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1436 __ « Nuper Rosarum Flores »
Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)
Comment : “Nuper Rosarum Flores” or Flowers of Roses/The Rose Blossoms, is an isorhythmic motet composed in 1436 by Guillaume Dufay, to be performed at the consecration of the new Florence cathedral on the occasion of the completion of the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The motet is striking for its synthesis of both the older isorhythmic style and the new contrapuntal style which would be developed in the coming decades by Dufay himself as well as his successors (such as Ockeghem and Josquin des Prez). The title of the piece stems from the actual cathedral itself, which was named Santa Maria del Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flower. The musicologist Charles Warren claimed in his article Brunelleschi's Dome and Dufay's Motet that the proportional structure of the motet mimicked the proportions of the building itself. A compelling counter-argument is presented by Craig Wright, however, in Dufay's "Nuper rosarum flores," King Solomon's Temple, and the Veneration of the Virgin. A yet subsequent article aimed to restore Warren's theory: M. Trachtenberg, Architecture and Music Reunited: A New Reading of Dufay's "Nuper Rosarum Flores" and the Cathedral of Florence, Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), pp. 740-775. (Compiled from various sources)Mathematical proportions do not occur in medieval and Renaissance music as occasional, accessory stylistic elements: the pythagorean-platonic paradigm states that music itself is nothing but “auditory perception of numbers”. The hypothetical relationship between the mensural proportions of the motet Nuper rosarum flores and the proportions of Brunelleschi’s Duomo, although fascinating and quite plausible, should not obscure that in other motets, particularly in the later isorythmic motets (Fulgens iubar and Moribus et genere), Dufay attains an even higher degree of formal complexity. The motet Magnam me gentes, (12:4:2:3) has a mensural structure very close to Nuper (6:4:2:3). Worth nothing is that the 15th century humanist Marsilio Ficino introduced a “platonic-hermetic” movement, attributing occult significance to numerical relations. Did Dufay himself share these ideas? Do the numerical ratios in his motets hide a symbolic content? Some modern scholars have claimed so, even though the pieces for which numerological interpretations have been proposed were written some thirty years before Ficino’s works, and it is impossible to obtain a conclusive proof that such interpretations reflect Dufay’s intentions. More concretely, one could ask to what extent mathematical proportions can be perceived by the listener. The “mensural proportions” (which are but one example of numerical ratios in this music) are merely changes of meter: in an isorythmic motet, for instance, the basic sequence of note values (talea) is repeated with all durations multiplied by a fixed ratio (e.g. 2:1, 1:2 or 2:3). Whenever the change occurs simultaneously in all voices, it can be clearly heard; in other cases, it remains hidden in the polyphonic texture. The mensural proportions also determine the ratio of the lengths of the various sections of the piece, and the choice of appropriate proportions was considered to be essential to the overall structure of the piece, much as in the Pythagorean scale where such ratios (1:2, 2:3, …) determine the consonance of a chord. As Leibniz states three centuries later: “Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.”. (Guido Magnano)It is considered that Guillaume Dufay used elements related to measures and size of the Florence Cathedral “Santa Maria del Fiore”, for the composition of his motet Nuper rosarum flores. According to some studies, (e.g. in M. Michelutti, Tra musica e architettura, Conservatorio di Musica di Milano, 2003, (http://digilander.libero.it/initlabor/musica-architettura-michelutti/musica-architett-marta1.html), the dimensional proportions of the church, to witch the music is intended are related to the music structure of the motet’s tenor and contratenor. Also, there are examples of inverse path: from music to architecture. One for all the Steven Holl’s « Stretto house », “designed as a parallel to Béla Bartok’s « Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta » (S. Hall, “Stretto house”, in Pamphlet Architecture 16 - Architecture as a Translation of Music, E. Martin, Ed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994, pp.56-59). [It] should be mentioned [also] the case of the Australian aboriginals and the songs they use to determine boundaries and particular areas. In those songs “The contour of the melody […] describes the contour of the land with which it is associated.” (K. Mavash, “Site + Sound : Space” in Resonance essays on the intersection of Music and Architecture, vol. 1, M. W. Muecke, M. S. Zach, Eds. Ames, IA: Culicidae Architectural Press, 2007, pp. 53 -75.). (Andrea Taroppi, “Echi tra le Volte, a sound design project for churches”)The chiasmatic themes of architecture as frozen music and music as singing the architecture of the world run as leitmotifs through the histories of philosophy, music, and architecture. Rarely, however, can historical intersections of these practices be identified. This study proposes a transient nexus of architecture, sacred music, and theology in early modern Florence. Nuper Rosarum Flores or Flowers of Roses/The Rose Blossoms, is an isorhythmic motet composed in 1436 by Guillaume Dufay, to be performed at the consecration of the new Florence cathedral on the occasion of the completion of the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. IT has long been known to musicologists and historians of Florence as the brilliant isorhythmic motet commissioned from Guillaume Dufay (Du Fay, Du Fayt) (August 5, 1397? – November 27, 1474) for the dedication of the new Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore on March 25, 1436. But only in 1973 did the piece acquire its current renown, as the result of the seeming discovery by Charles Warren of a strong connection between its musical structure and the dimensions and proportions of the new Cathedral (92-105). The composition now became an icon of music history, a work that seemed deeply embedded in an architectural context framed by ascendant Renaissance humanism, and its reinterpretation was regarded among many musicologists as a model of interdisciplinary scholarly practice. Recently, however, Warren's reading has been sharply undermined, in particular by Craig Wright, who in 1993-1994 showed that while Warren's analysis of the musical structure was essentially correct, his reading of the architecture was so deeply flawed as to be invalid. In Wright's view, Dufay's score was informed not by the design of S. Maria del Fiore but instead by a numerological and symbolic nexus sited in biblical and exegetical descriptions of Solomon's Temple (Hebrew: , transliterated Beit HaMikdash) and in Marian lore. The referentiality of the music was not to the real architecture of the Cathedral, with which it had nothing to do specifically, but to the imaginary Solomonic architecture (and related numerological sets) that was the universal model for all church construction. This is where matters currently stand. Charles Warren's "Brunelleschi's Dome and Dufay's Motet," published in the Musical Quarterly in 1973, was the first attempt to establish a meaningful connection between the music and the building. In the article the author identifies the underlying mathematical structure of the score, which involves two sets of numbers: a primary proportional series 6:4:2:3 (the overall isometric scheme), which is virtually unique in music of the period; and secondarily, an exceptional emphasis on the number seven in both score and text, in conjunction with the factors two and four. Warren directly relates this singular musical structure to an elaborate dimensional analysis of the building involving several sets of planning modules, rotational figuration, and other features, down to correspondences with the form, measurements, and even structural details of the Cupola. The fact that Warren gives the entire cathedral to Brunelleschi, who entered its construction more than a century after it was begun and was only involved with the Cupola, or the way his modular systems invert and contradict the design history of the Cathedral, should perhaps have alerted attentive readers to the questionable methods of his dimensional analysis. But the enthusiasm for the article was great, for (to the architecturally uncritical and misinformed reader) Warren seemed to have imaginatively linked the frozen music of Brunelleschi, the father of Renaissance architecture, with the sonic, liquid architecture of the prestigious Dufay, considered the greatest early Renaissance composer, in a way that seemed to illuminate both figures and to vindicate modern critical methodologies. [...] Nevertheless it is possible to speculate on the experience of the participants of that exalted moment in 1436, to describe what may have been possible for them to hear, see, and imagine. The performance of Nuper rosarum flores briefly made the building (in my interpretation), not just a theatrical setting and auditorium, but an integral part of the performing arts, integrally part of the performance. For the ideally knowledgeable and attentive participant, the words, structure, and "images" of the musictext were mirrored in the piers, walls, and vaults all around. Yet simultaneously the building seemed to be echoed in the music, and all such sensuous experience reflected and was reflected by the multilayered ideological, imagetext knot of Temple and Virgin, Temple as the Virgin, Virgin as the Temple, Temple as New Jerusalem, all converging with a (self)-consciousness of site and meaning intricately fused with the city of Florence and its mythical/mystical identity. In which directions such thoughts, perceptio ns, and feelings actually might have run, whether, indeed, any of the auditors, even the most knowledgeable, actually experienced much of what was theoretically possible, we shall, of course, never know (we don't even know at what point in the consecration ceremony the motet was performed, and in any case, the Duomo has terrible acoustics). Perhaps only Dufay himself, or the other members of the papal chapel singing under his direction, would have registered much of the referential system at all. Technically it would have been difficult indeed for even the informed listener to follow with the ear the long durational sequences inherent in the motet, although clearly heard by all, literally or figuratively trumpeted, would have been the four words of the cantus firmus, "terribilus est ipse locus," the central words of the famous vision of Jacob's Ladder in which angels are seen going up and down from Heaven (and perhaps evoking for some listeners this vision, even the "heavenly" space directly around them). But my main point here is to suggest that a cross-referential, multimedia experience of music, architecture, and text-based meaning as suggested in this paragraph may have been at least theoretically possible, or imagined as thus by the composer, for some of the culturally elite members of his audience. (Trachtenberg, Marvin 2001, “Architecture and Music Reunited: A New Reading of Dufay's Nuper Rosarum Flares and the Cathedral of Florence”, In Renaissance Quarterly, September 22, 2001)
French comment : Les rapports entre musique et architecture sont envisageables dans un plan autre que l’étude iconographique ou la spéculation théorique et historique. Depuis plus de trente ans un fleuve d’encre coule à propos du “Nuper rosarum flores”, le motet composé par Guillaume Dufay pour la consécration de la cathédrale de Florence Santa Maria del Fiore le 25 mars 1436, et la possible filiation entre l’originale et novatrice structure musicale de la pièce et la structure architecturale de la Coupole érigée par Filippo Brunelleschi en rapport avec l’édifice tout entier. Toujours problématique, la réflexion entamée peut ouvrir la voie à des interrogations majeures quant aux processus de composition, tant musicaux qu’architecturaux, au moment de la transition entre Moyen Âge et Renaissance. Il semble en effet qu’un rapport d’affinité peut subsister, à l’époque médiévale, entre une pratique de composition musicale qui a ses fondements sur la répétition de formules préétablies – les structures isorythmiques engendrées par la répétition rythmique et mélodique du cantus firmus (la mélodie du plain-chant originaire) – et une pratique architecturale fondée elle aussi sur la répétition de schémas et figures géométriques prédéterminées – la méthode ad quadratum et ad triangulum. (Vasco Zara)
Source : Zara, Vasco (2007). « Musique et Architecture : théories, composition, théologie (XIIIe-XVIIe siècles) ». In Bulletin du Centre d’Études Médiavales d’Auxerre, no. 11, 2007.
Source : Zara, Vasco (Ed.) (2007). « ‘Ut architectura musica’. Cinque saggi sul mottetto di Dufay e la cattedrale di Firenze ». Ravenne, 2007.
Source : Warren, C. W. (1973). « Brunelleschi’s Dome and Dufay’s Motet ». In Musical Quarterly, I (1973), pp. 92-105.
Source : Trachtenberg, M. (2001), “Architecture and Music Reunited: A New Reading of Dufay's "Nuper Rosarum Flores" and the Cathedral of Florence”, Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), pp. 740-775.
Urls : http://cem.revues.org/index1178.html (last visited ) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Architecture+and+Music+Reunited:+A+New+Reading+of+Dufay's+Nuper...-a078975503 (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QipoTdSDx8 (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8hx_hguwTo (last visited )

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