ome 1501: While Basel has just become the eleventh canton to join the Swiss Confederation, a new musical age has already begun in Venice. Under the title “Harmonice Musices Odhecaton”, translated “One Hundred Songs of Harmonic Music”, Ottaviano Petrucci publishes a collection of polyphonic vocal and instrumental music. This marks the beginning of a secret revolution, as Petrucci uses a new type of music printing with movable type for his first work. From then on, the history of music transmission was determined not only by manuscripts but also by prints, which were easier to reproduce. Reason enough to present a selection of those nearly one hundred “songs” by such well-known composers as Josquin, Ockeghem, and Obrecht – music that, thanks to its accessibility, ranks among the hits of its era.
Doron Schleifer – voice | Ryosuke Sakamoto – lute and viola d’arco | Elizabeth Rumsey – viola d’arco | Tabea Schwartz – recorder, viola d’arco; conductor
Ryosuke Sakamoto – Lutenist
Thomas Christ (TC): Dear Mr. Sakamoto, you were born in Japan and graduated from Tokyo University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in aesthetics. Then in 2008 you came to the Schola Cantorum in Basel. This is not an everyday journey, either culturally or geographically – how did they get into early music?
Ryosuke Sakamoto (RS): The first influence was quite clear. Both my parents are early music musicians (viola da gamba and recorder). They studied together in Europe before I was born. When I was three years old, I started playing a saz (Turkish long-necked lute), and later my father gave me a Renaissance lute. It was probably the easiest instrument to accompany him!
TC: The lute is considered a very delicate and intimate, almost meditative instrument. The question arises whether and to what extent a comparison with the Japanese koto or shamisen game is permissible, with which they have certainly come into contact.
RS: Personally, I have very little experience with traditional Japanese instruments like koto or shamisen, although my parents owned some. But I can say that the typical Japanese plucked instrument Biwa has the same origin as our European lute. The sonority and musical function of the biwa are very similar to those of the plectrum lute, the instrument I play in this concert.
TC: You were already involved with early European music in Japan, both as a lutenist and as a gambist. Can you tell us something about the reception of European early music in Japan. Does the inclined audience mostly come from Tokyo?
RS: Early music concerts were not rare in Japan, but only from the 1980s. Tokyo is a center for early European music, and some conservatories have an early music department, but no lute class … And it is also true that there are not many musicians who play the music of the early Baroque, Renaissance or even the Middle Ages.
TC: You also spent some years in Sweden and in 2008 you brought your knowledge, your expertise and of course your instrument to its old home in Europe. I suppose this has simplified and enriched your dialogue with the lute literature. Or are they feeling the greater competition in Europe?
RS: The first time I consciously played the instrument, I was still a small child in Sweden – Swedish folk songs inspired me enormously. Above all, I suddenly fell in love with the music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However, I did not yet perceive it as “early” European music, as something special, but as everyday music.
TC: Baroque music has enjoyed great popularity in Europe for several decades, while with Renaissance music we have a knowledgeable but numerically limited audience. Do you think that will change in the coming years, that there will be a growing need in our society for a more intimate and meditative musical experience? In terms of content, there would still be a lot to discover.
RS: I am above all a lover of Renaissance music (especially music of the 16th century). From my perspective as a performer, the intellectual aspects (such as the rich polyphony) of Renaissance music are quite difficult to present to modern audiences. I think this ReRenaissance series certainly opens a window for a new audience.
TC: As a lutenist, could you imagine participating in a Euro-Japanese cross-over project, i.e. playing old Japanese court music with the lute?
RS: Since ancient Japanese music depends so much on oral tradition, it is almost impossible to reconstruct the music. But in fact, with Joan Boronat-Sanz (harpsichord and organ), I started the project ‘Missione Musicorum’, in which we play the music from the late 16th century, when a Jesuit missionary came to Japan. There are enough documents showing that the Japanese at that time learned to play and sing European music. Recently we have played this program several times in Japan and Spain. It would be nice if we could play it in Basel too!
Twenty years ago, when we started the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the founding of the company… As the world prepared for the 50th anniversary of commercial music printing – embodied in Petrucci’s Odhecaton – someone had the brilliant idea to put on an “Odhecathon”, i.e. a massive concert with all 96 pieces of the collection. Then we realized that might not be such a good idea: the whole thing would probably take less than four hours, but it would certainly be a recipe for musical indigestion. On top of that, this calculation would only work if all the pieces were performed without text, as Petrucci transmitted them. Much of the music, however, consisted of songs in the “formes fixes” of the 15th century (i.e., with appropriate repetitions of form parts), some of which were already 50 years old at the time of printing: To do justice to the music, we would have had to present it in its full length. So rather around 15 hours total length.
This realization, however, also indicates the magnitude of Petrucci’s project: that it occupies a place of honor in all musical histories is for good reason. Petrucci was the first to master the art of printing an extensive book of mensural polyphony with movable type. Music printing before Petrucci consisted either of individually cut wooden blocks or of monophonic chorale – often limited to only a few pages, although some large and beautiful chorale books were printed in the preceding decade, especially in Venice. What Petrucci undertook required much more than that. He had to invent a technique to print and align sheet music. He had to cut and cast a completely new typeface for music – and he succeeded in doing so with such beauty that it was hardly surpassed until the 19th century. He had to instruct his printers and teach them to align the paper in three successive passes so that the notes came to rest in exactly the right places on the staves: the results are amazingly accurate, even by today’s computerized standards. He had to select and arrange the music: about 200 pieces for the first three volumes. He needed to raise funds to finance the venture. It truly takes wonder that an insignificant man from the tiny provincial town of Fossombrone should have accomplished this in Venice. His most impressive achievement, however, was to bring a steady flow of new music books to market over the next eight years – more than fifty publications. During these years, the printed book replaced the manuscript as the most important medium for the transmission of polyphonic music. This change was almost entirely Petrucci’s doing.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
1. hor oires une chanzon – [Johannes de Stokem, c1445-1487].
Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A, Venice (Ottaviano Petrucci)
1501, fol. 5v-6, no. 3
2. ma bouche rit – Jean de Ockeghem (c1420-1497)
Odhecaton, fol. 59v-60, no. 54
3. recercar dietro – Joan Ambrosio Dalza, active around 1508
Intabulatura de Lauto Libro Quatro, Venice (Ottaviano Petrucci)
1508, fol. 4v
4. nunqua fue pena maior – [Juan de Urrede, active 1451-c1482].
Odhecaton, fol. 6v-7, no. 4
5. tander naken – Jacob Obrecht (c1457-1505)
Odhecaton, fol. 74-76, no. 69
6 Jay pris amours – anonymous
According to Dijon, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 517, fol. 7 and
Odhecaton fol. 8v-9, no. 6
7. la stangetta – “Uuerbech” [? Gaspar van Weerbeke,
c1445 – after 1516]
Odhecaton, fol. 54v-55, no. 49
8. de tous biens playne – [Hayne van Ghizeghem, c1445-1476/97
& Josquin des Prez, c1450/55-1521]
According to Odhecaton, fol. 22v-23, no. 20 and Odhecaton, fol. 102v-103, no. 95
9. dit le burguygnon – anonymous
Odhecaton, fol. 20v-21, no. 18
10th Benedictus – Henricus Isaac (c1450-1517)
Odhecaton, fol. 82v-83, no. 76
11. mater patris – Antoine Brumel (c1460-c1512)
Odhecaton, fol. 67-68, no. 62
12th Royne du ciel – Loyset Compere (c1445-1518)
Odhecaton, fol. 91, no. 84
13th Ave Maria – Marbrianus de Orto (c1460-1529)
Odhecaton, fol. 3v-4, no. 1
To the Josquin Year 2021:
14th Bergerette savoyene – Josquin des Prez (c1450/55-1521)
Odhecaton, fol. 12v-13, no. 10
Historical Museum Basel