Renaissance musical treasures at the Pendlebury Library of Music

From the Pendlebury collections.

From the Pendlebury collections.

In the Pendlebury Library collection there are three printed books particularly representative of musical culture in sixteenth century Italy. They concern respectively music theory, musical pedagogy, and polyphony. The oldest of them is the treatise Musica Theorica by Ludovico Fogliani, published in Venice in 1529.

Born in Modena around 1475, Fogliani started his career as a singer before becoming a composer and then a renowned theorist. He worked first in the chapel of Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, from 1499 to 1501, then in the Cappella Giulia (1513-1514), the papal chapel of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Although Fogliani wrote his Musica theorica in Venice, he was certainly influenced by the humanist reflections on Greek music which were circulating in Ferrara, Bologna and Rome during those years. The rediscovery of the ancient music had an extraordinary impact on musical creativity in the sixteenth century. It inspired the production of new music such as the audacious chromatic duo by Adrian Willaert Quid non ebrietas (Horace, Epistulae I, 5: 16-19), which according to Lowinsky was a demonstration of the Aristoxenian division of the octave into 12 equal semitones.

In his treatise Fogliani explains that the music is a mathematical and natural science, as it consists of sonorous numbers ‑ the proportions ‑ which are caused by motion. Following Aristotle’s thoughts on physics, psychology and logic, he elucidates the determination of concordances and dissonances, and proposes a new classification of them. He also announces an innovative practical way – instead of a mathematical one – of tuning the musical scale, with pure fifths and fourths ‑ as required by Pythagoreans ‑ and pure major and minor thirds.  His explanations are illustrated by many graphics of the proportions.


Musica Theorica.  An illustration of the division of the monochord, in which the octave c-c’ is divided with fifth below (diapente secundo) and forth above (diatessaron)  (fol. XXXIVv)

A man produces the proportions on a monochord by using two movable bridges (fol. XIIv)









Although the woodcuts of a man with a monochord seem to have been quickly sketched, their composition reveals a certain similarity to the half-length figures in the painting called A Concert by Lorenzo Costa (about 1459/60-1535), an artist who worked in the same milieu as Fogliani.


The Guidonian hand from the Cantorinus, (fol. Aiiv)

The Cantorinus, published in Venice by Luca Antonio Giunta in 1540, was a sort of musical bestseller.  This edition is a pocket-sized chant manual in 8° format, very handy, designed to teach music to young clerics (who were normally children), nuns and monks and to everyone interested in learning the songs for the Divine Office. First published in 1513, it was reprinted many times by Giunta because of its basic and easy teachings. The book is organised in two sections. The first is a compendium of theory which opens with the Guidonian hand, a visual aid to training singers in solmization (fol. Aiiv).

The second section collects together many songs for the Divine Office of the Roman rite.  It is graciously illustrated by three beautiful woodcuts. The first represents David playing a sort of psaltery and bringing the Ark of God into Jerusalem (fol. n.n.). On the ark we read “A FEDERI” that means A[RCHA] FEDERI[S], the Ark of the Covenant. While the Annunciation (fol. 46v) opens the Advent season, the Deposition of Christ introduces the Office of the Dead (fol. 68r).

Bringing the Ark of God into Jerusalem
Cantorinus (fol. n.n.)

The Cantorinus was presented to the Pendlebury Library by Hubert Stanley Middleton (11 May 1890-13 August 1959), an organist and composer who became a Fellow and director of studies at Trinity College in 1946 and lecturer in music at Cambridge University, where he established a syllabus for the music tripos. His appointment as organist of Trinity College certainly enhanced his interest not only in pedagogical works, but also in polyphonic music.


Index to Cristóbal de Morales’ choirbook of Magnificats.

Middleton presented to the library a large choir book: a set of settings of the Magnificat by Cristóbal de Morales printed in Venice by Gardano in 1562. Born in Seville around 1500, Morales was a distinguished singer and composer who joined the Sistine chapel in 1535. His polyphonic Magnificats were composed for the use of the papal chapel. Starting from the first edition (H. Scotto: Venice, 1542), Morales organised the settings as a double series of eight Magnificats, one for each tone.


Morales’ choirbook. Venice: Gardano, 1562.

These compositions became very popular and were re-published many times, in different formats. Gardano’s edition of 1562, decorated with elegant woodcut initials, was conceived as a folio choirbook, a size suitable to sing from a chapel lectern. Curiously, in the Pendlebury’s exemplar some folios which were lacking were replaced by handwritten copies, perhaps commissioned by Middleton or the former holder of the book, musicologist Arthur Henry Fox Strangways.

Why replace lost folios in a sixteenth century musical source? It is possible that the restoration of the book was planned in order to sing Morales’ music directly from the Gardano edition. If this hypothesis is correct, the handwritten interpolated copies would bear witness to the long-term success of Morales’ Magnificats.


Camilla Cavicchi is a musicologist, who has been volunteering at the Pendlebury and the UL Music Department for the last two months.

About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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