI (c1325-1397). 154 compositions including 140 ballate. Secular texts only, 90 ballate a2 and 50 a3 (sop/alto plus tenor or instrumental). See Taruskin chp.19 for a biographical description written by Villani.

Johannes CICONIA. See a Mass movement in HAM, Et in terra pax. Refer Bukofzer page 134.


Bartolino DA PADOVA

Notes on musical examples (scores, recordings)

da Bologna, Non al suo amante (c1350). Il Solazzo track 5; Roden Anthology, Ex.37.

Landini, Or su, gentili spiriti (c1389). Roden Anthology, Ex.38.

Landini, Donna s’i’ t’o fallito. Il Solazzo track 8.

Landini, Dolcie signioreIl Solazzo track 7.

Landini, La biona trezza. Il Solazzo track 12

Landini, El grano disio. Il Solazzo track 13

Ciconia, O rosa bella


Composing medieval music: a trecento ballata

What does the two-part ballata, Io son un pellgrin, for two voices by Giovanni da Florentia (HAM Ex.51 p.54) tell us about composition and putting music to texts, at this time when Florentine music was being affected – as a result of strong trade with France and the Lowlands – by the Ars Nova style of France (for example in the very French use of 3/4 time)? The musical form is AbbaA (which is identical to the virelai, laude and cantigas of earlier medieval music).

Section A

This corresponds to the following line of text: Io son un pellegrin, che vo cercando limosina per dio merce chiamando. Which basically translates as “I am a pilgrim who goes in search of alms, for God’s sake, crying mercy”. Musically it makes up 16 bars, but significantly there is florid writing associated with the first word Io and the penultimate syllable ‘man’ of chiamando.  So the setting of text to music is as follows:

I                                  o      son un pellegrin che vo cer           

 (flourish) cad            /   *       *    *       *   *   *       *    *    * /

Bars 1-6                         Bar 7                                                     

 cando         li     mosina per     dio merce chiaman                         do.

*    cad        * / *   *  *  *          / *       *     *      * / cad      flourish     cad.

Bar 8                    Bar 9                   Bar 10                Bar 11     Bars 13-16                                  

Where * represents the metric stress in either the first vocal line and/or the second and / represents the barlines and cad represents the cadences. The same flourishes are given to the text in the repeat of Section A towards the end, i.e. in the E and stan of E quandro credo andare alla seconda vento contrario mi vien tempestando.

When it comes to note values, we’re talking about descending minims followed by crochets in the opening flourish, similar to a ground bass (presumably to get the tactus exactly right for the singer when she presents the words of the verses proper. Similar treatment is given to the final flourish. Over these steady bass lines are quaver runs (including a triplet) – same in both flourishes. The text is presented in quavers, with obvious stress on the vowels (when singing these in a large space, rehearse by just singing the vowels alone with lots of nasal resonance to give the voice projection). The cadential figures are minims followed by crochets. The bass line imitates the note values of the upper part exactly, so with the minims in the flourishes and quavers in the text, we get a slow/fast/slow effect overall.

The initial flourish by the way is used extensively in the period, at least as presented in the examples in HAM (Exx.49,50,51,52 and slightly less so in the Landini madrigal Ex.54)  Sy dolce non sono: text and music start together, in medio res, with no “intro”.)

Section A starts with a E above a A and ends in D (voices an octave apart). Section b starts a fifth higher (top line A above a D) and finishes like Section A both on D. I’m obviously very hesitant about talking about “key” as such, for obvious reasons, but am keen on identifying intervals at starts and finishes.

It would be possible to “excise” the flourishes, at start and finish, of A without detrimentally affecting the basic musical structure and impact on text. That is, one could start and finish the whole Section by simply starting with the leading note at the end of bar 6 and the cadence six bars before the end. It’s as if da Florentia has consciously “added” an intro and final flourish to music matched closely to the text. Obviously there is a strong emphasis on vocal virtuosity – holding the breath over the first six bars and over final five and a half bars. They could equally have been played by a soprano instrument as bookends around the text I suppose. 


Il Solazzo: music for a medieval banquet. Newberry Consort. CD, Harmonia Mundi. HMU 907038.

Archibald Davison and Willi Appel, Historical Anthology of Music: Oriental, Medieval and Renaissance Music. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ Press, 1949.

Timothy Roden, Craig Wright and Bryan Simms. Anthology for Music in Western Civilization. Volume 1: Antiquity through the Renaissance.


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