Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni

Motets at Milan Cathedral
Sun 30.01.22

Historical Museum Basel

Performance of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in the Cathedral of Milan 2019


n the late 15th century, Milan was one of the most remarkable musical centers in Europe. In the international environment of the Sforza dukes, a court chapel flourished with Italian, German and especially Franco-Flemish singers and composers. The Cathedral Chapel was entrusted during this period to Franchinus Gaffurius, an authoritative theorist and maestro di cappella, whose death anniversary in 2022 will be the 500th anniversary of his death. anniversary. He was responsible for the production of four large manuscripts, the so-called “Libroni”. In a prestigious research project, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis shed new light on the Libroni as the only source of the time for Milan’s polyphonic sacred music. The concert is based on a cooperation between the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and ReRenaissance.

Musical direction: Federico Sepúlveda – voice | Catherine Motuz – trombone | Ivo Haun – voice | Agnese Pavanello – research

Students of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis:
Kimon Barakos, Silas Bischoff, Annelise Ellars, Amy Farnell, Robert Hernandez, Nathan Julius, Parvati Maeder, Julia Marty, Matthieu Romanens, Elizabeth Sommers, Caroline Sordia, Henry van Engen, and Arthur Wilkens (vocals, instruments); Clément Gester (cornett).
Ian Harrison (Pommer); ReRenaissance: Marc Lewon and Tabea Schwartz


Motets, Libroni, and Guidonian Feet

Vlog January 2022 on “Reopening’ Gaffurius Libroni” – Motets at Milan Cathedral

Gaffurius’ Libroni – Ave regina caelorum

From the concert Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni – Motets in Milan in Barfüsserkirche January 30, 2022 Basel Historisches Museum Basel

Gaffurius’ Libroni – Gloria Credo breves

Concert clip January 2022 from “Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni” – Motets from Milan

Gaffurius’ Libroni – Spes reorum es

From the sequence Ave virgo gloriosa, Heerenberg, Castle Huis Bergh, MS 34, fol. 135r-138r

From the concert Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni – Motets in Milan, January 30, 2022, Barfüsserkirche Historisches Museum Basel

Gaffurius’ Libroni – Ave Maria gratia plena (Loyset Compère) (2nd part: Sancte Michael)

Librone 3, 187v-189r

From the concert Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni – Motets in Milan, January 30, 2022, Barfüsserkirche Historisches Museum Basel

Gaffurius’ Libroni – Mater digna Dei

Gaspar van Weerbeke, Gaffurius Librone 1, fol. 115v-116r

From the concert Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni – Motets in Milan, January 30, 2022, Barfüsserkirche Historisches Museum Basel


Dr. Agnese Pavanello – Lecturer in Music History at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis

Thomas Christ (TC): After your studies in musicology in Pavia, your path led you not to Rome or Naples, despite your publications on Corelli, Tartini, Locatelli and Bonporti, but to Regensburg, Freiburg and Basel – can you explain that briefly?

Agnese Pavanello (AP): When I studied in Regensburg for a semester, I decided that I wanted to continue my education in the German-speaking world. I was fascinated by the German university culture, taken by the fantastic libraries that were easily accessible, and I felt enriched by all the impulses I received as a young Italian abroad.

From the University of Freiburg im Br. I came to Basel on a research fellowship. I wanted to take a closer look at Corelli’s sources, which were collected at the Musicology Institute. At the Basel Institute I found a particularly fertile environment to develop myself in musicology, and I rediscovered at that time my passion for early music, respectively for other historical fields also thanks to my visits to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (concerts and events of various kinds). I loved working late at night at the Basel Musicology Institute, back then its library was always open for us students. A dream for me. Subsequently, I received a scholarship to Basel and worked for two years at the institute as an assistant. When, after many years of working in musicology in Austria, I was offered a research position at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, I clearly had the feeling that I had arrived at the right place professionally.

TC: In our ReRenaissance concert series, we begin the year with a cycle of motets and other pieces from the well-known Libroni of Milan. At the SCB, you led a research project on these libroni called “Polifonia Sforzesca” – what is special about this project? In what way is this year’s performance a premiere?

AP: What was special about this project was that we wanted to create an online platform in which the Milan Libroni, which are among the most important musical manuscripts of sacred vocal polyphony of the Renaissance, could be made available digitally and explored from new points of view. We planned from the beginning that this portal should contain not only a catalog and an inventory of the works (with detailed information, such as concordances, bibliography on each work, etc.) but also critical digital editions from the libroni, as well as targeted studies on the manuscripts and the repertoire they contain. In particular, we planned to make the repertoire of the so-called “motetti missales,” cycles of motets performed during the divine service, available in new critical editions in open access and to shed new light on them thanks to new research. We have all achieved these goals. Our international team of researchers worked on it for a total of almost seven years – first on researching only the motets cycles, then on opening up the musical and cultural context of Milan Cathedral under the Sforza Dukes. Several publications and online resources have resulted.

From the beginning, we had the opportunity to work with musicians from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and to experiment sonically with the music we were studying. The ReRenaissance concert is a result of this collaboration. The composition of the program is a first – single motets, series of motets (a cycle and smaller cycles of motets) and ordinarium movements are combined, evoking a practice well attested for Milan. The special thing about this concert is the improvisational part. Based on the chorale melodies, the singers and musicians try out various improvisation techniques. This also demonstrates how close the relationships were between different singing practices (monophonic and polyphonic traditions) in the sacred realm. For example, in the sequences (chants with rhymed and rhythmically aligned verses): In the Middle Ages, voices were always improvised to the melodies of these monophonic chants! So in this concert we hear improvised polyphony – and that’s something you don’t often get to experience in concerts.

TC: In studies of music history, historical bridges are often built, and rightly so, to neighboring disciplines, such as instrument making, the courtly culture of that region, influences from other countries, but also to painting at the time of the Libroni. Do you welcome these interdisciplinary, art-historical contacts, or are they more of a sideshow in musicology?

AP: Interdisciplinary dialogue is essential in our field. It gives access to knowledge that would otherwise be impossible to obtain and broadens the spectrum with methodological approaches, which is essential for research and its implementation in the practical field. At the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, we always strive for interdisciplinary exchange, since the study of early music absolutely requires it. In dealing with church music of the Renaissance, it is necessary to work in an interdisciplinary way, also in order to grasp, for example, its theological dimension, which shaped its form and content just as much as practical musical circumstances. For example, if certain pieces were sung during the liturgy, it is clear that one should be familiar with the liturgy of the time, even just in terms of whether the function or context of the performance influenced formal and stylistic aspects of the music in question (for example, in the structure of a piece or in the distribution of homophonic or polyphonic sections). However, the liturgy of the Middle Ages is a discipline in itself, which requires specific historical research. It is very important for us musicologists to grow in this interdisciplinary dialogue in order to gain new insights and interpretations of musical works.

TC: How must one imagine the notation of these polyphonic compositions, how many of the parts are fully notated, how much is assumed or learned as “variant knowledge” of the accompanying parts?

AP: The works performed in the concert are notated for four voices. On a double page of a choral book there are usually only the parts that make up the contrapuntal framework. We don’t know exactly how many singers performed one voice, or when and how instruments amplified the vocals. It depends on the specific situation of the performance. Even then, at the end of the 15th century, individual voices were often split up into many voices for homophonic passages – or occasionally even into choirs in order to achieve a richer harmonic richness. Even in those cases where lists of singers have been preserved, we can only hypothetically reconstruct how many musicians actually participated in a musical event and how they were involved in a particular piece. Therefore, it is important to repeatedly experiment with the instrumentation in terms of sound (e.g., with the spatial placement, the distribution of solo and choral entries, timbre and ornamentation, etc.). Nowadays we can allow ourselves a lot of freedom in dealing with older repertoire – if one deals consciously with the specific repertoire in each case. Regarding monophonic musical tradition: as mentioned above, we know that monophonic melodies were not infrequently performed in multiple voices. A second voice was common in some chants such as the sequences, but improvisation was also done with multiple voices. So in summary: The note image tells us only part of the story. We need a deeper engagement with the music in order to be able to revive or interpret it convincingly.

TC: Baroque music and also its historically informed performance practice have enjoyed great popularity for several decades; every opera house now includes baroque operas on its program with increasing success. Has interest in Renaissance music also changed, or are we still at the beginning of a journey of discovery?

AP: It seems to me that the interest in Renaissance music is much greater than it was 30 years ago, but we are in fact dealing with a music that still appeals to a relatively small audience because it is unknown to most. Perhaps we are not at the very beginning of a journey of discovery, but the potential of this music is far from exhausted. Even though we in Basel experience a thoroughly exceptional and privileged situation, since we are often lucky enough to enjoy unheard music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance in concerts here, the ReRenaissance series clearly shows what an immense wealth of works the Renaissance period offers. This music deserves to be heard again and thereby enjoy a new life because of its beauty, diversity and expressiveness.



I’m in … ” by Martin Kirnbauer to

Reopening Gaffurius’ Libroni
“, Jan 2022

Two years ago, in October 2019, when “Corona” was still either a beer or a phenomenon of musical notation (depending on your interest), I was privileged to witness an impressive performance in Milan Cathedral: In the nave of this huge church building, on a special lectern, was one of the large-format choir books (libroni) from the end of the 15th 6nbsp;century, which Francesco Gaffurio (1451-1522) had had made for use in the cathedral.

Singers and instrumentalists of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis gathered in front of the Librone and performed motets by Binchois, Busnoys, Josquin des Prez and, of course, Gaffurio, as they sounded in the same place more than 500 years ago. This particular setting led me into a very special musical experience: I did not attend a “concert”, but I heard this music in appropriate sound form in the “right” place – and it touched me immensely. In order to make this performance possible, some preliminary work had to be done. In a research project of several years at the Schola Cantorum, the famous Libroni were researched and edited. The performance was certainly one of the highlights of this project, materializing the research on the (silent) sources in sounding music again.

Now you can hear music from the Milan choir books in the January concert in Basel – in a new program! (Will it probably be another unique experience without the presence of the original Libroni and in the somewhat more “modestly” sized church space?)



Program Booklet January 2022

1st sequence Salve mater salvatoris – anonymous
Heerenberg, Netherlands, Castle Huis Bergh, MS 34, fol. 71v-74v

2nd cycle of motets Salve mater salvatoris – Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522)
Milan, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Librone 1, fol. 84v-93r
Salve mater salvatoris | Salve decus virginum| Tu thronus es Salomonis| Imperatrix gloriosa

3rd antiphon Ave regina caelorum – anonymous
Copenhagen, Det kongelige Bibliotek Slotsholmen, Gl. Kgl. P. 3449, 8o [14] XIV, fol. 113r-v

4th Ave regina caelorum – Loyset Compère? (c1445-1518)
Librone 1, fol. 150v-151r

5th Gloria – Credo breves – Loyset Compère
Librone 3, fol. 159v-162r Sequence

6. Ave virgo gloriosa
Heerenberg, Castle Huis Bergh, MS 34, fol. 135r-138r

7th Sanctus – O sapientia – Loyset Compère?
Librone 2, fol. 35v-36r

8th Ave virgo gloriosa Maria mater gratiae – Loyset Compère
Librone 1, fol. 149v-150r; Librone 2, fol. 36v-37r

9. o genitrix gloriosa – Loyset Compère
Librone 3, fol. 51v-52r

10th Ave Maria gratia plena (2nd part: Sancte Michael) – Loyset Compère
Librone 3, 187v-189r

11. Christi mater ave – Gaspar van Weerbeke (c1445 to after 1517)
Librone 1, fol. 114v-115r

12. mater digna Dei – Gaspar van Weerbeke
Librone 1, fol. 115v-116r

13th Ave stella matutina – Gaspar van Weerbeke
Librone 1, fol. 116v-117r



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