EFORE I BEGIN this blog, you might be wondering about the definition of “Musicology.” That’s easy: it’s basically “Music History.” While studying as an undergraduate, all the doors read, “Music History.” Then, in my senior year, they all switched to “Musicology.” I guess the department wanted to “keep up with the times,” but I imagine it must have been really strange for the professors to wake up one morning and be called a different thing.
In any event, one of my graduate Musicology professors always used to complain about the Bach conferences. She would say, “Here they are arguing over the most minute things: what color pen did Bach use, what color shoes did Bach have, and so forth. Meanwhile, we’re lucky if we even know when composers of the early Renaissance were born!”
This professor had a point. The further one goes back in history, the less documentation exists (for a variety of reasons, which I won’t delve into here). There was one early Renaissance composer who lived for 120 years. At least, that’s what musicologists thought for the longest time. Eventually they realized “he” was actually two people: father & son.
On the other hand, documentation doesn’t solve all problems. For instance, those of us who carefully studied the life of Vladimir Horowitz know that he often lied during interviews. Sometimes, his memory was faulty. Other times, the transcriber of the interview was at fault. Other times, the printed programs from the early 1900s were incorrect.
BEARING ALL THIS IN MIND, the reader will be able to better understand why it’s so exciting to find reliable information about Renaissance composers. If you are a Church musician, you really ought to read this part of Msgr. Richard Schuler’s doctoral dissertation (published in Caecilia in 1963):
Here are some excerpts I hope you enjoy:
On 24 December, Nanino records that the singers missed a response of Amen which they were supposed to make after the pope said the Gospel at Matins. But the careful and farsighted Nanino records that the books were marked so that the same thing would not happen the following year, as it might if they depended only on memory. He adds the instruction that this Amen is to be answered “without delay.”
The pope replied that all should conduct themselves in choro with devotion and attention, that they should not engage each other in idle chatter since that causes many bad discords. In the future more attention should be exercised.
Oratio Crescentio was absent and was fined eighty-seven julii.
In mid-December the chapel was filled with painters who were decorating it, so the choir had a three day vacation.
First, he takes up the question of absences, noting that each singer could miss two days in a year’s time, provided those days were not Sundays, feasts of the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles or Evangelists, or any day listed in the calendar at the beginning of his “Diario.” Neither could anyone miss a public consistory held in the Sala Ducale of the Vatican palace. He solves the problem of the distinction between absences and tardiness by declaring that a singer who is not in his place by the end of the Epistle will be marked absent. Fines vary according to the rank of the day on which the tardiness or absence occurred, and if any bonus (regaglia) should come to the singers because of an appearance of the choir at a function outside the Sistine chapel, the culprit would forfeit his share. At papal Masses, the regulations against tardiness were more stringent than at Masses celebrated by cardinals or bishops. Nanino records that any singer who is not in his place and in his vestments by the end of the repetition of the introit will be fined eight vinti. At papal Vespers the singer who is not present at the Gloria Patri of the first psalm pays a fine of fifty balocchi.
As a composer, I found this excerpt extremely interesting:
The “Diario” for 1594, written by Hippolito Gambocci, also records an interesting anecdote that involved Nanino. The reigning pontiff was Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605). According to custom, the choir sang a special motet for the pope while he was dining on the anniversary of his coronation, which for Clement was February ninth. The fitting In diademate capitis by Nanino was performed, and it attracted the special notice of the pope and possibly his displeasure. He asked whose composition it was, and when told that Nanino was the composer he somewhat softened his attitude and attempted to shift his criticism, since Nanino was a recognized master. The pope then declared that he did not like the words of the piece, but the maestro di cappella pointed out that they were taken from the Bible. The “Diario” does not add any further comment. None was necessary.