Hudební Věda

Brno Fragment of the Motet Apollinis Eclipsatur: A Note on the Reception of Music of the Ars Nova Period in Central Europe Around 1400

article summary

Martin Horyna

Some Central European mensural treatises dating from the period between c. 1400 and 1460 include examples of actual compositions, intended to demonstrate various aspects of notation or form. The type of notation used in these treatises corresponds to the notational system of the French Ars nova period, and some of the compositions quoted there are even demonstrably of French provenance. In all likelihood, in Central Europe the two aspects were mutually inseparable: without the knowledge of theory it would have been close to impossible to perform this music. The occurrence of French compositions and descriptions of their notation being limited to a scholarly context attests to their presence primarily in the music world of universities. Apart from that, of course, there also existed music which could do perfectly well with the use of substantially simpler notation, and most likely needed no theoretical explanation. Doubtless the two spheres were not strictly separated from each other. This is evidenced by the discovery of a fragment of the motet Apoollinis eclipsatur in a manuscript from the parish library of St James's in Brno, currently kept in the City of Brno Archive, Sign. 94/106. The composition, of French provenance, whose existence is documented from the mid-14th century, existing in a number of variant versions all across Western and Central Europe, is one of the compositions most frequently quoted in the aforementioned treatises. Its notation is adapted to a form close to the Central European type of black mensural notation, its arrangement here attesting to this composition's domestication in Central Europe. Problems with the reading of French notation is also documented by the intabulation of the same motet for a keyboard instrument in MS A-Wn 5094. The text of the composition deals with an apotheosis of the art of music, with twelve composers and theorists including Philippe de Vitry, Johannes de Muris and Guillaume de Machaut being likened to signs of the Zodiac traversed by the Sun. The motifs of music and birdsong were doubtless more appealing to Central European university scholars than texts dealing with love found in the majority of other French compositions. Attempts at imitating the onomatopoeic passages of French chansons can be found in more than a few compositions documented in Central European sources.

Keywords: medieval music; isorhythmic motet; mensural notation

The complete text of this article can be found in the printed edition of Hudební věda 20/2020

Translated by Ivan Vomáčka