26 February 2008


In case you haven't discovered it yet, Free-Scores.com has a lot of free sheet music of all sorts available for download, both instrumental and vocal.

Bizarrely (if you look at the site you'll see why I think it's odd) there are 61 pages of chants uploaded from the web source Canto Ambrosiano. Poking around their website, I notice that they've uploaded some really beautiful images of chant codices.

Speaking of chant codices, if you are a chantophile, bibliophile, lover of medieval illuminations and calligraphy, or one of those weird people who likes Old High German, check out the codices of the library of St. Gallen, available online here.

From Codice Sangallensis 374, c. mid 11th century (the feast of St. Matthias was yesterday in the old calendar)

09 February 2008

Literary Irony

Among the plays listed as Shakespeare Apocrypha, wikipedia includes Love's Labours Won, the manuscript of which has been lost.

How's that for irony?

08 February 2008

Those, erm, Robust Roman Choirs

In case any of you are wondering whether the rather distinctive sound of Roman choirs that so many of us have come to dread in television broadcasts (or live, if you're luckier than me) of Papal Masses is a recent phenomenon, I can assure you that it is at least a hundred years old.

In The Musical Times of July 1, 1893, a reader writes in describing the performance of Palestrina's music in Rome:

"During a stay of some weeks last year in Rome I had several opportunities of hearing the traditional method [of rendering Palestrina's music] at St. Peter's and St. John Lateran, and I am not sure that it would commend itself to an English audience. The choirs, consisting of from twelve to fifteen voices, sang fortissimo throughout, and the organ was played from beginning to end so loudly that the voices were scarcely heard, and no variation of tone was introduced. During Lent, however, the organ was silent, and the choirs sang with excellent precision, attack, and intonation; but the constant fortissimo seemed somewhat monotonous."

The author of that article preferred the performance of Palestrina heard in Germany.

07 February 2008

Cool Things From Google Books

If any of you are interested in music of the 18th Century, or 18th Century Italian culture in general (of which music and opera were an important part) there are some books available on Google Books that you should take a look at. Some good books are available only if you have access through a participating library, but the books below are available to anybody.

The first is by Dr. Charles Burney, an English musician who traveled Continental Europe in search of interesting cultural experiences, went to parties with and interviewed many of the important musicians, composers and librettists of the day, and published books about all of it when he went home. His writings are extremely valuable to music historians, and his writing style is mostly engaging and readable, although the facsimile versions of his books sometimes require a mental adjustment to deal with the "s" that looks like an "f." (This has occasioned some hilarity on my part because it looks like the text version of speech impediment.)

The book by him which is available to the non-library-privileged reader is Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Abate Metastasio. Pietro Metastasio ("abate" indicates that he was a seminary student or minor cleric of some kind, like about every third Italian male of his social class at the time) was THE Italian poet of his day. The opera libretti that he wrote were given musical setting more times than any other--his most popular works were set as many as 120 times! After a successful early career in Italy, he was made court poet in Vienna and remained in that position for forty years. He was also the closest friend and confidant of the famous castrato Farinelli (whose life loosely formed the basis of one of the worst "historical" movies ever made); they called each other "brother" and "twin" and kept an extensive correspondence, though due to Farinelli's engagements in England and Spain they almost never saw one another.

Two volumes of John Hoole's nearly-contemporary English translations of Metastasio's work are also available here and here.

The other recommended work is that of Violet Paget, who wrote under the name of Vernon Lee. Violet Paget was born in 1856 and began her writing career in 1880, nearly a hundred years after most of the events about which she wrote in her non-fiction. Considering this, and considering that she did not have a university education, it is astonishing that she wrote with such understanding about 18th Century culture. In 1880 music history was still a relatively undeveloped "fringe" discipline, and until the middle of the 20th Century nearly all of the focus was on Germanic music, considered to have produced the greatest and most progressive composers--Beethoven and Wagner. 18th Century opera was considered by most to be rather silly, the music insufficiently passionate and the libretti unrealistic. Perhaps the libretti are unrealistic, but as Violet Paget understood, opera of the day had its own ideals and conventions and we would do better to try to judge the worth of the works by the standards by which 18th Century people would have judged them, rather than trying to compare a libretto by Metastasio with music by Vivaldi to an opera by Wagner. To be sure, she sometimes writes with a tone of irony about some of the sillier notions of 18th Century people, but overall her understanding is remarkable for a woman of her day who was mostly self-educated.

I have only taken a look at her Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy so far. Unfortunately the silver page decoration (which I saw on my professor's copy of the book) did not scan very well, so you will have to imagine how pretty the real book looks. There are several other of her works available online, as well, including The Enchanted Woods: and Other Essays on the Genius of Places and Juvenilia: Being a Second Series of Essays on Sundry Æsthetical Questions. I greatly look forward to having a few spare moments to peruse them.

04 February 2008

Overheard on Campus

Random passerby, to his companion: "...so I made a bubblegum model of the fetal seal."
Companion: "Good, good."

I'd really, really like to know what the rest of that conversation was about.

02 February 2008

Book Game II

Here are my results:

"Several centuries later, the biography of the much-admired Jean de Boucicaut, marshal of France, Le Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Boucicaut, announced in words clearly recalling Chretien's:

Two things have been established in the world, by the will of God, like two pillars to sustain the orders of divine and human laws... and without which the world would be like a confused thing and without any order... These two flawless pillars are Chivalry and Learning, which go very well together."

From Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe by Richard W. Kaeuper