Patriotic purification: cleansing Italian secular vocal music in Thuringia, 1575-1600

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In German-speaking lands until the 1580s, Italian secular vocal music was mainly cultivated by a narrow elite of aristocrats and merchants who valued its exclusivity. Yet some German patriots—teachers, clergy and humanists—regarded such foreign imports as emasculating luxuries that would corrupt their national character. This article examines four collections of contrafacta of Italian villanellas and madrigals that were published in Erfurt and have been neglected by modern scholars: the Cantiones suavissimae (1576 and 1580), Primus liber suavissimas praestantissimorum nostrae aetatis artificum Italianorum cantilenas (1587) and Amorum filii Dei decades duae (1598). According to the prefatory material of these anthologies, their editors were motivated by a patriotic agenda of purifying Italian secular song and by a Lutheran belief in the intrinsic holiness of music. This article provides the first comprehensive identification of the originals of the contrafacta, showing that the latest Italian secular repertory travelled as speedily to Thuringian towns as to the better-known publishing centre of Nuremberg. The process of transformation in the contrafacta is discussed, including examples where church officials ruled that the change of text was insufficient to cleanse the tunes of their lascivious connotations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-260
Number of pages58
JournalEarly Music History
Early online date28 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

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