Motet cycles between devotion and liturgy

A Conference at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, 8-9 April 2016)

The Motet Cycles Project, started at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in 2014 and funded by the SNF, investigates the corpus of motet cycles composed and disseminated in manuscript and printed sources c.1470-c.1510. While in previous scholarship the reflection on the idea of cycle has been focused almost exclusively on the Milanese motetti missales, with this project we intend to broaden the picture. By cataloguing and analyzing a larger repertoire, we examine how motet units were combined in cycles, multi-movement motets, or mixed forms (including Mass-motet cycles). On the other hand, archival research and interaction with specialized performers enable us to address issues of context, performance, and reception.
In spite of its rather specific focus, the Motet Cycles Project raises a number of questions that are potentially relevant to the understanding of wide-ranging problems and phenomena, from the role of polyphonic music in late medieval liturgy to the consumption of devotional texts at court. Thus, in order to open a discussion with colleagues in musicology and liturgical studies, we are organizing two scholarly meetings. While the repertoire transmitted in the Milanese choirbooks (Gaffurio’s famous “Libroni”) will form the subject of a study day in Milan (14 October 2016), the conference which will take place at the Schola Cantorum in Basel on April 8-9, 2016 will aim at tracking the connections between the Milanese repertoire and other traditions.
Central to the Basel conference will be the problem regarding the function of the cycles and the interplay between context, textual choices, and compositional design. On the one hand, we will have to reflect on the different typologies of cycles and related structures, and on the nature and origin of their texts, at the same time addressing the concept of cycle itself (both specifically and in a comparative perspective, taking into consideration Mass ordinaries, etc.). On the other hand, we will try to answer questions such as: How do we frame the performance of these pieces within liturgy? Can we draw a connection with other aspects of late medieval devotion, be it private meditation, reading books of hours, or confraternity rituals? Or did some of these pieces inhabit hitherto uncharted spaces between liturgy and devotion (in such situations as private or low masses, paraliturgical services, or even spiritual concerts avant la lettre)? Furthermore, a set of case studies will expand, both geographically and chronologically, our discussion regarding the function of motets and motet cycles, by considering different courts and cities (especially exploring the transalpine connections of the Sforza chapel), and by surveying practices which extend well into the sixteenth century.
Organizing committee: Agnese Pavanello, Felix Diergarten, Daniele V. Filippi, Marie Verstraete.
For further information on the project, see