Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Music - The non-Italian Ars nova, or how to read the madrigal Povero Zappator by Lorenzo da Firenze
The term Ars Nova taken in a larger sense is often used to label the European professional music of the fourteenth century, separating it from the music of the previous period, the so called Ars Antiqua. The notion Ars Nova perfectly fits the music of the fourteenth-century French composers, but it becomes fairly problematic in attempts to apply it to the Italian contemporary music. In Italy were practically absent the most salient characteristics of the French Ars Nova music, as for the genres, the musical techniques and the use of the verbal text. For that reason, in order to define the Italian music from the 1340s to the first three decades of the fifteenth century, the term Trecento is in use, even though formally the phenomenon in question is not precisely coinciding with the temporal limits of the fourteenth century.
French Ars nova motets and French theoretical treatises, which discussed the new art of composition and notation, were well known in Italy, as several examples of them transmitted in Italian manuscripts testify. However, neither the theory nor the compositions by themselves prompted the Italians to adopt this style as a model to follow. The French isorhythmic technique, however, was used in two madrigals: Lorenzo da Firenze’s Povero zappator and Francesco Landini’s Sì dolce non sonò [col lir Orfeo]. Evidently, Landini’s madrigal honours Philippe de Vitry, so that the use of the isorhythmic technique in it is conceptually well justified. What then could have been the reason to use the isorhythmic technique even in a more sophisticated way in the madrigal Povero zappator, written by Lorenzo da Firenze, or Lorenzo Masini, the elder colleague of Landini in the St. Lorenzo church in Florence? The poetic text of this madrigal, unlike that of Landini’s Sì dolce non sonò, tells about a lone sailor in tempestuous sea. It did not attire much attention of scholars. However, as we will see, this text, which at first glance appears to be an ingenuous poem typical of the Trecento musical madrigals, is not only the clue about the understanding of Lorenzo’s intentions, but in a larger perspective it discloses the perception by the Italian Trecento musicians of the musical thinking of their transalpine colleagues.