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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Bovicelli on the Graceful Placement of Certain Syllables (1594):

‘As for the disposition of the words under the notes, it is necessary to take great care to set them so well, that not only no barbarism results (as we were saying at the beginning), but also so that they make the best effect possible; because often a syllable will have more grace when placed under one note than under another, as you can very clearly see from the examples.’

‘Quanto alla dispositione delle parole sotto le note, bisogna molto bene avertire di accompagnarle talmente insieme, che non solamente non se seguiti, come al principio dicevamo, qualche barbarismo, ma che anco facciano miglior effetto, che si può; perche molte volte haverà maggior gratia una sillaba posta sotto una, che sotto l’altra nota, come ne gli essempi chiarissimamente si potrà vedere.’



Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Regole, Passaggi Di Musica (Venice: Giacomo Vincentini, 1594). Translation from Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Giovanni Battista Bovicelli Regole, Passaggi Di Musica, Madrigali et Motetti Passeggiati (Venice, 1594), ed. Gawain Glenton, trans. Oliver Webber (Frome: Septenary Editions, 2018).

I find this subtle anticipation or delaying of the transition from one note to the other such a wonderful effect. Although it’s really only a small inflection, it creates such a noticeable blurring on the neatness of notated lines. The first mention I know if this practice is Jerome of Moravia’s ‘reverberatio’ (12th c.), but it is of course more widely documented in the seventeenth century by French, English, and German authors. I’ll post several of their examples over the next few weeks.


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