Cantus figuratus and monastic re-figuration in the late medieval Veneto

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In 1409 Ludovico Barbo arrived at the monastery of Santa Giustina in Padua, intent on its reformation. Since the late fourteenth century, the scriptorium at Santa Giustina had produced some of the most significant collections of polyphonic music to survive from the period, specialising in copying the avant-garde repertories of the Ars nova. Yet the reforms Barbo sought to introduce - reforms based on ideals he and a cohort of Venetians had been living out on the island of S. Giorgio in Alga - eschewed outward ostentation, and centred on prayerful engagement with the scene of Christ's Passion. Barbo's initiatives would seem at odds with the tradition of secular polyphony cultivated at the monastery in the years before his arrival. Official documents from the reform prohibit the practice of cantus figuratus and paint a picture of a uniformly spare music aesthetic. Manuscript and material evidence from Santa Giustina and dependent houses tells a different story, and suggests that communities found use for the monastery's musical past within the reformed practice of prayer and meditation. Vestiges of this past appear in the most unlikely of places: the Good Friday rituals that Barbo himself worked to strip of polyphonic accoutrement. The efforts of individual monks, musicians and scribes - here Rolando da Casale, whose musical expertise Barbo enlisted in the copying of new liturgical manuscripts, and Johannes Preottonus - emerge as telling examples of the ways in which institutional histories come under the pressure of their individual actors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-75
Number of pages33
JournalPlainsong and Medieval Music
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Music


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