(Basel: Petri, 1547)
From ancient times through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, theoretical treatises were the dominant form of writing about music. Among the most important treatises in the 16th century was the Dodekachordon of Heinrich Glarean (1488–1563), or Henricus Glareanus, as he styled himself in Latin. An expert on Greek and Latin literature and Christian theology as well as music, Glarean was a student and friend of the great Erasmus, and served as a professor at the universities of Basel and Freiburg im Breisgau. His monumental Dodekachordon is devoted mainly to his newly devised modal system, which identifies twelve modes, rather than the eight described by earlier writers. Glarean’s Ionian and Aeolian modes (and their plagal counterparts) are the ancestors of the modern major and minor keys. Despite its theoretical focus, the Dodekachordon is also an important source of music—it contains more than 120 pieces—and of information about several of the leading composers of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Josquin des Prez (or Jodocus Pratensis, in Latin) was the most famous of the composers discussed in the Dodekachordon. Glarean analyzed his compositional techniques, and also told a handful of biographical anecdotes, some of which highlighted the composer’s sense of humor. For example, King Louis XII of France enjoyed Josquin’s works, and asked for something that he himself could sing. Knowing that the King was not a skilled musician, Josquin composed a piece in which the tenor part is restricted to a single pitch, one that frequently supported by the bass. Because other sources of information about Josquin were rather sparse, subsequent historians—including several whose books are on display in this exhibit—relied heavily on Glarean’s stories for more than three centuries, and thus tended to depict this remarkable musician as a rather frivolous character.