n almost 50 years after Gutenberg invented printing with movable type, the time had finally come for music as well: in 1501, Ottaviano Petrucci presented his first printing of sheet music in Venice with the Odhecaton A, triggering a wave of innovations in the music world of the 16th century that continues to shape our culture today. For this reason, ReRenaissance dedicates an annual concert to the musical treasure from Petrucci’s print shop – in chronological order to ensure a long-term perspective on this significant development. Compared to the prints that preceded and were to follow, Canti B is relatively small (only 50 pieces, where Odhecaton A included 100), but it nevertheless contains music by the most important composers of the time (Josquin, Compère, Obrecht, Brumel), collected by a musician at the crossroads of European musical culture.
Grace Newcombe – voice, harp, clavisimbalum | Tabea Schwartz – recorders, viola d’arco | Claire Piganiol – harp, portative | Marc Lewon – lute, quinterne, viola d’arco; conductor
Concert recording February 2022
Vlog February 2022 on “Canti B” – continuation of a secret revolution
Claire Piganiol – harpist, recorder player and music historian
Thomas Christ (TC): They discovered early music at a young age, while studying the modern classical harp, and thus found their way from Paris via Milan and Toulouse to Basel. How did this fascination for the world of early music come about?
Claire Piganiol (CP): Dear Mr. Christ, thank you very much for the interview! I discovered early music by playing the recorder and I must say I chose the instrument at that time for practical reasons (finally something transportable!).
But early music and historical harps quickly fascinated me as a teenager – not only the repertoire, but also how to handle it, the “pioneering spirit” and freedom (improvisation, playing the basso continuo …) that these repertoires allow, as well as the many possibilities for ensemble playing.
TC: Your two instruments, the flute and the harp, have a history of several thousand years, as you know, so they belong, so to speak, to the first musical instruments of mankind. Nevertheless, little is known about the construction and notation of the old, even medieval instruments. What are your sources for replicating today’s medieval or Renaissance harps?
CP: On the one hand, we have some preserved instruments, for example the “Wartburg harp” (which might have belonged to Oswald von Wolkenstein – the singer, composer and poet around 1400) or two very beautiful double harps from late Renaissance Italy. On the other hand, we can turn to iconography and literature. For example, the harp I will be playing in the February concert has been recreated from a painting by Hans Memling (thanks to a very accurate representation aesthetic, you can recognize the instruments very well).
TC: I imagine the reconstruction of the playing technique and also the string tuning to be even more difficult – there is probably a lot of improvising and reinventing with knowledgeable empathy? Or what historical or art historical sources do you draw on for this?
CP: That’s right! For the playing technique we have (not surprisingly) no exact descriptions from this time, but there are isolated references, among others in tracts and in the literature. For example, a 13th century psalm commentary gives us some clues about the playing of the “kithara,” an ancient instrument name that was also interpreted as “harp” at the time. For string tuning, we know that harpists have retuned quite a bit and used “special tunings”. The harpists of today must then, just like the harpists of yesteryear, find their own solutions!
TC: Is the harp of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance primarily an accompanying instrument to singing or – like the flute – an instrument with its own voice, or – in other words – can it be compared to the lute in the Renaissance repertoire?
CP: The harp is a self-sufficient instrument, and we have names and descriptions of virtuoso harpists in both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance – yet the harp was also particularly good as an accompanying instrument. Unlike the lute, however, there are relatively few pieces of music composed or printed explicitly for harp. On the harp can usually be played the repertoire of keyboard instruments and lutes.
TC: One last question that I like to ask all early music stars: We observe, by the way, only since a few decades, that Baroque music enjoys enormous popularity, while the rich Renaissance music treasures still remain largely undiscovered or lead a niche existence. What do you think? Lacking mediation, will the Renaissance Friends fan club grow or does it have its limits in our noisy and fast-paced times?
CP: I really hope that the Renaissance Friends fan club will grow! One still often hears the argument that Renaissance music was “dry,” not yet “expressive” (with the idea in the background that early Baroque music was finally expressive), perhaps not yet virtuosic enough. But of course this is not the case and I have the impression that there is more and more curiosity and interest in this music. It is our task as musicians to present high quality programs and make them understandable for the audience, to try to attract new passions to this repertoire.
Like his Odhecaton A, Petrucci’s next printing, Canti B, had to be reprinted only a year after its first edition. In both cases, Petrucci had obviously underestimated the sales figures for his daring new project. Canti B differed, however, because it contained newer music and in many ways documented the end of fixed forms (formes fixes) in French song: years in which the rondeaux and virelais became so monumentally bloated that they sometimes threatened to collapse under their own weight.
One of the leading figures of the period was Hayne van Ghizeghem: until recently there was no evidence that he had lived beyond 1476, but five years ago the French musicologist David Fiala presented evidence (so far only on Facebook!) that Ghizeghem was still alive in 1493 and a member of the French royal family. So now we see that he dominated this phase together with Compère and Agricola.
The other innovation in Canti B is the emergence of a much simpler style that replaced the old fixed forms: songs based on monophonic melodies, in a genre we call chanson rustique. Fortunately, two manuscripts with these melodies from the first years of the 16th century have survived, which can help us reconstruct the origin of the compositions. There are also a large number of mostly tiny printed poetry collections dedicated to the same repertoire
As is so often the case, it looks like Josquin was the pioneer of this genre; but we’ve heard so much Josquin in the past year that it may be avoided in the next few concerts. The most important thing we have been able to ascertain in recent decades, especially with the enormous increase in recordings, is that Josquin was not a solitary genius. Everyone has known for centuries that Leonardo and Raphael were not the only great painters of the early 16th century; and we knew this because the paintings were on the walls of the art galleries of the world. Music was a different story: until the works became available in decent recordings, no one knew how many other composers of Josquin’s generation were as great as the great painters of the time. Let’s hope we hear more from them in 2022.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
1. iste confessor – Gregorian hymn (8th c.)
2. virgo celesti (5vv*) – Loyset Compère (c1445-1518)
Canti B, Venice (Ottaviano Petrucci) 1502 (no. 2), fol. 2v-3r
3. dung aultre amer (4vv) – Marbrianus de Orto (c1460-1529)
Canti B (no. 24), fol. 27v-28r
4. de tous biens (3vv) – John Ghiselin (active 1491-1507)
Canti B (no. 42), fol. 45v-46
5. je cuide / De tous biens (4vv) – Jean Japart (active c1476-1481)
Canti B (no. 31), fol. 34v-35r
6. j’ay pris amours (3vv/4vv) – anonymous / Johannes Martini (c1430/40-1497)
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. Rothschild 2973
(“Chansonnier Cordiforme,” c1470), fol. 23v-24r / Florence,
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale. Ms Banco Rari 229, fol. 189v-190r
7 Jay pris amours (4vv) – Jacob Obrecht (1457/8-1505)
Canti B (no. 3), fol. 3v-7r
8. a qui direlle sa pencée – anonymous monody
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, f. fr. 12744 (unanimous
Chansonnier, c1500), fol. 9r
9. a qui direlle sa pensee (4vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 15), fol. 18v-19r
10. se suis trop ionnette (4vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 6), fol. 9v-10r
11. he Dieu, qui me confortera – anonymous
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, f. fr. 9346 (“Le Chansonnier de
Bayeux”; monophonic chansonnier, c1500), fol. 68v-69r
12. vray dieu qui me confortera (4vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 4), fol. 7v-8r
13. je sui trop jeunette & Je suis d’Allemagne (3vv) – anonymous
Paris 12744, fol. 17r & Dijon, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 517
(“Chansonnier Pixérécourt”), fol. 114v-115r
14. a qui dirage mes pensees (3vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 47), fol. 55v
15. pour quoy fu fiat cette emprise (3vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 43), fol. 46v-48r
16 En amours que cognoist (3vv) – Antoine Brumel (c1460-1512/13)
Canti B (no. 49), fol. 53v-54r
17. reveillez vous, piccars – anonymous monody
Paris 12744, fol. 95r
18. revellies vous (4vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 9), fol. 12v-13r
19. avant avant (4vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 38), fol. 41r
20. si sumpsero (3vv) – Jacob Obrecht
Canti B (no. 40), fol. 42v-44r
21. adieu fillette de regnon (3vv) – anonymous
Canti B (no. 44), fol. 48v-49r
22. le grant desir – anonymous monody
Paris 12744, fol. 93v
23 Le grant desir (3vv) – Loyset Compère
Canti B (no. 51), fol. 55v
*vv = ‘voices’ = “number of voices”.
Historical Museum Basel