Distance lends enchantment, as the saying goes, and distance can mean things far removed in time as well as space. But it also flattens things out. Just as the mountains on a horizon blend together, so fine shades of feeling can get lost when we look back to the art of a distant period. Nothing suffers more from this flattening effect than Renaissance church music. Its all-vocal sound is beautiful in an otherworldly kind of way, always moves at a sedate pace, and usually comes shrouded in the vast echo of a cathedral.
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Thus, to take the specific case of Absalon fili mi, its fuga is not hard to characterize: a it is consistently strict, not flexed; b, c there are times where a fuga subject is worked either in alternative interlocks or in tight stretto lattices involving all four voices; d two discrete fuga subjects may even be interlocked with one another.
On their own, these observations do 1 David Fallows, Josquin Turnhout, , — Blackburn, ed. Fallows Festschrift. Nonetheless, they do allow the fuga profile of Absalon to be described succinctly and precisely, and they open up new and potentially useful lines of enquiry. This likeli- hood increases significantly when strict fuga occurs in every section of a work.
There is of course no way of knowing whether the Absalon Master, in his next work, threw this principle to the wind and instead used either freely flexed fuga or indeed no fuga at all.
Nonetheless Absalon does possess this property, and that fact needs to be noted. In Absalon fili mi it is given pride of place at the head of the piece. All four voices in turn and in transposition sing identical statements of a fuga subject. Moreover, the two interlocks themselves are meshed with one another. The result is economical, symmetrical and rational; but it is also highly expressive, since the fuga subject fits the sound and mean- ing of the words so well.
Evidently some care has gone into crafting this passage. The Motet around , ed. Thomas Schmidt-Beste Turnhout, However, it would be easy to rewrite the music using X—Y—X instead. On the contrary, it was used by other composers, though with surface variants that camouflage its underlying substance. They are by Antoine Busnoys? Paula Higgins Oxford, , 21—49 at 30—5. How has this situation arisen? Frustratingly, this line of enquiry helps little with the question of who composed Absalon, since the author of the Florentine On est bien malade is himself unknown.
In this configuration of stretto fuga, a fuga subject cannot move by step; instead it must be made out of falling thirds, rising fourths, falling fifths, rising sixths, rising octaves, or ornamental infillings of any of those intervals.
As for the flatwards spiral at the end of Absalon, it arises from the avoidance of augmented fourths and diminished fifths. Note that the second of the five theoretical voices is missing from Absalon.
But it has been crafted around a fifth voice singing a plainsong cantus firmus, whereas the two passages of compound stretto fuga in Absalon are both free-standing. In short: Pierre de la Rue is not the only person who could have composed these passages in Absalon.
The most favoured method is to close a passage of fuga with a cadence, followed by a new section with its own fuga subject. In Absalon, however, we find something much rarer: a junction where two adjacent fuga subjects have actually been superimposed. No cadence separates these two subjects; instead, at bars 52—3 they are made to interlock with one another.
Again, some care seems to have gone into the crafting of this passage. Passages that sound similar to one another may arise from sharply contrasted compositional methods. Conversely, passages that sound unlike one another may in fact have been crafted using identical or near-identical fuga principles. As for Absalon itself, arguably it is too early to reach conclusions about its authorship. Admittedly the sample analyses offered here reveal a work with a highly distinctive fuga profile, one that may already seem to point towards one composer in particular.
Nonetheless, more work is needed if we are finally to unmask the identity of the elusive Absalon Master. Martin Picker Berkeley and Los Angeles, , no. Related Papers. Josquin and the Combinative Impulse. By John Milsom. Playing with Plainchant: Seven motet openings by Josquin and what we can learn from them. Style and idea in Josquin's 'Cueur langoreulx'. By Wolfgang Fuhrmann.
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Absalon, Fili Mi, motet for 4 parts (poss. spurious)
Journal of Musicology 1 January ; 21 3 : — The 16th-century motet Absalon, fili mi has long been scrutinized by modern scholars. The current effort to reassign its authorship to Pierre de la Rue, fueled largely by an interest in removing it from Josquin's canon, relies paradoxically upon aspects of the work that were celebrated as evidence of Josquin's genius by earlier scholars. These aspects, however, depend solely on our acceptance of a peculiar reading in an early manuscript version of the piece, a version that is indeed radical and unprecedented in its notation but is also internally inconsistent and marked by signs of scribal intervention.
Absalon, fili mi (Josquin des Prez)
The images of David weeping for his son Absalom, Jacob desiring his grave when confronted with the blood-stained clothes of his son Joseph, and possibly Job in his misery, are all conflated in the text of an extraordinarily emotional motet, Absalon, fili mi. A late and possibly untrustworthy printed source calls the great Josquin Desprez its composer, and music historians for years have lauded it and sought possible occasions for its writing, such as the memorial service for Philip the Fair, son of the Emperor Maximilian, in A strong case has also been made on stylistic grounds, however, for attribution to Josquin 's contemporary, Pierre de la Rue. Whichever man may be credited with Absalon, the powerful character of the music remains. The motet is scored for four voices, but in an extremely low register: the final chord contains a B flat below the contemporary bass clef! The mensuration time signature in the earliest reliable source is also slow and somewhat unusual.
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