Walter Bitner

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The Frottolists and the First Lute Songbooks

Un Concerto, c. 1485-1495 by Lorenzo Costa (1460-1535) ~ National Gallery, London

The Lute Part VIII

continued from
Ottaviano Petrucci and the First Printed Lute Books

From the end of the 15th century into the first decades of the 16th century – a period estimated by historians to be from about 1470-1530 – a secular polyphonic song genre known as frottola flourished throughout the courts of Italy. This poetic and musical movement paved the way for a distinctly Italian musical renaissance style featuring primarily Italian musicians and composers in contrast to the dominance of composers from Northern Europe in Italy from the 14th – 15th centuries, and prepared a fertile ground for the development of the madrigal later in the 16th century.

Hand in hand with the rise of the frottola was the development of a revolutionary technique that allowed musicians to play polyphonic music in 2, 3, or more parts on one lute. By the end of the 15th century, most lutenists had dropped their plectrums in favor of the new style, and plucked the strings with the fingers of the right hand. When Petrucci published the first books of lute tablature beginning in 1507, all of them and all of the tablature that followed for the next next two and a half centuries assumed the new technique.

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Ottaviano Petrucci and the First Printed Lute Books

Frontispiece of Harmonice Musices Odhecaton ~ Canti A (1501) by Ottaviano Petrucci

Frontispiece of Harmonice Musices Odhecaton ~ Canti A (1501) by Ottaviano Petrucci

The Lute Part VII

He did not compose for lute nor was he known to perform on it, but Ottaviano Petrucci (1466 – 1539) was nonetheless a vital figure in the history of the instrument, and profoundly influenced the course of musical development in the 16th century, and indeed music history in general.

Petrucci was an Italian printer and a pioneer in the publication of music printed from moveable type. In Venice at the very beginning of the Cinquecento, Petrucci produced the first known example of printed polyphonic music: a collection of secular songs titled Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, in 1501.

He also was the first to print instrumental music: several books of lute tablature, produced in 1507 and 1508. Today he is known as the father of modern music printing.

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In Dulci Jubilo

InDulciJubilo

the opening of In dulci jubilo, Piæ Cantiones, 1582

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

In dulci jubilo is a famous medieval Christmas carol. It is a macaronic carol (i.e. the text is in a mixture of languages): the original text alternates between German and Latin. The words are attributed to the German mystic (and student of Meister Eckhart) Heinrich Seuse (1295 – 1366), and describes his vision of singing angels dancing with him.

It is one of our oldest, loveliest, and most important carols. The lilting, singsongy, exuberant melody and the relative ease with which they were able to learn it made it popular with my students of all ages – from elementary through high school. Although not a piece I included as an annual repeating feature of Winter Solstice performances, I would program In dulci jubilo every few years, and most of my students sang or played it in a Winter Solstice production at some point.

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Personent Hodie

PersonentHodie

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

Personent Hodie is a medieval Christmas carol. The form in which it comes down to us was first published in Piæ Cantiones, a collection of medieval Latin songs that were sung at the cathedral school in Turku (Finland). It was compiled by Jaakko Suomalainen, a Finnish clergyman, and published in 1582. The carol’s melody is very similar to a hymn found in a German manuscript from 1360, and it is assumed that Personent Hodie dates from the mid-14th century.

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The Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, 1996

masterclass with Paul O'Dette, Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, Vancouver Early Music Festival 1996

masterclass with Paul O’Dette, Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, Vancouver Early Music Festival 1996

The Lute Appendix iii

In the summer of 1996, I attended The Lute Society of America‘s Summer Seminar West in Vancouver, BC. The event took place from July 29 – August 2, 1996 at the Vancouver Early Music Festival held at The University of British Columbia.

Earlier this month the LSA held the 2016 summer seminar at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and as my FaceBook feed was briefly inundated with photos and videos that attendees posted on the LSA FaceBook Group, I found myself reminiscing about my experience in Vancouver twenty years ago. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

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BACHanalia 2016

our friend Sebastian

our friend Sebastian

Next Friday, April 15, from 5 – 11 pm, more than 100 Nashville musicians align efforts to perform the 10th Annual BACHanalia at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville. This unique, beloved event is a continuous, six hour concert of our friend Sebastian’s music presented once a year as a gift to the community. Click here for the church’s official announcement of the event.

In past years I have brought student ensembles to perform in this event, and this year I am fortunate to be performing myself. I was also very lucky, and was leaked a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2016‘s performers and selections, which I am now going to share with you here, dear readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

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Meet Telemann

Telemannwide

To his 18th century contemporaries, Georg Philipp Telemann was the most famous, influential, and highly-regarded German musician of the day. Four years older than his friends J.S. Bach and Händel – both of whose reputations have now eclipsed his – Telemann was more prolific than either, wrote sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental music in virtually every genre, published on a nearly unprecedented scale, and did more than any other musician of his time to break down barriers that kept music a separate and elite component of civic, court, and church ceremony to elevate the role of music in the life of the middle class.

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Music City Baroque & Vox Grata: Music from the Venetian Ospedali

Music City Baroque & Vox Grata perform music from the Venetian Ospedale, January 24, 2016, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Music City Baroque & Vox Grata perform music from the Venetian Ospedali, January 24, 2016, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville ~ photo by George Riordan

Like much of this part of the country, last week Nashville was hit by a record snow storm – the largest snowfall recorded here in the last 28 years. Between 5 and 10 inches fell on Friday and Saturday, depending on what part of town you live in (8 inches was the official recorded snowfall at Nashville International Airport).

When snow falls here the city shuts down. Not only do schools and businesses close, but it’s simply not safe to be on the roads. We have few plows and they only attempt to clear main roads, leaving most neighborhoods treacherous and ice-bound. My family did not leave our house on Friday or Saturday, except on foot to walk the dog or to scout out the state of neighboring streets.

So by Sunday afternoon, when the city had begun to thaw out, I was happy to make my way across town to hear an afternoon concert of old music performed in collaboration by two local ensembles.

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Petrarch’s Lyre

Petrarch

The Lute Part IV

The Lute and the New Humanists

The lute was already well-established as a favorite instrument in Italy by the 14th century (the Trecento). The happy circumstances that led to the rise of the lute as the emblematic and most revered instrument of the European Renaissance can be traced to its being readily on hand for the new humanist philosophers and poets who created the movement.

Already the lute was so familiar that in the early years of the century Dante (1265-1321) had used this simile to describe the counterfeiter Master Adam encountered in the eighth circle of Hell:

Io vidi un, fatto a guisa di lēuto
(I saw one, who would have been shaped like a lute)

~ Inferno XXX, 49

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante's Master Adam

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante’s Master Adam

But Petrarch actually played the lute, and equating it with the the lyre of Classical Greece, he imbued the cultural perception of the instrument with a rich symbolism that permeated European art, music, and poetry for centuries.

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The Boar’s Head Carol.

with the Boar's Head before a Tastes & Sounds of the Season performance, Nashville School of the Arts, 2012

posing with the Boar’s Head before a Tastes & Sounds of the Season performance, Nashville School of the Arts, 2012 ~ photo by Brooke Semar

This is the first holiday season in years that I have not spent consumed by the preparations and execution of a big school performance. Over the last 25 years I directed many of these, with students of all grade levels K-12. In fact, for much of my adult life, I have spent most of each fall listening to, arranging, teaching, and rehearsing Christmas and holiday music – beginning as early as August in some years.

However, in the last few months when I found myself reminiscing about it, I realized that it was already far too late to write anything that would be of any immediate use or interest to choir directors and elementary or middle school music teachers who may read this – most initial planning for these extravaganzas happens in the summer.

I decided to put off writing in earnest about my experiences producing these performances – and my thoughts on how and why to do so – until next summer, when it will hopefully be more useful. But so as not to gloss over the whole issue without any consideration at all, we will content ourselves with a single post this season about a carol whose performance became a hallowed and beloved tradition for so many of my students over the years. I am talking about, of course, The Boar’s Head Carol.

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