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  • Music in the Collective Experience in Sixteenth-Century Milan
  • Stephen Rice
Music in the Collective Experience in Sixteenth-Century Milan. By Christine Suzanne Getz. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. [xii, 313 p. ISBN 0-7546-5121-5. $99.95]. Illustrations, music examples, appendices, bibliography, index.

Christine Suzanne Getz, professor at the University of Iowa, has in recent years made notable contributions to the history of music in the Duchy of Milan during the sixteenth century (including articles in Musica disciplina, Studi musicali, Early Music History, and the Journal of the Royal Musical Association). The present volume builds on these studies (repeating parts of their content on occasion) and provides a comprehensive view of music making in the region. Getz draws on much previously unknown archival material, as well as discussing significant quantities of music, most of it unavailable in modern editions.

Judging from the book's title, the reader would expect to find a study in the radically democratizing vein of Reinhard Strohm's Music in Late Medieval Bruges (2d ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990]), in which the historical agenda is wrested away from an elite culture that had dominated earlier musicology, to focus instead on the "sound-scape" of the city in its exuberant patchwork. The titles, preambles, and conclusions of Getz's chapters point strongly in this direction. That the rest of the book largely does not do so is in itself no weakness: much of the information she provides [End Page 595] is extremely valuable, and some of it fascinating. The majority of what she has to say in the body of each chapter concerns archival discoveries (of which there are many) linked with a thorough command of secondary literature; as such her book can more readily be viewed as a contribution to, rather than a rethinking of, existing scholarship. The attempt to situate the study in the revisionist camp therefore gives rise to a somewhat uneasy historiography, in which archival material that by its nature casts light more on courtly culture than demotic is pressed into the service of the "collective consciousness" of the book's title.

An example of the chapter headings, compared with its contents, will illustrate this point. Chapter 3, "The Civic Ceremonial at the Duomo of Milan," discusses (as might be expected) the maestri di cappella and the fluctuating forces of the cathedral choir, proceeding to examine in detail two sets of music generated in the service of the institution: Hermann Matthias Werrecore's motet book published in 1555, and the Mass settings of Vincenzo Ruffo. All of these aspects of the cathedral's music are essential to any such study: what is not clear is how Getz's claims about them are substantiated. Of Werrecore's motet book she writes:

the motet cycle, a genre that was associated specifically with Renaissance Milan, functioned, by its very nature, as an expression of Milanese civic identity, and this particular expression of artistic patriotism was fostered at the Duomo 'in medio ecclesiae.'

(p. 108)

The notion that the motet cycle was peculiarly Milanese arises from the short-lived subgenre of the motetti missales; in Werrecore's collection, however, there are no such pieces (and Getz acknowledges this, p. 105). Instead the book contains a setting of the hymn Ave maris stella—unusually, of all seven verses—and a multipartite Improperia, as well as the sequence-motet Inviolata, integra et casta es, Maria, in which Werrecore, like most sixteenth-century imitators, follows Josquin Desprez in dividing the text into three sections. Since all of these texts are quite frequently set at this time, as are the majority of the unipartite pieces contained in the motet book, no specifically Milanese agenda emerges from its contents, and it is still unclear how they might unite the "collective consciousness" rather than simply serving the cathedral's liturgy.

The term in medio ecclesiae, moreover, is taken to embody the daily function of the Duomo (irrespective of whether particular services were in fact held in the center of the building) in contrast to the cathedral's role as the physical center of the city (in medio civitatis) and hence, following the book's title, its spiritual heart...


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