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Nosow, Robert Michael

The Florid and Equal-Discantus Motet Styles of Fifteenth-Century Italy

Ph.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1992
(nosow@email.unc.edu)

Italy in the early fifteenth century fostered a period of intense musical exchange, furthered by the Council of Pisa in 1409. Motets in the surviving manuscripts reflect the cultivation of older styles and the development of new kinds of motets. The organization of the manuscripts themselves helps to define the motet as a genre.

The equal-discantus motet style descends directly from the Italian motet of the fourteenth century. The style emphasizes the interaction of two equal discantus parts--equal in terms of range, melody, rhythmic activity, and text--above a slower, free tenor. It underwent less an internally-generated change than a process of absorbing new style influences. The cultivation of the style spread from the principal musical centers across Italy; its forms depended in large part on the requirements of patronage. Later equal-discantus motets, after 1425, such as "Summus secretarius" by Johannes Brassart, reach a new maturity by employing the style in individual ways with respect to melody and structure.

In contrast, the florid and discantus-tenor motet styles developed through a process of style transference. The latter is characterized by a strong duet between the structural voices. It originated through the application of song style to motet texts in the 1420s. Two early antecedents date from the time of the Council of Pisa, including Johannes Ciconia's "O petre christi discipule." The florid motet style probably developed from the discant Mass style in Italy. Its first examples are the liturgical "Ave verum corpus" by Hugo de Lantins and "Flos florum" by Guillaume Du Fay. The style emphasizes a flowing, ornate discantus voice over a slower tenor-contratenor pair. "Flos florum" was imitated by other musicians in Italy, most of whom knew Du Fay, resulting in a cohesive body of works. Several allude, directly or indirectly, to the opening phrase of "Flos florum." The process of style transference closes with Du Fay's chanson "Seigneur leon" of 1442, written in the manner of a florid motet.