Rhythm and Tempo: A Study in Music History

By Curt Sachs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11

The Renaissance: Rhythmical Styles

THE EARLY RENAISSANCE. The momentous first generation of foreigners from Burgundy in the North that filled the courtly chapels of Italy between 1425 and 1460 did not find much native music of rank to guide their Gothic taste and technique. What they found were just the over-all ideals of the Italian Renaissance which, materializing first in architecture, applied inevitably to music as well as to the other arts: simple, sober clarity versus complex involution and dimness; free, creative imagination versus the engineering spirit and delight in technical feats; and satisfaction to the eyes and the ears against satisfaction to reason and reckoning.

The Burgundians in Italy were not yet able to yield to the new environment wholeheartedly. With one foot in the Gothic North and one in the anti-Gothic South, they indulged now in bizarre, belated isorhythmic structures, now, on the contrary, in rhythms of bodily inspiration, in well-shaped, sensuous melodies, and in a smiling, warm serenity.

In the sensory atmosphere of Italy, the Burgundian masters knew those sheer, unadulterated chords that the restive, hasty Gothic melody had never known. Again and again the Italians poured forth their ecstasy in timeless chains of fermatas at the beginning or the end of a piece. Cristoforo da Feltre's solemn, long‐ drawn-out fermatas on Patrem omnipotentem in his Sanctus1 is a striking example from the early years of the fifteenth century.

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1
Printed in Johannes Wolf, Geschichte der Mensuralnotation, Leipzig, 1904, No. 71.

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