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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E

                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1994 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 0, Number 8      May, 1994        ISSN:  1067-3040   |

  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR: Judd, Robert, F
TITLE: Composers, performers, and notation: solo music notations 
       in Europe, 1500-1700 
KEYWORDS: composition, performance, notation, semiology, sociology 

Robert F. Judd
42 University Mews
Philadelphia PA 19104

ABSTRACT: Work in progress: a synopsis of an 
interdisciplinary study examining the movement in western 
art music from primarily aural to primarily written media. 
The study, now in its formative stages, emphasizes the 
semiological, performative, and cultural aspects of the 

[1] The point of departure for this study is the 
conceptual conflict I find in the change of performance 
traditions of solo music in Europe: about 1500, solo music 
was something inherently transitory, "composed" as it was 
first played, never heard the same way again; but by 1700, 
it had become something relatively permanent, recorded on 
paper and intended to be performed again and again by 
someone who did not necessarily have compositional 
experience. The significance of the conflict might be 
stated in communicative terms as the paradigmatic change 
from "composer-performer --> listener" to "composer --> 
text --> performer --> listener." The musician that 
created and performed at the same time was replaced by a 
composer / performer dichotomy mediated by "text" or 
notation. I wish to focus on notation as the area of 
investigation for determining why the change took place, 
and the implications for cultural history that follow from 
conclusions regarding the change. 

[2] The area of solo music is best suited for such an 
investigation: beyond a certain point ensemble music had 
to be written down to be performed, whereas few such 
restrictions limited the freedom of an individual musician 
in performance. Individuals had no need for mediation of 
any sort when performing, unlike even those ensembles that 
used oral or visual signs to communicate synchronous 
events to members. Solo music is limited to instruments: 
music for organ, harpsichord, lute, harp, etc. The change 
from 1500 to 1700 regarding the aesthetic valuation of 
vocal versus instrumental music is thus coincident with 
the distinction between composer and performer first 
identified: the history of the solo sonata has roots in 
the same basic conflict symbolized in the use of notation. 

[3] The study follows on from my doctoral dissertation, 
"The Use of Notational Formats at the Keyboard" (Oxford, 
1989; UMI# 90-18544), in which I surveyed Italian and 
Spanish keyboard music and writings on music notation from 
about 1500 to 1700, and found a striking contemporary 
concern for notation and its implications for performance. 
Coinciding with the rise of printed music as a medium, a 
wide variety of notational experiments were undertaken, 
most accompanied by polemic for their own approach and 
against competitive approaches. I identified and described 
many of these, but the study lacked breadth and coherence 
of repertory, and I was unable to assimilate the 
interdisciplinary background necessary for tackling 
conceptual issues in full. I now intend to explore the 
implications of the conflicts and changes I identified 
along three conceptual lines of investigation: the 
semiotic, the performative, and the cultural, with the 
latter assuming most importance. 

[4] The creation of systems of notation merits 
exploration, for to understand the purpose of the 
notations one must first understand their semiological 
foundations. Notation systems were devised for an 
apparently societal end: to enable participation in a 
socially valuable activity for those willing to take the 
necessary effort learn the system and implement it 
physically on their instrument. An awareness arose that 
musical performance need not be restricted to those with 
innate (often referred to as "miraculous" in contemporary 
documents) abilities, but could be learned by all. The 
apparently inexplicable ability of certain individuals to 
perform well was a very real phenomenon, but it became 
possible to imitate innate ability to some degree through 
development of technique and use of notation. Some 
contemporary writers viewed this as a gross act of 
deception: to sound as if one were a great performer-
composer merely by performing the notated version of 
another's work. Related textual questions such as the 
impact of music printing on the development of solo 
notations are significant but under-explored. Textual 
examination of manuscripts and printed works leads to 
information about the users of the sources and their 
needs; the way the texts were used also has implications 
for appreciating the status of text in performance. The 
assessment of the use of notations has a semiological but 
also social facet. 

[5] To recognize the element of performance in the music 
communication-paradigm is to call for a consideration of 
its implications. Conceptual discussions of notation often 
point to its importance as a tool for the memory or 
synchronization of ensembles, but another aspect, the 
human need for re-creation or re-enactment, is at least as 
significant. Notation as a record of "art-moments" 
valuable enough to be re-enacted thus assumes importance 
in terms of history and concepts of time. Indeed, a change 
in historicism coincident with the period under 
investigation may be easily seen: Johannes Tinctoris 
(1477) voiced an opinion that was prevalent in his day, 
that no music more than thirty years old was worth 
performing; but by 1672, Lorenzo Penna recommended study 
of keyboard music printed in 1543. The solo repertory is 
an ideal vehicle to address the problem this change poses. 

[6] Both text- and performance-oriented investigations are 
subsumed under the heading of cultural history. The social 
role of personal music underwent enormous changes in this 
period, and the influence of notation on personal choices, 
desires, and goals is fundamental; exploring the 
interaction between notation and individuals means looking 
at a human system of code, its passage through 
technological revolution (printing) and market forces (the 
goals of the publisher), to the needs of users. 

[7] The general approach I propose is unusual. Virtually 
no studies isolate solo music; nor have they viewed the 
far-reaching implications of the historical phenomenon of 
solo music notation. My interdisciplinary research in 
textual criticism, bibliography, printing technology, 
semiology, performance studies, and anthropology is in its 
early stages, and my eventual conclusions are to some 
extent unknown; none the less, I believe these questions 
are worth in-depth exploration. 


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