Case 6. Music Theorists

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Consider first that the music treatises found here date from 16th through early 17th centuries. Then try to imagine the thought that produced such a blend of music and science to systematically explain how the ethereal art of music might be described within the realm of the physical world.

Pietro Aaron (b. Florence, ca. 1480; d. Venice, after 1545)
Toscanello, Opera Dell' Eccellentiss.
Venice: Appresso Domenico Nicolini, 1562.
Fragment of limp medieval vellum manuscript leaf.

Bound in a fragment of a medieval vellum manuscript leaf, the Selch copy is a slim volume of 34 leaves foliated erratically and featuring woodcut diagrams, music, and initial letters throughout. The work was first published in Venice in 1523 by Bernardino et Matheo de Vitali, then reprinted in 1529; a corrected reprint also appeared in 1529 and was reissued in1539. The work seen here is a reprint by Domenico Nicolini also made in Venice based on the 1529 corrected reprint.
Italian theorist and composer, Aaron claims to have had familiarity with the works of Josquin, Obrecht, and Isaac. By 1516 he was a priest in Imola, where he wrote his first book, Libri tres de institutione harmonica, translated into Latin by Giovanni Antonio Flaminio. Despite similar content, the Toscanello is not a translation of the Libri tres: some sections are omitted (on chant, solmization, mutation), some duplicated (fundamentals), some improved (notation), some expanded (notably on counterpoint and composition) and some added (division of the monochord, tuning of keyboard instruments). - Adapted from Bonnie J. Blackburn's article in Grove Music Online.

Heinrich Glarean (b. Mollis, June 1488; d. Freiburg, March 1563).

Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1547.
Vellum, blind-stamped panel and acorns.

A Swiss music theorist, geographer and humanist, Glarean first studied philosophy and theology, and later mathematics and music, at the University of Cologne. This first edition his Dodecachordon has a vellum binding decorated with blind-stamped panels and acorn images.
This vast work is divided into three parts: Book 1 (based primarily on the writings of Boethius and Gaffurius) focuses on the elements of music, consonance and dissonance, and solmization; Book 2 features the theory of 12 modes applied to plainsong and other monophony; and Book 3 discusses mensural music and the theory of 12 modes applied to polyphonic music.
Since the title-page of the Dodecachordon details the modal names of his new system, it appears that Glarean considered it the outstanding contribution of this treatise. In essence, to the medieval eight modes he added four more, Ionian and Hypoionian with finals on C, and Aeolian and Hypoaeolian with finals on A. He attempted to show that his system was based on the old Greek modes, believing that it was a renewal of modal usage in antiquity. His recognition of Ionian (or major) and Aeolian (or natural minor), however, is the work's most important claim, as well as his recognition that the Ionian mode was most frequently used in his time.
Modern scholars value the Dodecachordon for the extraordinary diversity of its contents. Ambros, for example, called Glarean the founder of musical biography and praised the breadth of his text. Others have stressed the work's significance as a musical anthology, since it contains over 120 compositions (29 by Josquin des Prez, the remainder by Obrecht, Ockeghem, Isaac and others). Contemporary writers have praised the work's contribution as a monument of musical humanism, cited its exhaustive treatment of the polyphonic method of composition of the Franco-Netherlandish school, and pointed to its subtle defense of Catholic orthodoxy.
                                        - Adapted from Clement A. Miller's article in Grove Music Online.

Gioseffo Zarlino (b. Chioggia, ca. January 1517; d. Venice, February 1590).

Le Istitutioni Harmoniche.

Venice, 1558.
Contemporary limp vellum.

Zarlino, a theorist and composer, was appointed maestro di cappella of Saint Mark's, Venice, on 5 July 1565 (a position he held until his death); in the same year he was elected a chaplain of San Severo. This first edition of his famous work features woodcut illustrations, Pythagorean diagrams, typeset music, and woodcut initials throughout and is enclosed by contemporary limp vellum. The provenance of this volume may be found on inscribed on title page: "T. Willughby" and "Henricus Faber/ Collins."
In 1558, 11 years after the publication of the Dodecachordon, Zarlino's Istitutioni harmoniche reproduced Glarean's modal system but without naming Glarean as its author. In part I, Zarlino reviewed the philosophical, cosmological and mathematical basis of music. Part II, however, demonstrates Zarlino's preference for the Greek tonal system with twist on then modern theory of consonances and tuning. Having observed, like Ramis de Pareia, Gaffurius, Spataro and Lodovico Fogliano before him, that 3rds and 6ths were not consonant in the ratios handed down by Pythagorean theory, he sought a system that would permit sweet-sounding imperfect consonances, the essential components of modern part-writing, by introducing more divisions of a string.
Whereas the Pythagoreans limited the class of consonant intervals to those produced by the first four divisions of a string: the octave, 2:1; 5th (3:2 ratio); 4th (4:3); octave plus 5th (3:1); and double octave (4:1), Zarlino extended the upper limit to the divisions of the string into two, three, four, five and six equal segments. This allowed for several more intervals: the major 3rd (ration 5:4); the minor 3rd (6:5); and the major 6th (5:3). The minor 6th, 8:5, which remained outside this sanctuary, had to be rationalized as the joining of a perfect 4th and a minor 3rd.                              - Adapted from Claude V. Palisca's article in Grove Music Online.

Fabio "Linceo" Colonna (b. Naples, ca. 1580-ca. 1650).
La Sambuca Lince.
Naples: Constantino Vitale, 1618.
Modern vellum in antique style, spine titled in manuscript.

The provenance of the first (and only) edition found here may be traced to the collection of Genevèive Thibault, Comtesse de Chambure (1902-75), her small bookplate to front pastedown.
An instrument maker, Colonna was the inventor of an enharmonic harpsichord or Arcicembelo with eight keyboards, two more than that designed by Vicentino in 1561. The instrument, called 'Sambuca lincea' by its inventor but 'Pentecontachordon' (because of its 50 strings) by lexicographers, divided the octave into 17 parts. It is described and illustrated in this volume, which also includes samples of enharmonic music by Colonna, an explanation of his division of the monochord, and a brief description of the hydraulic organ.
Colonna probably owed his sobriquet, which he bestowed on his invention, to the fact that he was a member, and perhaps one of the founders, of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome.
- Adapted from Howard Mayer Brown's article in Grove Music Online.


Last updated:
June 18, 2016