1. Music in Paduan city life, c. 1400

Padua in the late fourteenth century was a flourishing independent city-state. The ruling Carrara dynasty from 1318 until 1405 waged continuous warfare with neighboring powers. The late fourteenth century was an era of immense non-military competition among the autonomous city-states in the Italian peninsula as well. The rulers of these city-states would compete in displays of conspicuous consumption to demonstrate the power, prestige, and wealth of their domain.8 An examination of Paduan music, particularly the learned vocal polyphony of the Paduan fragments, must take into account the environment in which music was produced.

Padua had four rulers during the time this study concerns. Francesco I da Carrara ("il Vecchio") was the ninth Carrara to rule Padua in the fourteenth century.9 Il Vecchio reigned from 1350 until his abdication in 1388 after which time he was imprisoned by the Visconti of Milan until his death in 1393. The Visconti controlled Padua until 1390 when Francesco II da Carrara ("il Novello") brought control of Padua back to the Carrara dynasty. Il Novello’s rule was a time of constant war and high taxation until he was deposed by the Venetians in 1405.10 After 1405, Padua became for the following centuries part of the growing Venetian republic which was to encompass much of the Veneto.

Secular and sacred patronage

The Carrara rulers, and Il Novello in particular, had reputations for producing numerous magnificent cultural artifacts to show off the abundance of their lands. These signs of patronage were more important to despotic courts such as those of the Carrara or the Milanese Visconti families than to the republics of Florence or Venice.11 The amount of surviving artifacts from the Carrara reign is not commensurate with accounts of Carrara munificence. Since these artifacts were testimonies to the power of the rulers who commissioned them, they were probably destroyed by Padua’s conquerors.12 It is probable that manuscripts, particularly manuscripts dedicated to a specific patron, would be destroyed with larger monumental artifacts.13 Anne Hallmark writes, "It seems ironic that Padua has been cited as a musical centre mainly during the times when outsiders ruled the city."14 It should thus be questioned whether the surviving manuscripts, particularly those manuscripts which survive wholly intact, are actually representative of the musical tradition which existed prior to the establishment of Venetian rule.

Although musicians were not considered very respectable, nevertheless there are accounts of patronage by the Carrara court of instrumentalists and singers as well as other artists. In the treatise "On the proper love due princes," written in 1399, the chancellor of Il Novello’s court, Giovanni Conversini da Ravenna writes, "in the art of ruling . . . it is fitting that various and diverse classes of person be kept on hand," including servants and people of respectability such as doctors and writers; he continues:

Many others, however, such as [harp players], singers, actors, painters, and other foolish people are acquired at court more for the pleasure they give than for anything else; they are people who should earn regard not so much for their intrinsic value, but for their very numbers.15

The production of dedicatory motets suggests patterns of patronage. These motets are found far more commonly in the works of northern Italians than those of Florentines. The motets of Johannes Ciconia suggest a pattern of patronage by three Paduan bishops, and the Abbot of Santa Giustina, and, in particular, Francesco Zabarella, later the Archbishop of Florence.16

Church and state were inexorably linked in late fourteenth-century Padua, more so even than in most other Italian cities. At the end of the 1400s, the Carrara family held not only the high secular posts but also the top positions in the Cathedral and in the Abbey of S. Giustina. Francesco il Novello’s two illegitimate sons, Stefano da Carrara and Andrea da Carrara held the posts of bishop and abbot pronunciatus (and later abbot) of the Cathedral and Abbey respectively.17 Thus, it would not be surprising if some money for the patronage of musicians at the Cathedral and Abbey had roots in the Carrara dynasty’s coffers.

It should be noted that the era of large-scale patronage did not begin until the middle of the fifteen century, so even were it not for the destruction of records, documentary evidence of this time would be incomplete. Other northern Italian courts record only one or two musicians in residence at any time; the remainder were hired as needed for specific occasions.18 These special occasions would probably have included funerals, for which there is substantial evidence that other artists were employed, and the many celebrations which took place in the great hall of Padua’s Palazzo della Ragione in the Piazza dell’Erbe.19 Long distance patronage at this time was particularly rare, since permanent ambassadorships in other cities had not yet been established.20

Paduan musical traditions

The music found in the Paduan fragments represents a diverse collection of styles of polyphonic music for voices and voices with instruments. However, vocal polyphony was only a small part of musical life in Padua. Sacred and secular monophonic music played perhaps the largest role in musical city life. Secular monophonic music was primarily an unwritten tradition of which there are few details, thus making reconstruction extremely difficult. Contrary to popular belief, the monophony was not scorned by the educated elite: by the third decade of the fifteenth century, we have examples by many writers, especially humanists, such as Ambrogio Traversari, praising singers of solo song accompanied by an instrument as being superior to singers of polyphony.21 In the literary tradition, the texts by such great writers as Petrarch and Boccaccio (in "Il Decamerone") which mention music describe unwritten monophonic music, probably related to the troubadour art of southern France.22

Paduans in the late fourteenth century held a strong interest in the popular music of Sicily and southern Italy.23 Sicilian songs were adapted to fit local taste into a type of polyphonic two-part strophic composition called a "siciliana". These sicilianas were not notated in their original forms, but their Sicilian melodies can be partially reconstructed from the siciliana-ballate found in the Reina codex, the Paduan fragments, and other manuscripts of Paduan provenance (for a probable example, see Se per dureça in PadB, chapter 4, reproduced in facsimile in appendix B). The largely unwritten tradition of instrumental music presents a difficulty for the understanding of this facet of trecento music. Instrumentalists were probably employed for the procession of the relics of Saint Anthony, still major festival in Padua. The fragment I-Pc 553 contains an incomplete organ intabulation of a mass and is possibly the remains of a body of music for organ at the Cathedral; other archival evidence points to the performance of the organ in the Cathedral during the second half of the fourteenth century.24 The constant clanging of bells in the towers of various church and government buildings, while perhaps not normally considered music, were an omnipresent part of the urban soundscape.25

When the average person did hear polyphonic vocal music in Padua, it was more likely to have been on special occasions in church than in a secular environment. The role of polyphony at the Cathedral can be gathered from evidence in two notated antiphoners written in the early fourteenth century. These manuscripts, I-Pc 55 and I-Pc 56 contain "omnia officia et processiones que sunt in ecclesia paduana per totum circulum anni," according to f. 1 of I-Pc 55. The manuscripts were prepared in the early fourteenth century. Two-voice polyphonic compositions are part of the standard music for certain offices and processionals in the Paduan church year. These compositions have text indicating specific dates to be sung and details of the mode of performance.26 Additional polyphonic music was added in the middle of the fifteenth century, suggesting an unbroken tradition of use during that span.

From the thirteenth-century until the present, the university has played an enormous role in Paduan life. The "Bo" was founded in 1222 and is second in age among Italian universities only to the University of Bologna. Although the university was one of the centers of Italian humanist thought (especially in the fifteenth century), the humanistic writings of Petrarch (who spent his last years in Padua), Boccaccio, and Veronese did not concern themselves with music, especially practical concerns in music.27

During the late fourteenth-century the first stream of immigrant composers from the Low Countries reached northern Italy. This flow of talent from the Burgundian lands would increase to torrent by the middle fifteenth century, when northern immigrants were viewed as the best composers in Italy.28 After the Great Schism in 1378, clerics from the Low Countries, to retain their benefices, would travel to Italy for their education, rather than France. During 1380s and 90s, we see greater numbers of northerners emigrating to Italy. These musicians include Egardus, Ciconia, a singer in the Paduan Cathedral chapter named Guillelmus de Linden de Alemania, and possibly a composer from Saint Omer, west of Bruges.29 The return from France of prelates loyal to the Roman pope during the Great Schism brought French music to the fore in northern Italy during this time as well.30

The examination of trends in Padua may give a partial explanation as to why we begin to see a sizable growth in the amount of musical material coming out of the Abbey of Santa Giustina. The explanation offered here is a simple one: from 1405 until 1420, when the Paduan fragments were most likely to have been written,31 the congregation of monks at Santa Giustina swelled in size and education, providing a much greater base of manpower for the copying of music manuscripts.32 In the years from 1408, when Ludovico Barbo took control of the monastery, until 1419, he transformed "a handful of lax monks ruled by a worldly abbot" into a congregation of 200 pious monks, many of whom were university graduates, following strict Benedictine rules.33 Although this explanation shows why there would be a greater chance of the production of these manuscripts, it cannot fully explain their appearance. First, if a major part of the reason is a larger labor force, we should expect to see evidence of greater production of manuscripts of all types; such a comparative study has not yet been carried out. Secondly, there is a general increase in the number of surviving music manuscripts from other parts of Italy at this time: can the rationalization of an increased labor force be used there as well? Finally, if more scribes were the only factor in production of music manuscripts, one would expect that as the congregation at S. Giustina continued to grow during the 1430s and 40s, the production of manuscripts would also expand. The surviving fragmentary evidence instead shows a decrease in music manuscript production during the middle decades of the fifteenth century.

Throughout the course of this study these elements of Paduan city life will be used to give a framework for the examination of finer and finer details of codicological structure, notation, and paleography. Issues of patronage, unwritten musical traditions, and developments in Padua civic and religious circles will continue to shape how we approach this repertory.