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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Venceslaus Philomathes on those who beat time with ‘unsightly gestures’ (1512)

‘There are those whose habit it is to lead songs with unsightly gestures, thinking that they know distinguished customs and a special manner of the singers. Some mark the tactus with both palms widely spaced, as if in the quarrel of the two of them one could not attack the other’s hair with his nails, and the extended palm threatens lethal battle to its unarmed double. I have also seen many marking the tactus with a stamping foot, like a sated pack-horse who, playing in the green, stumbles in the grass and lustfully runs riot. Some imitate a swan when leading music; just as he sings with a bent neck, they stoop over while singing.’

sunt quibus est usus moderari turpibus odas Gestibus, egregios mores se scire putantes, Atque exquisitam cantorum conditionem Mensuram quidam palmis moderantur utrisque Eminus expaßis, veluti cum in lite duorum Alter in alterius nequit insultare capillos Unguibus, extensa lœtale minatur inermi Certamen duplici palma. Multos quoque vidi Mensural pede signantes calcante, caballus Ut satur in viridi ludendo cespitat herba Luxuriatque salax. Perique imitantur holorem Neuma gubernantes, velut hic cervice reflexa Drensat, ita soliti conquiniscunt modulando.



Venceslaus Philomathes, Musicorum libri quattuor, book 3, ch. 1 (Vienna: Hieronymus Vietor & Johannes Singrenius, 1512), fol. Eiiijr.

The sketch below is from the beautiful Codex Chantilly, F-CH MS 564 c.1400.

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