Basel, Heinrich Petri, 1547.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. (xx) 470 (vi). Roman letter, some Greek and Italic. Woodcut historiated initials, over 600 fine woodcut tables, extensive printed music and depictions of musical instruments, printer’s device to last. Slight age yellowing, occasional light browning, tiny worm trails to first gathering, heavier to lower margin of 305-308 (one edge repaired), a few small marginal water stains, couple of marginal tears. A very good copy in C16 limp vellum, small cracks to lower cover. Early casemark to first blank, C16 Latin marginalia in places. In folding box. 

Very handsome copy of this uncommon, finely illustrated, seminal book on C16 music theory by the Swiss humanist Heinrich Glarean (1488-1563). Glarean studied philosophy, theology, and mathematics at the University of Cologne, where he befriended Erasmus. He devised the ‘Dodekachordon’ as a compendium of writings on music theory and dozens of compositions by past and present musicians, some of which were commissioned for this purpose. An enormously influential book, the ‘Dodekachordon’ differs from other C16 such works for its size, innovative content, authorship, and intended readership, having been written by a scholar addressing other scholars on music as an intellectual ‘art’, and not by a professional musician for his fellow practitioners. In the first part Glarean discusses early music theories, including Boethius’s, in terms of permutations, tonality, assonance, and dissonance. The second section is devoted to a history of diatonic modes (12 instead of the customary 8) from Gregorian chant to monophony and polyphony, illustrated with tables and music. The final part is concerned with notation, ligatures, measures, and examples of each mode drawn from a variety of compositions. The most important were those by Iosquinus Pratensis in which the Catholic Glarean saw remnants of the pre-Reformation, original state of music as an ‘ars perfecta’. The Council of Trent referred to the ‘Dodekachordon’ during debates concerning the function and uses of music for the Catholic mass, under the guidance of Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, to whom Glarean’s book is dedicated. 

The intermittent annotations in this copy provide precious evidence of the way in which Glarean’s contemporaries understood the ‘Dodekachordon’. This reader was probably a professional musician with scholarly interests, who often transliterated Greek into Roman letter for easier perusal. The anonymous reader underlined mentions of Boethius, Valla, Plato, as well as musical instruments of antiquity, but he also added notes on musical practice to theoretical passages. He studied carefully Glarean’s novel descriptions of the Aeolian and Ionian modes, and cross-referenced statements on different pages. The marginalia also include notes on harmonic series, explanatory references on ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’ intervals added to Glarean’s scores, the intersections of individual notes in different diatonic modes, and the proportion of musicians’ voices within a composition. 

Pennsylvania and Yale copies only recorded in the US.

BM STC p. 527; Brunet II, 1623: ‘Ouvrage important, où l’auteur a réuni des examples choisis parmi les chefs-d’oeuvre des meilleurs maîtres de son époque’; Graesse III, 92: ‘Ouvrage curieux, dans lequel l’auteur fait connaître en detail combien l’art de musique était déjà perfectionnée au milieu du 16e siècle’; Grove III, 656-7: ‘The third part contains numerous examples from the works of Okeghem, Obrecht, and Josquin des Prés and other musicians of the 15th and 16th centuries, valuable also as specimens of early music printing.’ See L. Lütteken, ‘Theory of Music and Philosophy of Life: The Dodekachordon and the Counter-Reformation’, in Heinrich Glarean’s Books: The Intellectual World of a Sixteenth-Century Musical Humanist, ed. I. Fenlon and I.M. Groote, Cambridge, 2013, pp. 38-46.


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