Recanetum de musica aurea.

Romae, Apud Valerium Doricum, 1533.


FIRST EDITION Folio ff (iv) 93 (i) last blank. Roman letter, woodcut initials t.p. with printer’s device of Pegasus, full-page woodcut of Phoebus/Apollo with his lyre surrounded by musicians and scene beneath of author presenting his pupils with violets, two full-page woodcuts depicting Guidonian hands, 13 full-page woodcut diagrams including music, 9 half-page diagrams concerning mode and tempo, and extensive woodcut music throughout. T.p margins restored, faded contemp. ex libris erased at head and case no. at either side of device, a few fore edges with small repair (no loss); a good, clean copy in clear impression. Modern red morocco by Laurenchet, covers triple-riled in gilt, gilt compartments on spine, a.e.g.

FIRST EDITION, elegantly printed by Valerio Dorico, the only music printer in Rome for twelve years following the Sack of the city. Stephano Vanneo (1493-1540) was an Augustinian monk and choirmaster from Recanati, and his treatise on the ‘golden’ music from the monastery there is one of the best and most comprehensive of its time. Divided into three books, the first twenty or so pages provide historical context for the study of music; its place among the liberal arts; and its legendary discovery by Pythagoras, who noticed different tones produced from the beating of a blacksmith’s hammers. The book quickly turns to practical instruction, with woodcuts depicting both front and back of the famous Hand of Guido of Arezzo (991-1050). These hands are the basis of modern musical notation, and are also used to teach sight-singing. Their illustration here was the most extended to date, going a full octave above and below what was normaly depicted. The rest of book one details intonation, intervals, and modes, and book two shows how these are written, reviewing the complete system of mensural notation that was used until around 1600.

The final book discusses counterpoint for alto, bass and tenor, listing the rules of harmony and inversion in order of difficulty. Most interesting are the concluding chapters on the quality of the tone of voice, and the ‘tying up’ of words together in song. Polyphonic music such as counterpoint had been the object of criticism since 1322, when Pope John XXII attacked the style as ‘lascivious’, because it was rooted in secular music. The issue remained controversial during the Reformation, not only because of its links to lewd ‘parody masses’ but also because Protestants warned that the overly ornate layering of sound obscured the meaning of the words sung. A little over a decade after the publication of this textbook the Council of Trent prohibited all polyphonic singing that was not to the rigid standard of the so-called ‘Roman School of Music’, of which this book is a part. Favouring clear, distinctly pronounced words, the perfection of the School was the Missa Papae Marcelli of Palestrina, sung at the Papal Coronation mass well into the 20th century.

Grove VIII p. 669. Adams V 241. Fétis VIII 307. Hirsch I 589. Sander 7484. BM STC It. p. 711. We have located copies at the BL, Cambridge, and BNF.


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