- Renaissance Masses, 1440–1520: An Online Repertorium of Polyphonic Masses Composed in Europe in 1440–1520
For information regarding the scope of this column, consult the headnote in the September 2005 issue (p. 188 of this volume). All Web sites accessed 22 February 2006.
As librarians, we are constantly challenged to teach students how to evaluate content available on the Internet. Audio resources present particular challenges, since the material is not textually based. There are also the usual concerns of authenticity, credentials of the author, and inaccurate content that need to be corroborated in textual Web sites. Verifying all of these parameters is a very transparent process in Rob Wegman's Web site dedicated to Renaissance Masses of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Rob Wegman has an impressive scholarly record indeed. Currently associate professor of music at Princeton University, his academic associations are many and varied. His homepage enumerating his academic pursuits can be viewed at: http://www.princeton.edu/~rwegman/. Wegman also brings a much needed enthusiasm to Renaissance-era vocal music. In the statement of purpose for the site, Wegman affirms "the aim of this web site is to allow interested users to develop familiarity with the vast but little-known riches of Renaissance Mass composition." Although many scholarly editions of Renaissance vocal music have been published, the ability, or even motivation, to actually realize these scores has been woefully lacking, mainly for financial reasons. Only a very narrow range of the appreciable repertoire is heard today. It was not uncommon for people of the time to hear hundreds of Mass settings, yet today's commercial recordings of this repertoire represent a handful of composers generally regarded as part of the canon: Josquin, Ockeghem, Obrecht, Isaac, or Dufay (Rob Wegman, e-mail message to Robert Terrio, 14 December 2005). Wegman sets out to address this situation by making MIDI recordings of a large number of Renaissance Masses freely available on the Internet.
The site design is well thought out: a scrollable listing of the Masses is positioned in the center of the page, with each entry listed alphabetically by title. Since there is a high probability that visitors will want to browse the content during their first visit, this is an especially logical choice. Visitors can browse by composer, manuscripts, and alphabetized titles. Lastly, there is a key to the number of Masses that have been completed or are in process. As of December 2005, there are 150 settings either in process or completed. Additionally, users can browse by Sine nomine, or literally "Masses without name." One thing missing is a link back to the home page. Once the user has gone several levels into the site, he may have to use his browser's back button to return to the initial page.
It cannot be overemphasized that this is a true work of scholarship. For each entry, Wegman provides source and edition information, and other pertinent information for each work as warranted. For example, one of Matthaeus Pipelare's Masses had been previously known as Sine nomine, until approximately two years ago, when a student [End Page 1026] (Adam Gilbert) working on his dissertation attributed its model to a song by Busnoys. Another example of Wegman's thoroughness is the entry for Nicolas Carlir's Missa Salve sancta parens, where he provides information on stylistic changes of the period in which it was written, and on what those changes may mean for the likely dating of this setting. He also hypothesizes about performance practice: "Was there a tradition at Antwerp of singing Lady Masses with expanded choral forces?" Mensuration signs and parts of the work that were left incomplete are also noted. This illustrates more than a passing interest in simply posting MP3 files of these works and leaving it at that. The site illustrates exhaustive knowledge and energetic enthusiasm for the...