Historical Translation Series
The purpose of this series is to provide translations of important texts relating to historical performance for those individuals with either practical performance or scholarly interests. Many of the texts appear here for the first time in English translation, some in any language other than the original, so far as the translator(s) could determine. Many are considered seminal in their particular area. It is the intention that the offerings will expand over time.
Renaissance Italian Vocal Diminution
Early German Vocal Performance
Early Instrumental Performance
Individual Texts, including those in special series
Agazzari, Agostino. Concerning Playing on the Bass (1607)
Agostino Agazzari (ca.1580-1642) was a well-respected composer and theorist born in Siena. His book, published in 1607, is amazingly informative, especially considering its extreme brevity, and his approach to instrumentation appears substantially supported by surviving musical sources. The work goes beyond its somewhat limited title and covers not only the manners of “foundational” or continuo playing but also discusses “ornamental” or the practice of playing melodic instruments in ensemble together with voices
Antolini, Retta Maniera di Scivere per il Clarinetto (1813)
Published in 1813, Antolini's book gives many insights into the state of music and especially musical instruments at a time when the technological development of the latter was "exploding." One of the most interesting aspects of the book is its "liminal" status, standing as it does in the threshold between older traditions and new development. Antolini's ideas are for that reason a rather peculiar mixture of the conservative and the progressive. As such, it provides insights into real-life situations that typical college music history texts cannot match. The book, contrary to its name, is not exclusively limited to the clarinet but also deals with other instruments, both common and uncommon, even the horns and trumpets from the brass family. The central preoccupation of the books is to teach composers literally "how to write" for these instruments at a time when the nature of "transposing" instruments was not well understood. The method that Antolini proposes is a mixture of a forthright effort to establish a logical practice with outdated elements from the past.
Aristotle on Music Education and Advocacy
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4
In his Politics Aristotle articulates a superb philosophy of music education, demonstrating that education in music is vital for developing virtues that contribute to the individual’s emotional health and to society’s stability. He argues that music through its affective power of producing emotions acts to develop the intellectual virtue of judgment and through it the various moral virtues that depend on good judgment. Despite the excellence of this philosophy, it has gone unrecognized for centuries because of persistent misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The traditional interpretation—that music is merely a wholesome pastime whose affective power is produced by the texts of songs—has gone wrong by inadequate attention to Aristotle’s precise terminology, by inattention to the critical passage that links music to the virtue of judgment, and by the failure to consider the full structure of Aristotle’s argument. Contrary to this traditional understanding, Aristotle attributes the affective power of music solely to the musical elements of melody, rhythm, and mode, and to both vocal and instrumental music, clearly preventing the interpretation that the affective power lies in the words of song. It is an irony that after centuries of neglect, Aristotle’s philosophy of music and emotion is increasingly, but unintentionally, finding support in the fields of psychology and neuroscience over the last twenty or more years. Aristotle’s thinking on music education is now ripe for an epistemological updating that vindicates both his genius in this subject and the unique role of music in education. At the same time, it will provide music education with the firmest foundation for advocacy that it has ever possessed. This book provides an introduction to the history and traditional misinterpretation of Aristotle’s text, an entirely new translation with commentary, the first-ever full analysis of his philosophy of music education, and observations on the increasing relevance of Aristotle’s philosophy for music education and advocacy today.
Revised: 29 August 2019
Bassano, Motettii Madrigali (1591) & Ricercate Passaggi (1584) "Ai Lettori"
Giovanni Bassano produced two texts on the practice of diminution, neither of which is as substantial as many, perhaps most others. The informative material in his address to the reader is also alight. Perhaps the books' main contribution is in documenting the diversity of the many musical genres in which diminution was practiced.
Bénigne de Bacilly, Remarques Curieuses sur l’Art de Bien Chanter (1668)
Bacilly is recognized as one of the foremost vocal pedagogues of all time and the most important authority on the subject of French Baroque vocal performance practice. The chapter chosen for the present translation is the one on passages and diminutions. His work stands at a very interesting point in the history of the subject. Regarding the two traditions of vocal elaboration, the Renaissance tradition of diminution was opposed by Caccini’s concept of expressive singing through the utilization of specific ornaments. Nonetheless, the diminution technique did not disappear. Bacilly’s work seems to stand at the crossroads, at the point at which Caccini’s system has become more elaborate and has subsumed the diminution technique. The text is even more interesting for its communication of the concern for proper word quantification in setting of the text in French vocal performance.
Bernhard, Kompositionslehre (MS ca. 1650) “Von der Singe-Kunst oder Manier” (Müller-Blattau, ed.)
Christoph Bernhard's treatise Von der Singe-Kunst oder Manier fully deserves its reputation as the most important vocal performance text in German of the seventeenth century. Bernhard provides what is perhaps the most cogent analysis of contemporary vocal styles and their underlying aesthetic philosophy of any author at least up until his time and even well beyond. The text and his reasoning, with some exceptions, are admirably, clearly expressed. The treatise also includes examples of musical ornaments and devices that surpass even Francesco Rognoni's. This is an important summation of the early and middle style of the German baroque when the Italian influence had become predominant in the formation of the beginning of the Doctrine of Affections. As Bernhard says, the text is not of interest exclusively to singers but is valuable as well for instrumentalist.
Bertin, Jean-Baptiste. Excerpts from Nouvelle Méthode de Trompe [185?]
Very little is known of Jean-Baptiste Bertin beyond the information that he gives about himself or can be inferred from his text. He claims the title of professor of trompe, but this was essentially a “courtesy” title unilaterally assumed by most music teachers of the time. He does not appear among the faculty lists of the Paris Conservatory. The introductory material of his method, including a historical bibliography of works on the subject, is arguably the most interesting part of the book, along with his concluding dictionary of terminology relating to the hunt. Internal evidence indicates that he was a rival of N. Tellier, excerpts from whose Album also appear in this series of translations.
Bontempi, Maffei, and Conrad, On Teaching Voice
These three authors all are responsible for famous but very different statements about vocal pedagogy. The earliest is that of Conrad, whose interest is especially choral singing. Maffei’s work is a monument in the history of the modern physiological approach to teaching voice. Bontempi’s is a brief but important practical description of how singers were trained in the early seventeenth century. The works of both Maffei and Conrad also appear in entirety in this translation series.
Bovicelli, Regole Passaggi di Musica (1594) “Ai Lettori” & “Avertimenti per li passaggi”
Bovicelli's Regole Passagai (1594) stands as one of the most important texts on Italian Renaissance vocal performance practice and exerted an influence on the subsequent seventeenth-century German vocal tradition through Praetorius. It can arguably take a place among the foremost of all time. Despite the title, the verbal text is on more general issues of vocal performance, and for this reason is all the more important because it deals with them to a degree few others match. Despite many flaws, much in Bovicelli's text is valuable for vocal performance in any period, the present included. Supplementary notes discuss, but do not always resolve, many of the text's linguistic and musical problems. All musical examples have been transcribed.
Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche (1601) “Ai Lettori”
Caccini's preface to Le Nuove Musiche is certainly one of the most important documents in music history, both for its importance to performance practice and for its importance to the philosophy and aesthetics of music at the opening of the baroque era. The "newness" that Caccini alludes to lies in the emphasis on a new emotional conception of music, which is the key characteristic of the baroque. The purpose of music, as Caccini argues, is to support and further an understanding of text and the emotional content of that text. Toward this end the old contrapuntal style of the diminution technique - sterile and pointless and Caccini would say - must be abandoned. All melodic conceptions, ornamentation and any improvisation must be strictly subordinated to the text and no longer serve the singer's desire for virtuosic display.
Caus, Salomon de. Institution Harmonique (1615)
De Caus’s book on the acoustical principles of music includes a few short chapters on instruments that constitute a taxonomy based upon their acoustical nature rather than the means of sound production in the tradition of Virdung. The series of chapters ends with one on an issue of increasing importance in his day, the fact that different instruments based on different temperament systems presented distinct difficulties for intonation when performing together.
Cerone, El Melopeo y Maestro (1613) Book 8, Ch. 1-10 “Las Reglas para cantar glosado y de garganta”
Pedro (Pietro) Cerone's text on the vocal diminution may be considered the last extensive "Italian" description of that technique, despite the fact that it is in Spanish. Cerone, an Italian priest transplanted to Spain, in book 8 of his massive Melopeo y Mestro (1613) presents what is in large part a translation and paraphrase of Zacconi's own description of diminution. Fortunately, Cerone's treatment is not burdened nearly as much with the stylistic superficialities, ambiguities and pointless redundancies as is Zacconi's original. For this reason, and because it is in Spanish - a language more accessible to many readers - Cerone's text makes a valuable contribution.
Coclico, Compendium Musices (1552) “De Elegantia et Ornatu”
Coclico's brief remarks on the vocal diminution technique, which was to become so closely associated with the Italian renaissance vocal and instrumental style, are the first to appear in print. That Coclico was Flemish points to the fact that the technique was not originally exclusively Italian. Improvisation of all kinds was widespread throughout early music as far back as can be determined, as Ernst Ferand has amply documented. Coclico's remarks are brief but not inconsequential and take on additional stature by means of his claim to being a student of Josquin. Perhaps most significant for the history of the technique is his information that boys were expected to develop and master it, if even at the cost of very long, hard labor.
Conforto, Breve et Facile Maniera . . . a Far Passaggi (1593?) “Alli Lettori”
Conforto's text is primarily an introductory explanation of his method of teaching the passaggio technique. As such it has less to say directly on the subject of how to develop that technique than do other authors. Nonetheless, it provides a different and valuable perspective on the subject, as well as giving an interesting glimpse on some of the issues and problems of the practicing musician at this time of critical change in music history as renaissance passes to baroque.
Conrad von Zabern, De modo bene cantandi (1473)
Conrad von Zabern’s treatise De modo bene cantandi (1473, published 1474) is considered the first work in the field of modern vocal pedagogy. It is directed especially to singers in unison plainchant choirs, but its advice on vocal production and aesthetics is relevant for all singers. The treatise is well organized in six precepts, with the sixth and longest presenting most of the specific pedagogical instruction.
Dalla Casa, Il vero modo di diminuir (1584) “Ai Lettori” etc.
The Vero Modo di Diminuir (1584) is arguable the last great representative of the succession of text exclusively devoted to instrumental diminution. It is particularly important for documenting the level of virtuosity in the technique that was expected of practicing professionals. His method is quite rationally organized and important for the fact that he presents before-and-after examples of diminution. His remarks on wind tonguing and the cornetto are historically valuable.
Finck, Practica Musica (1556) Book 5 “De Arte Eleganter et Suaviter Cantandi”
The Fifth Book of Hermann Finck's Practica Musica (1556) is the second earliest printed account of the practice of vocal diminution. That practice, however, represents only a small portion of the contents of the book, which runs to about nine pages of text. The remainder is a wonderfully informative account of the historical and aesthetic background of the music of Finck's time, the Lutheran reformation. Half of the book is devoted to a discussion of various aspects of performance practice such as balance and intonation. His discussion contains a brief physiological reference to the technique of throat articulation that, small as it is, is the second-best after Maffei's masterful study. He also offers musical examples, not transcribed here, that, though fairly simple, do help clarify the stylistic practice and application of this technique, which clearly had already become a familiar practice in Germany.
French Organ Masters of the 17th-Century
Both Nicolas Gigault (c1607-1727) and Gilles Jullien (c1650-1703) were contributors to the French organ school. The present translations are the prefatory material from Jullien’s one collection, all his music that survives, Premier Livre d’Orgue (1690). The text from Gigault is drawn from his Livre de Musique pour l’Orgue (1685). Very little is known about the life and work of either author. Both works make lesser but interesting companions to the translation of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers in this series. The most interesting aspect of Jullien’s information is his specific employment of notes inégales, whereas Gigault’s system of keys makes an interesting comparison to that found in the work of Nivers.
Friderici, Daniel. “Rules for Singing Elegantly,” from Musica Figuralis (1619, 1638)
Daniel Friderici’s rules for elegant singing provide important insights into the aesthetics and conduct of choral practice and vocal training in the early German Baroque, especially as regards the standards expected of young choristers in training. Judged on the criteria of vocal aesthetics, performance practice, and interpretation, Friderici would seem rightfully to claim the laurel for the finest set of such rules up till his time. The rules vary from advice on vocal production, aesthetics, and pronunciation to organization of the choir, deportment, conducting, and performance practice.
Gengenbach, Nicolaus. Musica Nova: Newe Singekunst (1626) Chapter 5 excerpts
Gengenbach and Daniel Hizler are known as two of, if not the earliest music pedagogues influenced by Comenius’ new ideas on education that emphasize understanding over rote memorization. The present selection deals only with Gengenbach’s discussion of one of the most vexed subjects of the mensural notation system of the time, ternary mensurations. He provides a brief and clear discussion of the issue along with a chart comparing six different ways of writing the same ternary rhythm. His discussion is relevant not only to his own time but also offers considerable help in dealing with music of much of the previous century.
Lampadius, Compendium Musices “On Composition”
Lampadius’s text is famous for its description of the new process of “simultaneous” composition with harmonic implications that had begun to supersede the medieval successive composition in the very late 15th century along with the rise of the pervasive imitation technique. Particularly famous are his illustrations of composition on a ten-line staff and his example of music in open score, one of the very earliest. This translation includes his chapters on consonants and how to set four parts in relation to each other.
Lieto Panhormitano, Dialogo Quarto (1559)
Lieto’s Dialogo is an uneven work. The first section is an interesting method of intabulation for vihuela and lute that proceeds progressively up to four voice compositions, including tables with ciphers (symbols) for Italian lute tablature. The second section on construction of the lute, setting frets, and tuning is weak, including obvious errors in description. Lieto claims to be using Pythagorean tuning, which would have been very outmoded by 1559. The last section is a marginally coherent polemic against the excessive mensural complexities of some theorists of the time.
Listenius, Musica (1549 ed.)
Nicolaus Listenius’ Musica, first published in 1537, became one of the two most important school music texts of the sixteenth century and arguably one of the most important of all time. It was essentially a teacher’s text that could also be used by students under the teacher’s guidance. It introduced a new, concise approach to the music textbook that was consistent with the developing principles of Lutheran pedagogy, departing from the earlier humanist “rationalist” approach that presented a full, discursive exposition of the material but without consideration of learning stage or sequence. During the course of the century the book enjoyed 46 known editions and continued in use into the seventeenth century. This translation is the first since Albert Seay’s out of print 1975 text and is heavily annotated in order to explain both content and the importance of Listenius’ approach to music education.
Loulié on Vocal Ornaments
Etienne Loulié (1654-1702) was a well-educated, diverse, and successful music master in late 17th-century Paris. Trained as a chorister in the distinguished Sainte-Chapelle, the royal chapel choir, upon later entrance into professional life he demonstrated interests and abilities in vocal and instrumental performance, music pedagogy and theory, and even in music invention, devising an early precursor of the metronome. The present passage on French Baroque vocal ornaments, drawn from his Éléments ou Principes de Musique (1696) gives an admirably clear definition and illustration of a majority of the ornaments of the time.
Lusitano, “On Improvised Vocal Counterpoint”
Scholars since the mid-20th century have understood that improvised “composition” was a staple technique for both voices and instrumental ensembles from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and even extending well into the 17th century and the early Baroque. The work of Ernest Ferand in his seminal Die Improvisation in der Musik (1938) was first responsible for bringing this to the attention of the musical world, where it is still much better known among scholars than among practicing musicians. Vincentio Lusitano’s small book Introductione Facilissima & Novissima di Canto Fermo (1553) records an important statement of the “rules” for improvised vocal counterpoint over a cantus firmus tenor. In a brief space it progresses rapidly from note against note improvisation for Soprano, Alto and Bass voices individually against a Tenor to the beginning of more florid counterpoint, including the practice of diminution, for up to four voices simultaneously. His rules solidly document that the practice was still alive and well at the height of the Renaissance.
Madin, Henri. Traité du Contrepoint Simple ou Chant sur le Livre. (1742)
The phrase chant sur le livre (Latin cantare super librum) refers to the practice of improvised vocal counterpoint that goes back at least as far as the Middle ages, which German sources often refer to as sortisatio. The practice appears to have died out, for the most part, during the early seventeenth century in all but French churches, where it was finally a casualty of the Revolution. The “livre” or “liber” in question is the choirbook of plainchant from which all the choir members sang. Henri Madin’s (1698-1748) book is the last treatment of the technique and provides a particularly useful and thorough introduction to it for both practical and historical purposes. Other related texts in this series are those of Lampadius, Lusitano, and Nucius.
Maffei, Delle Lettere (1562) “All’ Illustrissimo Conte d”Alta Villa” [Discourse I]
Giovanni Camillo Maffei's Discorso not only is the first modern work on vocal pedagogy, providing a physiological description of vocal production, it also remains one of the most important texts on the subject. Maffei's main purpose is to explain the technique of vocal improvisation necessary for improvised ornamentation in the making of passaggi. Toward this end, Maffei provides the most extensive contemporary exposition on the subject and what is still one of the clearest.
Monteclair, Michel Pignolet de. On Ornaments from Principes de Musique (1736)
Monteclair (1667-1737) was a versatile musician of the French Baroque, active as composer, performer, pedagogue, and theorist. He was a virtuoso on the bass violin and wrote a method for that instrument. The present work combines a general music theory text with a special interest in vocal performance practice. There are some signs that his text is influenced by the works of Benigne de Bacilly. Monteclair is remarkable for his, or any, time in his perception of the ambiguity of music terminology and the need for standardization. This extract constitutes his remarks on vocal ornamentation, which are also remarkable for their clarity both in descriptions and musical illustrations.
Nivers, Guillaume-Gabriel, Livre d’Orgue (1665)
According to Oxford Music Online Guillaume Nivers (c1632-1714) was a very successful organist, composer, and theorist who was the first to establish the distinctive style and forms of the late 17th-century French organ school. He published three volumes of organ music, of which a single copy each was available for this study. Two of the three possess essentially identical prefatory material of very considerable interest and printed from the same engraved plates. The present book differs only by including an equally interesting first page on the “8 Tons de l’Eglise,” or the “church keys” derived from the psalm tones (not the ecclesiastical modes) that played so great a part in the development of the major/minor key system. The bulk of the prefatory material regards the stops and mixtures of the organ that were currently used in the variety of types of music for organ.
Nucius, Johannes. Difference between Sortisatio and Composition from Musices Poeticae (1613)
Nucius (c.1556-1620) represents one of the fairly few sources on what was apparently a very important “compositional” practice from the Middle Ages well into the seventeenth century and with a last gasp in the early eighteenth: improvised vocal counterpoint, called by the Latin derivative “sortisatio” in what Ernest Ferand identifies as the German tradition of the practice. Instructions for such improvised vocal counterpoint appear in medieval manuscripts, and the technique itself could well be the origin of organum. By the sixteenth-century music theorists more conscious of formal, written composition struggled with how to understand the unwritten, improvised technique and often expressed skepticism as to its status, as in Nucius’ case. Related texts in this series are those by Lampadius, Lusitano, and Madin.
Peri, Le Musiche sopra L’Euridice (1600) “A lettori”
Peri's remarks to the reader at the opening of his score for L'Euridice constitutes one of the most important documents in music history. Together with Caccini's similar address in Le Nuove musiche (1601), it forms a pair of seminal texts for understanding the origins of the baroque style in its earliest years.
Praetorius, M. Syntagma Musicum (1619) Vol. 3, Ch. 9 “Wie und uff was massen etliche Cantiones, etc.”
Michael Praetorius' brief chapter on the Italian Manner of Singing in his encyclopedia Syntagma Musicum is important far in excess of the extent of his exposition. Praetorius' presentation is liminal in several ways. First, it was his influence that proved vital in the transmission of the emotional style of Italian vocal performance to German lands. Second, he stands at a point in which the older diminution style of Bovicelli and others is being replaced by the newer emotional ornamental style of Caccini, which Praetorius advocates. The Lutheran Praetorius is a major conduit by means of which the style of the southern Catholic lands entered the German baroque of the north.
Rhythmic Inequality (1550-1800)
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
Improvised rhythmic alteration is a practice usually associated with French music of the 18th century, on form of which is better known by its French term notes inégales. It consisted of the alteration of sequences of notes in the context of certain meters and rhythmic levels that were written as equals but were performed unequally. In fact, the first extant description of the practice dates to the mid-sixteenth century and was published in French in Geneva in 1550, but of the six earliest sources three are Italian and two Spanish, and of the latter two one is by an Italian writing in Spanish. No second text appears in French until that of Nivers in 1665, over a hundred years after the first. It is very much worth observing that all of the earliest sources describe the practice as a common one long since established.
Rognoni, F. Selva de Varil Passaggi (1620) "Avvertimenti alli Benigni Lettoi"
Francesco Rognoni's Selva de varii Passaggi is a remarkably valuable book for performance practice in general, despite its relative brevity and some obscurities of style. The first part is directed to the voice and presents what is perhaps the clearest and most succinct set of instructions and illustrations on ornamentation found in the literature of the period. The first part ends with a truly timeless address to singers. The second part is mainly for instruments, string and wind, and presents some of the earliest information on bowing.
Rognoni, R. Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire (1592) “Ai Virtuosi” 1 & 2
Riccardo Rognoni, father of Francesco in this same series, provides information more substantial than the brevity of his text would seem to indicate. His introduction to the diminution technique itself is emphasizes essentials and restates many of the basic principles given by other authors. The most important parts of his text actually lie beyond the method of diminution and concern the tonguing of wind instruments and the bowing of strings. The latter are particularly important both for their information and for being among the very earliest information on the subject.
Sancta Maria, Libro Llamado Arte de Taner (1565) Chapters 13-19
Sancta Maria’s Libro llamado el arte de tañer fantasia (1565) is important both as an early text on keyboard technique and as a high quality example of the new kind of self-instruction books that had begun to appear earlier in the century. The excerpt translated here includes eight chapters of the first part, Chapters 13 through 19—two chapters were numbered 19. These chapters constitute the first description of keyboard fingering technique and are meticulous in detail. The selection is also very important in the history of performance practice because it is one of the two earliest descriptions of the unequal performance of notes, in the eighteenth century known as notes inégales.
Tellier, N. Foreword to Grand Album du Chasseur (1848)
Tellier’s (mid-19th century) Album is a late (perhaps the last) example of a fairly long series of works devoted to the practice of playing the trompe de chasse, the hunting horn. The volume contains the Foreword and 3 subsequent major sections: the first is a method for playing the trompe, the second is a repertoire of hunting calls (appels), most arranged for three instruments, the third is more diverse, including solos, duos, and trios apparently intended more for entertainment associated with the hunt. The book also includes numerous plates, including images of specific animals and their tracks. The Foreword is, perhaps, historically the most important section of the book, including information on the physical nature of the trompe, its method of playing, and performance practice. At the end of the book is a dictionary of hunting terms and comments on veterinary medicine for the dogs.
Toulouze, Art et Instruction de Bien Dancer
Toulouze’s book on the basse dance is one of two of the most important sources on this important late medieval and early Renaissance courtly dance. The date of its publication is unknown, but scholarly opinion is fairly well agreed on the very late 15th century. The book contains a description of the dance and its steps, but more importantly it includes tenors for the basse dance with indications of their choreography.
Zacconi, Prattica di Musica (1596), Book 1, Ch. 66 “Che stile si tenghi nel far di gorgia, etc.”
Zacconi's treatment of the diminution technique for the production of improvised vocal passaggi is one of only a few sixteenth-century accounts extant in Italian. Zacconi's account is valuable for giving an extended description and advice as well as musical examples, through his artificial literary style and limitation as to critical analysis diminish the intelligibility somewhat. The text is far more important than the musical examples which are neither so extensive nor so good as in some other sources. It was influential on later authors' treatments, particularly that of Cerone (1613), and constitutes along with the treatments of Maffei, Bovicelli, and Conforto the body of the most important descriptions of an essential technique of performance practice in the Italian renaissance.
Virgiliano, Il Dolcimelo (ca. 1600) "Regole della Diminutione"
Aurelio Virgiliano's manuscript on the diminution technique - and other matters - is most unfortunately incomplete and exists in only one copy. Despite this, Virgiliano provides a superb introduction to diminution in the form of ten rules that sum up the basics and make an excellent point of departure for an principiante student in the study. The third of three parts is quite different, being a study of instruments, also incomplete, which provides illustrations and fingering charts. It has the distinction of presenting the first diagram of trombone slide positions.