College of Fine Arts and Design

Historical Translation Series

Our Purpose

The purpose of this series is to provide translations of important texts relating to historical performance for those individuals with either practical performance or scholarly interests.  Many of the texts appear here for the first time in English translation, some in any language other than the original, so far as the translator(s) could determine.  Many are considered seminal in their particular area.  It is the intention that the offerings will expand over time.

Notes from the editor

Translation Series

Renaissance Italian Vocal Diminution

Early German Vocal Performance

Early Instrumental Performance

Individual Texts, including those in special series

Antolini, Retta Maniera di Scivere per il Clarinetto (1813)

Published in 1813, Antolini's book gives many insights into the state of music and especially musical instruments at a time when the technological development of the latter was "exploding."  One of the most interesting aspects of the book is its "liminal" status, standing as it does in the threshold between older traditions and new development.  Antolini's ideas are for that reason a rather peculiar mixture of the conservative and the progressive.  As such, it provides insights into real-life situations that typical college music history texts cannot match.  The book, contrary to its name, is not exclusively limited to the clarinet but also deals with other instruments, both common and uncommon, even the horns and trumpets from the brass family.  The central preoccupation of the books is to teach composers literally "how to write" for these instruments at a time when the nature of "transposing" instruments was not well understood.  The method that Antolini proposes is a mixture of a forthright effort to establish a logical practice with outdated elements from the past.

Aristotle, On Music Education from “Politics”

In the course of his comments on education and its function within the state Aristotle produces a remarkably extensive discussion of the role of music in education.  The importance that Aristotle places on music in the curriculum is all the more striking, for it was written at the time when music had been virtually eliminated from Athenian and Greek education.  For this reason, his thinking had no influence in his own time and for various reasons was generally disregarded thereafter, including today.  An analysis of his thinking on music in the light of modern research in psychology and neuroscience leads to the conclusions that Aristotle was prescient in this thinking and that his philosophy of music education could serve as a valuable model for today.

Revised: 10 April 2017

Bassano, Motettii Madrigali (1591) & Ricercate Passaggi (1584) "Ai Lettori"

Giovanni Bassano produced two texts on the practice of diminution, neither of which is as substantial as many, perhaps most others.  The informative material in his address to the reader is also alight.  Perhaps the books' main contribution is in documenting the diversity of the many musical genres in which diminution was practiced.

Bernhard, Kompositionslehre (MS ca. 1650) “Von der Singe-Kunst oder Manier” (Müller-Blattau, ed.)

Christoph Bernhard's treatise Von der Singe-Kunst oder Manier fully deserves its reputation as the most important vocal performance text in German of the seventeenth century.  Bernhard provides what is perhaps the most cogent analysis of contemporary vocal styles and their underlying aesthetic philosophy of any author at least up until his time and even well beyond.  The text and his reasoning, with some exceptions, are admirably, clearly expressed.  The treatise also includes examples of musical ornaments and devices that surpass even Francesco Rognoni's.  This is an important summation of the early and middle style of the German baroque when the Italian influence had become predominant in the formation of the beginning of the Doctrine of Affections.  As Bernhard says, the text is not of interest exclusively to singers but is valuable as well for instrumentalist.

Bontempi, Maffei, and Conrad, On Teaching Voice

These three authors all are responsible for famous but very different statements about vocal pedagogy.  The earliest is that of Conrad, whose interest is especially choral singing.  Maffei’s work is a monument in the history of the modern physiological approach to teaching voice.  Bontempi’s is a brief but important practical description of how singers were trained in the early seventeenth century.  The works of both Maffei and Conrad also appear in entirety in this translation series.

Bovicelli, Regole Passaggi di Musica (1594) “Ai Lettori” & “Avertimenti per li passaggi”

Bovicelli's Regole Passagai (1594) stands as one of the most important texts on Italian Renaissance vocal performance practice and exerted an influence on the subsequent seventeenth-century German vocal tradition through Praetorius.  It can arguably take a place among the foremost of all time.  Despite the title, the verbal text is on more general issues of vocal performance, and for this reason is all the more important because it deals with them to a degree few others match.  Despite many flaws, much in Bovicelli's text is valuable for vocal performance in any period, the present included. Supplementary notes discuss, but do not always resolve, many of the text's linguistic and musical problems.  All musical examples have been transcribed.

Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche (1601) “Ai Lettori”

Caccini's preface to Le Nuove Musiche is certainly one of the most important documents in music history, both for its importance to performance practice and for its importance to the philosophy and aesthetics of music at the opening of the baroque era. The "newness" that Caccini alludes to lies in the emphasis on a new emotional conception of music, which is the key characteristic of the baroque.  The purpose of music, as Caccini argues, is to support and further an understanding of text and the emotional content of that text. Toward this end the old contrapuntal style of the diminution technique - sterile and pointless and Caccini would say - must be abandoned.  All melodic conceptions, ornamentation and any improvisation must be strictly subordinated to the text and no longer serve the singer's desire for virtuosic display.

Cerone, El Melopeo y Maestro (1613) Book 8, Ch. 1-10 “Las Reglas para cantar glosado y de garganta”

Pedro (Pietro) Cerone's text on the vocal diminution may be considered the last extensive "Italian" description of that technique, despite the fact that it is in Spanish.  Cerone, an Italian priest transplanted to Spain, in book 8 of his massive Melopeo y Mestro (1613) presents what is in large part a translation and paraphrase of Zacconi's own description of diminution.  Fortunately, Cerone's treatment is not burdened nearly as much with the stylistic superficialities, ambiguities and pointless redundancies as is Zacconi's original.  For this reason, and because it is in Spanish - a language more accessible to many readers - Cerone's text makes a valuable contribution.

Coclico, Compendium Musices (1552) “De Elegantia et Ornatu”

Coclico's brief remarks on the vocal diminution technique, which was to become so closely associated with the Italian renaissance vocal and instrumental style, are the first to appear in print.  That Coclico was Flemish points to the fact that the technique was not originally exclusively Italian.  Improvisation of all kinds was widespread throughout early music as far back as can be determined, as Ernst Ferand has amply documented.  Coclico's remarks are brief but not inconsequential and take on additional stature by means of his claim to being a student of Josquin.  Perhaps most significant for the history of the technique is his information that boys were expected to develop and master it, if even at the cost of very long, hard labor.

Conforto, Breve et Facile Maniera . . . a Far Passaggi  (1593?) “Alli Lettori”

Conforto's text is primarily an introductory explanation of his method of teaching the passaggio technique.  As such it has less to say directly on the subject of how to develop that technique than do other authors.  Nonetheless, it provides a different and valuable perspective on the subject, as well as giving an interesting glimpse on some of the issues and problems of the practicing musician at this time of critical change in music history as renaissance passes to baroque.

Conrad von Zabern, De modo bene cantandi (1473)

Conrad von Zabern’s treatise De modo bene cantandi (1473, published 1474) is considered the first work in the field of modern vocal pedagogy.  It is directed especially to singers in unison plainchant choirs, but its advice on vocal production and aesthetics is relevant for all singers.  The treatise is well organized in six precepts, with the sixth and longest presenting most of the specific pedagogical instruction.

Dalla Casa, Il vero modo di diminuir (1584) “Ai Lettori” etc.

The Vero Modo di Diminuir (1584) is arguable the last great representative of the succession of text exclusively devoted to instrumental diminution.  It is particularly important for documenting the level of virtuosity in the technique that was expected of practicing professionals.  His method is quite rationally organized and important for the fact that he presents before-and-after examples of diminution.  His remarks on wind tonguing and the cornetto are historically valuable.

Finck, Practica Musica (1556) Book 5 “De Arte Eleganter et Suaviter Cantandi”

The Fifth Book of Hermann Finck's Practica Musica (1556) is the second earliest printed account of the practice of vocal diminution.  That practice, however, represents only a small portion of the contents of the book, which runs to about nine pages of text.  The remainder is a wonderfully informative account of the historical and aesthetic background of the music of Finck's time, the Lutheran reformation.  Half of the book is devoted to a discussion of various aspects of performance practice such as balance and intonation.  His discussion contains a brief physiological reference to the technique of throat articulation that, small as it is, is the second best after Maffei's masterful study.  He also offers musical examples, not transcribed here, that, though fairly simple, do help clarify the stylistic practice and application of this technique, which clearly had already become a familiar practice in Germany.

Listenius, Musica (1549 ed.)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Nicolaus Listenius’ Musica, first published in 1537, became one of the two most important school music texts of the sixteenth century and arguably one of the most important of all time.  It was essentially a teacher’s text that could also be used by students under the teacher’s guidance.  It introduced a new, concise approach to the music textbook that was consistent with the developing principles of Lutheran pedagogy, departing from the earlier humanist “rationalist” approach that presented a full, discursive exposition of the material but without consideration of learning stage or sequence.  During the course of the century the book enjoyed 46 known editions and continued in use into the seventeenth century.  This translation is the first since Albert Seay’s out of print 1975 text and is heavily annotated in order to explain both content and the importance of Listenius’ approach to music education.

Maffei, Delle Lettere (1562) “All’ Illustrissimo Conte d”Alta Villa” [Discourse I]

Giovanni Camillo Maffei's Discorso not only is the first modern work on vocal pedagogy, providing a physiological description of vocal production, it also remains one of the most important texts on the subject. Maffei's main purpose is to explain the technique of vocal improvisation necessary for improvised ornamentation in the making of passaggi. Toward this end, Maffei provides the most extensive contemporary exposition on the subject and what is still one of the clearest.

Peri, Le Musiche sopra L’Euridice (1600) “A lettori”

Peri's remarks to the reader at the opening of his score for L'Euridice constitutes one of the most important documents in music history.  Together with Caccini's similar address in Le Nuove musiche (1601), it forms a pair of seminal texts for understanding the origins of the baroque style in its earliest years.

Praetorius, M.  Syntagma Musicum (1619) Vol. 3, Ch. 9 “Wie und uff was massen etliche Cantiones, etc.”

Michael Praetorius' brief chapter on the Italian Manner of Singing in his encyclopedia Syntagma Musicum is important far in excess of the extent of his exposition.  Praetorius' presentation is liminal in several ways.  First, it was his influence that proved vital in the transmission of the emotional style of Italian vocal performance to German lands.  Second, he stands at a point in which the older diminution style of Bovicelli and others is being replaced by the newer emotional ornamental style of Caccini, which Praetorius advocates.  The Lutheran Praetorius is a major conduit by means of which the style of the southern Catholic lands entered the German baroque of the north.

Rognoni, F. Selva de Varil Passaggi (1620) "Avvertimenti alli Benigni Lettoi"

Francesco Rognoni's Selva de varii Passaggi is a remarkably valuable book for performance practice in general, despite its relative brevity and some obscurities of style.  The first part is directed to the voice and presents what is perhaps the clearest and most succinct set of instructions and illustrations on ornamentation found in the literature of the period.  The first part ends with a truly timeless address to singers.  The second part is mainly for instruments, string and wind, and presents some of the earliest information on bowing.

Rognoni, R.  Passaggi per potersi essercitare nel diminuire (1592) “Ai Virtuosi” 1 & 2

Riccardo Rognoni, father of Francesco in this same series, provides information more substantial than the brevity of his text would seem to indicate.  His introduction to the diminution technique itself is emphasizes essentials and restates many of the basic principles given by other authors.  The most important parts of his text actually lie beyond the method of diminution and concern the tonguing of wind instruments and the bowing of strings.  The latter are particularly important both for their information and for being among the very earliest information on the subject.

Sancta Maria, Libro Llamado Arte de Taner (1565) Chapters 13-19

Sancta Maria’s Libro llamado el arte de tañer fantasia (1565) is important both as an early text on keyboard technique and as a high quality example of the new kind of self-instruction books that had begun to appear earlier in the century.  The excerpt translated here includes eight chapters of the first part, Chapters 13 through 19—two chapters were numbered 19.   These chapters constitute the first description of keyboard fingering technique and are meticulous in detail.  The selection is also very important in the history of performance practice because it is one of the two earliest descriptions of the unequal performance of notes, in the eighteenth century known as notes inégales.

Zacconi, Prattica di Musica (1596), Book 1, Ch. 66 “Che stile si tenghi nel far di gorgia, etc.”

Zacconi's treatment of the diminution technique for the production of improvised vocal passaggi is one of only a few sixteenth-century accounts extant in Italian. Zacconi's account is valuable for giving an extended description and advice as well as musical examples, through his artificial literary style and limitation as to critical analysis diminish the intelligibility somewhat. The text is far more important than the musical examples which are neither so extensive nor so good as in some other sources. It was influential on later authors' treatments, particularly that of Cerone (1613), and constitutes along with the treatments of Maffei, Bovicelli, and Conforto the body of the most important descriptions of an essential technique of performance practice in the Italian renaissance.

Virgiliano, Il Dolcimelo (ca. 1600) "Regole della Diminutione"

Aurelio Virgiliano's manuscript on the diminution technique - and other matters - is most unfortunately incomplete and exists in only one copy.  Despite this, Virgiliano provides a superb introduction to diminution in the form of ten rules that sum up the basics and make an excellent point of departure for an principiante student in the study.  The third of three parts is quite different, being a study of instruments, also incomplete, which provides illustrations and fingering charts.  It has the distinction of presenting the first diagram of trombone slide positions.