O Rosa Bella: Music of Johannes Ciconia
I cani sono fuora Johannes Ciconia (ca. 1370–1412)
Cacando un giorno Ciconia
Una panthera Ciconia
Ce jour de l’an Baude Cordier
En attendant, soufrir m’estuet grief paine Philopoctus de Caserta
Sus un fontayne Ciconia
Ligiadra donna Ciconia
Se le lagrime antique Zaninus de Peraga de Padua
O rosa bella Ciconia
O felix templum jubila Ciconia
Con lagreme bagnandome Ciconia
O Padua, sidus preclarum Ciconia
Doctorum principem Ciconia
Ut te per omnes celitus Ciconia
Shannon Canavin, Owen McIntosh, Martin Near & Gerrod Pagenkopf, voices
Heloise Degrugillier & Justin Godoy, recorders
Tom Zajac, recorder, harp & douçaine
Karen Burciaga, vielle
Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 8pm
University Lutheran Church, 66 Winthrop Street, Cambridge
Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 3pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston
Notes on the Program
In the 1950’s, the musicologist Heinrich Besseler proposed that the period between the death of Machaut in 1377 and the beginning of Dufay’s career around 1420 be named “the era of Ciconia,” in acknowledgment of the quality and prominence of that composer’s works in a period considered to lack a single “great” composer. Since then, though Ciconia has hardly become a household name even in the more dedicated early music communities, the publication of two complete-works editions, many articles and more than one book-length study treating questions of his biography and musical style, and at least three recordings devoted exclusively to Ciconia’s compositions have only strengthened Besseler’s case. Inspired by an all-Ciconia concert led by Ross W. Duffin at my alma mater Case Western Reserve University, Exsultemus hopes also to bring Ciconia’s sophisticated, challenging, and beautifully exciting music to more listeners.
Born and presumably educated in the bishopric of Liège, Johannes Ciconia (ca. 1370–1412) travelled to Italy at an early age to pursue his musical career, a path more often taken by composers of later generations than of his own. But Ciconia was the first of the long string of northerners to bring his sophisticated compositional art to Italy, and so seems to have been the earliest composer to recognize that Italy was about to become the center of a Renaissance in European civilization. His works sometimes show the kind of attention to detail we expect from the notationally obsessed composers of the ars subtilior, as in the dazzlingly complex Sus une fontayne, but at the same time, he develops an Italian sense of flowing melody, as in the sweet ballata Ligiadra donna. That combination is something his expatriate successor, Guillaume Dufay, may have learned from his works. Ciconia also makes use of the so-called isorhythmic principle in composing his motets, using the same rhythms repeated in different sections of the pieces, and sometimes even in the upper parts, though the “classic” procedure applies the technique just to the lower parts.
Long confused with his father, it seems now that this Ciconia—the name means “stork”—came to Italy from Liège around 1390 and worked first at the court of Giangaleazzo Visconti near Milan. There was a strong Francophone presence there because the Duchess was French (Giangaleazzo was in fact the grandfather of the French poet, Charles d’Orlèans), so French works like the virelai Sus une fontayne found favor, but also the triumphant Italian madrigal Una panthera, whose text alludes to some of the Visconti family symbols. Later in the 1390s, Ciconia was in Rome, but by about 1400, he settled in Padua, there to remain for the rest of his life. Some of his motets bear witness to the close association he had with patrons in Padua and the Veneto. Francesco Zabarella, for example, for whom both Doctorum principem and Ut te per omnes were written, later became Archbishop of Florence and then Cardinal. It’s also interesting that Ciconia inserts himself into some of his motets in a way that suggests he had a sense of his own importance.
Several genres of early Italian secular music seem to have their genesis in the pursuits of the courtly upper classes. The caccia could have its origins in the hunt, and each voice in this popular canonic genre literally chases the next. The very texts often depict the hunt, or other outdoor pastimes. The origins of the earliest Italian “madrigals” may be simply dealing with songs known as matricalis, or “in the native tongue.” On the other hand, the pastoral nature of many of their texts could also betray possible origins in similar upper-class pastoral entertainments. Ciconia’s madrigal I cani sono fuora offers a good example. Many purely musical features might merely be following the stylistic conventions of his age. Yet the text he chose to set, and some subtle musical features of that setting, clearly link the piece to the hunting tunes of the caccia. The madrigal Caçando un giorno begins with a scene from a hunt, but it quickly becomes clear the doe of the opening line represents the object of the singer’s unrequited love.
Centered around Paris, Avignon in southern France, and in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century, music from the ars subtilior is characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity. Highly refined and difficult to sing, music of this genre was probably produced, sung, and enjoyed by a small audience of specialists and connoisseurs. Almost exclusively secular songs, the visual notation of the works often reflected the text, such as Baude Cordier’s love song Belle, bonne, sage, which is notated in the shape of a heart. Though Ciconia was not specifically an ars subtilior composer, the complexity of some of his works reflects his knowledge of and admiration for this movement, as in the dazzlingly complex Sus une fontayne, which quotes three works of ars subtilior composer Philopoctus de Caserta.
Una panthera is a three-voice Italian madrigal, one of four attributed to Ciconia, thought by some to have been composed in the 1390s and by others as more closely linked with the visit of the noble Lazzaro, from Lucca, visiting Giangaleazzo Visconti in Padua in May or June 1399. Ciconia was working for Visconti at the time, and the lyrics, possibly Ciconia, engage Lazzaro in deep flattery. They refer to the mythical founding of Lucca by an armored panther (or leopard), in the company of the war-god Mars. The celebration of the creature’s strong defense of the city is aimed to flatter Lazzaro into accepting terms for a political and military alliance with Padua. The angularity, strong contrasts between long sustained notes and melismatic acrobatics make it one of Ciconia’s more impressive works.
All that is known of Baude Cordier’s life is that he was born in Reims and was a university graduate. He may be the same person as Baude Fresnel, who served as harpist and organist to the court of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Most of Cordier’s dozen surviving works are secular songs. Several are notable for their rhythmic complexity and notational ingenuity. Cordier’s Ce jour de l’an represents a category of piece—the New Year song—that seems to have spring into existence around 1400 and which is undoubtedly connected with the giving of New Year presents (a ceremony lavishly described in an English context in the Middle English romance of Sir Gawayn and the Green Knight). The tone of such festivities would seem to have suited the new mood of the French chanson after 1400, lighter and fresher.
The virelai Sus une fontayne is Ciconia’s only surviving piece whose formal features reflect the French song tradition, yet it is this composition that has provoked the most commentary of all of Ciconia’s works. To start with, Sus une fontayne is the only work by Ciconia in which we find complex notational devices that exemplify ars subtilior practice. While this in itself is only mildly mysterious, the way the complex notation is used in the piece, together with various details of the work’s structure and transmission, is considerably more enigmatic. The enigma centers on Sus une fontayne’s extensive quotation of the works of Ciconia’s older Italian contemporary Philopoctus da Caserta. Polyphonic quotations of the openings of three ballades by de Caserta—De ma doulour ne puis trover confort, En remirant vo douche portraiture, and En attendant, soufrir m’estuet grief paine performed on this program and which is the most quoted of de Caserta’s three works—are woven into the compositional fabric of Sus une fontayne, together with their texts, which are similarly incorporated into the text of Ciconia’s virelai. While quotation of text and/or of music is a common feature of late fourteenth-century song, it is taken to an extreme here, accounting for fully twenty per cent of the composition.
The two ballate by Johannes Ciconia, Ligiadra donna and O rosa bella are practically companion pieces on account of their treatment of the text. Each employs the rhetorical device of repeating fragments of text set in an ascending sequence to heighten expression, while the imitation between the cantus and tenor voices in O rosa bella further excites the listener. Unusually, Matteo da Perugia frequently wrote different contratenor parts to accompany the songs of his peers. For our performance of Ligiadra donna, you’ll hear Perugia’s striking contratenor, which bears his hallmark dissonant leaps (frequent sevenths or ninths), displaced octaves, and appoggiaturas. Ligiadra donna highlights Ciconia’s precocious use of melodic sequence and text repetition for rhetorical effect; he may be the first composer to make use of such potent and later ubiquitous techniques.
The Italian composer Zaninus de Peraga de Padua is known to us solely from his three-voice ballata Se le lagrime antique, which survives in a northern Italian fragment; the opening notes of the top line are missing and reconstructed for this performance. The piece shows French influence, and is probably the work referred to in sonnet no. 48 of Prudenzani’s Sollazzo.
In the 1390s, Ciconia was in Rome, but by about 1400, he settled in Padua, there to remain for the rest of his life. Some of his motets bear witness to the close association he had with patrons in Padua, such as the Carrara family. The motet O felix templum jubila is in honor of Stefano Carrara, illegitimate son of Francesco Carrara “il Novello,” administrator of the Paduan See from 1396 and bishop from 1402. It has been suggested that this motet was written to celebrate the dedication of an altar to St. Stephen in Padua Cathedral by Stephano Carrara in 1400, but several allusions in the text suggest that it must either celebrate or postdate his assumption of the bishopric on April 10, 1402, placing it first in a sequence of three motets by Ciconia honoring successive bishops of Padua. The madrigal Con lagreme bagnandome is a lament on the death of a lord, and its text appears in a Florentine manuscript, headed “Ballata per il signor Francesco Carrara.” Francesco “il Novello” died in 1406, a politically unsuitable time for anyone to express other than very private grief about the passing of a Carrara, who were at that time banished from Padua following its overthrow by Venice. His father, Francesco “il Vecchio,” was a prisoner of Giangaleazzo Visconti from 1388, probably too early for a Ciconia who was still immature in 1385 to have been in his service in Italy. Il Vecchio abdicated in favor of Il Novello in 1388, but a magnificent funeral was allowed at Padua when he died, still a prisoner, in 1393. This ceremony, at which Ciconia’s patron Francesco Zabarella gave an oration, provides one plausible date and occasion for the composition.
Francesco Zabarella, for whom both Doctorum principem and Ut te per omnes were written, was born in Padua and studied law at Bologna and Florence. He taught Canon law at Florence until 1390 and at Padua until 1410, and in 1398 was made archpriest of the cathedral at Padua. When Padua became part of the Venetian Republic in 1406, Zabarella became a loyal supporter of Venice and in 1409 took part in the Council of Pisa as councilor of the Venetian legate. The next year Pope John XXIII appointed him bishop of Forence and in 1411 made him Cardinal Deacon of the Titular church of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Ciconia’s close association with Zabarella is cemented by the survival of two motets in his honor. In the isorhytmic motet Doctorum principem, Ciconia praises Zabarella directly as “prince of teachers” and “nourisher of clergy,” with allusions to music. Ut te per omnes celitus, addressed to Zabarella’s patron St. Francis, intercedes for him as a great teacher and Paduan lawyer, and prays also for the Franciscan order.
Notes by Shannon Canavin