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Titian (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576)

(click on picture to enlarge)

The Franco-Flemish Schools: art and music

During the Hundred Year’s War (1337 to 1453), the Dukes of Burgundy added to their “original fiefs” (the duchy and county of Burgundy, in East-central France) most of what are today Holland, Belgium, northeast France, Luxembourg and Lorraine.  In fact, “the dukes of Burgundy ruled over the whole as virtually independent sovereigns until 1477.”[i]

So let us go from the original Burgundian lands to the larger Franco-Flemish territory, the birthplace of masterful enlumineurs, but also the birthplace of extremely influential musicians, such as Adriaan Willaert (c. 1490 – 7 December 1562).

As well, Bruges remains the foremost centre in the manufacture of rugs and tapestries, some containing motifs we have mentioned in earlier blogs, such as what I have called the grape and leaf motif, better described as the “vine motif.”

Adriaan Willaert: The Venetian School of Music

But music is our subject, albeit in a very introductory manner.

What I wish to point out is that the musicians whom the Italians hired were Franco-Flemish musicians and that among these musicians was Adriaan Willaert, the Flemish composer, born in Bruges, who founded the Venetian School (1550 to around 1610).

In other words,  Italy did not bring music to the north, the north went down to teach music to the Italians who then exported their own music to Vienna.  Such was the road travelled by Antonio Vivaldi (4 March 1678 – 28 July 1741).

Vienna would later become home to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the three main composers of the classical era.

However, in the seventeenth-century, musicians trained in Italy also settled in France, Lully being the foremost representative among Italian-born French composers.  Ironically, France owes the French Overture to Italy, but not altogether, as it all began in the expanded Burdundian lands, not to mention that Franco-Flemish composers brought music to Italy.

Adriaan Willaert’s most influential appointment was as maestro di cappella of St. Mark‘s at Venice.  He occupied this post from 1527 until his death in 1562 and students came to him not only from Italy, but from all over Europe.

In other words, Reynard the Fox was born in Nivardus of Ghent’s Isengrimus (c. 1140), where he was called Reinardus.  The frères de Limbourg, who produced the richly-decorated Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry were born in Nijmegen, in what is now the Low Countries.  Very fine rugs and tapestries are still made in Bruges.  And now, Adriaan Willaert, born in Bruges, has taken music to Italy.

The French Chanson and the Madrigal

To return to music, we could discuss polyphonic music, but it seems best to begin with the not-so-humble monophonic song.  I have written “not so humble” for those who love Schubert‘s (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) Lieder: songs.

Willaert wrote 60 French chansons and 70 Italian madrigals (songs in the mother [madre] tongue) and trained a flock of madrigalists whose ancestors were courtly singers, or trouvères, members of the upper bourgeoisie and aristocrats who worshipped women.  Madrigalists did not worship women, but they have left us beautiful songs, including love songs.

Madrigals can be written for several voices (polyphonic) or for one voice (monophonic).  The example I am using is a monophonic madrigal, composed by Willaert and entitled  O quando a quando havea.  I have not found the text, but I will look for it.

click to hear O quando a quando havea; click to hear Lully


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November 21, 2011

[i] J. P. Burkholder, D. J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006 [1973]), p. 175.