Jessie Ann Owens: Cipriano de Rore’s Setting of Petrarch’s Vergine Cycle and the Creative Process 26:35
- Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
- Oct. 9, 2015
- Program note: TCPM 2015
- Jessie Ann Owens (conférencier)
The music of Flemish composer Cipriano de Rore (1515/6-1565) was eagerly sought by patrons and printers alike. One of the most coveted of his compositions was the monumental setting of the eleven-stanza canzona in honor of the Virgin Mary by Francesco Petrarca. In an era when few compositions, apart from settings of the mass, were longer than three or four minutes in performance, the Vergine cycle stands out for its size and complexity, lasting for over half an hour in the 1982 performance by the Hilliard Ensemble.
De Rore’s setting of this text has an unusual history. According to Martha Feldman, stanzas 1-6 were probably finished by 1547, and they appeared in print in 1548 in competing editions by two Venetian printers, as well as in a Venetian manuscript now in Wolfenbüttel. Mary Lewis has shown that these three contemporaneous sources were not copied from one another but stem from three distinct branches of transmission. In the following year, both printers issued supplements containing the remaining stanzas (7-11), and these stanzas were then also copied into the manuscript. But the composition was not quite finished: in 1552 De Rore published the final version of all eleven stanzas, with revisions in three of the early stanzas.
The revisions are of more than passing interest because they come at a critical moment in the development of De Rore’s style. Martha Feldman has speculated that the break between stanzas 1-6 and stanzas 7-11 found in the sources also mirrors a break in the composition, and she finds evidence of significant stylistic change between the two parts. And yet the music seems to have been planned as a whole, with an overarching tonal plan.
In Composers at Work: The Craft of Musical Composition 1450-1600 (1997), I explored one approach to understanding the creative process in early music by analysing composer autographs—the sketches, drafts and fair copies that reveal the stages a composition passed through. Unfortunately, no autograph materials survive for De Rore’s setting of the Vergine cycle. We must therefore take the approach that John Milsom has called “recomposition,” and compare the two completed (and published) versions of the same composition for evidence of a composer’s changing conception.
Until now, scholars and performers have had only the 1552 version available in modern edition, and the revisions have been studied primarily as evidence for the dating and relationship among sources. I would argue, however, that the changes between the two versions offer an unusual window not only into De Rore’s creative process but also into his compositional priorities.