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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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It is not until the last quarter of the fifteenth century
that this neutrality is abandoned. In the writings of
Johannes Tinctoris, the Flemish composer and theorist
who emigrated to Italy, the composer is defined as the
creator of a “new” musical work: Compositor est
alicuius novi cantus aeditor
(Parrish, p. 14). Unques-
tionably, there were musicians and connoisseurs in the
Middle Ages who enjoyed novelty in musical composi-
tion, for there was a constant, if slow-moving, stream
of novelty from chant to sequence and rhymed offices,
from Saint Martial's incipient polyphony to the masters
of Notre Dame, from Perotinus to Machaut. But it
would be hard to find a source of medieval theory
stressing novelty or originality as the qualities that
make a composer. Even though the fourteenth century
spoke of an ars nova, Philippe de Vitry, in his treatise
by that name, and Johannes de Muris, in his ars novae
deal in a matter-of-fact manner with the
notational signs of the new rhythmic language of the
ars nova without a word of appreciation of the new
art itself. Yet, the violent critique of the novus cantandi
by Jacobus of Liège (ca. 1330) as cantandi
lascivia curiositas,
in which “the words are lost, the
harmony of consonances is diminished, the value of the
notes is changed, perfection is brought low, imperfec-
tion is exalted, and measure is confounded” (Strunk,
p. 190), furnishes eloquent proof that the new art was
considerably more than a new notation.

This raises the question why the theorists of the ars
were so reticent in their appraisal of the new
art. The answer is that ideas change at a slower pace
than practices—and this for two reasons: the extraor-
dinary strength of tradition gives the stamp of approval
to what is known and accepted; but the new has not
only to fight for recognition, it has as yet to seek the
rational and ideological basis for its existence. In the
Middle Ages, where auctoritas—the authority of the
ancients, of the Church Fathers, of tradition—was
regarded as a pillar of the cultural edifice, it was doubly
difficult for the new to assert itself. Interestingly
enough, the ars nova sought to justify itself through
studied alliance with the old. The new motet, even
when displaying secular texts of amorous character in
the vernacular in its lively upper voices, carried a
Gregorian melody in the slow-moving tenor. The new
many-voiced chansons adhered to the formal patterns
of the old troubadour and trouvère songs.

In a situation where the artist himself does not dare
to make a clean break with tradition, the theorist
cannot be expected to come forward with a clear
position and rationale of the “new.” This explains why
it is the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries rather than
the thirteenth and fourteenth that emphasize the
importance of novelty, of newness in art. For it is this
great period, the “Renaissance,” that witnesses the
creation of a music new in most of its fundamental
aspects—expansion of the tonal system, both external
(increase of the tonal space) and internal (complete
chromaticization of the scale), tuning, simultaneous
instead of successive composition of parts in a
harmonic complex, liberation of the composer's imagi-
nation by freeing the polyphonic work of art from ties
to cantus-firmus construction, expression of human
affects replacing decoration of the divine service as
the chief goal of music.

It takes an innovative epoch to develop an aesthetics
in which innovation is made the touchstone of creativ-
ity. When Tinctoris, in the proemium to his Propor-
tionale musices,
extols the Franco-Flemish composers
and disparages the English, he uses the concept of
innovation as a yardstick: “The French freshly invent
new songs every day, whereas the English keep writing
in one and the same style—surely a sign of a wretched
talent” (quod miserrimi signum est ingenii; Lowinsky
[1966], p. 133).

Even two generations later, while commenting on
the preceding statement of Tinctoris, Sebald Heyden,
writing in Germany—the pace of innovation being
slower in the North than in Italy—felt he had to defend
the new music against the reproach of novelty:

The fact that it is a new art and quite unknown to ancient
Greeks does not render it less worthy of praise and admira-
tion than any other arts, however ancient they may be....
What is that invention of the ancients with which the art
of printing, thought out in our times, and by us Germans,
could not contend in fame? Equally far be it that the novelty
of our music be a reason to hold it in contempt rather than
to praise it

(Heyden, Dedication).

With much greater confidence, and considerably
deeper insight, Othmar Luscinius (Latinization of the
German “Nachtigall”) confronts the question of the
new and the old in his Musurgia (1536). A humanist,
a friend of Conrad Peutinger, Erasmus, and Glareanus,
expert in Greek and writing a polished Latin, but also
a brilliant organist, Luscinius looks back at the music
of 200 years earlier, examples of which he had studied.
He exclaims:

O God, how cold these compositions are when compared
to those of our day! Each epoch has its own laws, its own
taste. And how strange that we find in matters of music
a situation entirely different from that of the general state
of the arts and letters: in the latter whatever comes closest
to venerable antiquity receives most praise; in music, he
who does not excel the past becomes the laughing stock
of all

(Luscinius, pp. 97-98).

Luscinius cites a four-part setting of lines from the
Song of Songs, Tota pulchra es amica mea, by a con-


temporaneous Dutch musician, Nicolaus Craen, “by
Jove, a man of outstanding genius” (vir me Hercle
praestantis ingenij
). The work (printed in Petrucci's
Motetti C of 1504 and not published since) breathes
the air of freedom that characterizes more and more
the music of the Renaissance. Instead of choosing the
liturgical text Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula
originalis non est in te,
Craen goes back to the original
text of the Bible, Tota pulchra es amica mea et macula
non est in te.
Instead of taking the continuation of this
verse, he assembles his text freely from the lines of
various chapters. The old technique of building a mu-
sical edifice on the ground plan of a cantus firmus is
abandoned. All four voices are freely invented by the
composer with the manifest intent to echo the enthusi-
astic voices of the lovers and to bring to life the
emotional tone of the poem. Luscinius remarks with
what felicity Craen neglected the precepts of the older
generation, and how much praise he deserves for side-
stepping the rules of the past. Indeed, no one ought
to be censured for so doing, provided that it be done
properly in every respect (si modo decenter ex omni
parte fiet
), that is, provided there is a sense of whole-
ness, a sense of “style” to his enterprise.

Nothing characterizes more sharply the new respect
for the artist and his work than the Renaissance
theorist's habit of referring to a specific work by a
specific composer. Glareanus, who printed in his
Dodekachordon (1547) no fewer than 121 polyphonic
compositions, exceeded all of his colleagues in this
regard. Medieval theorists, on the other hand, rarely
name composers or refer to specific works, save for
the demonstration of notational practice. They seem
hardly interested in a composition as a work of art
marked by individual aesthetic traits. The new rank
accorded to the creative artist in the scheme of things
musical is also expressed in other ways. Tinctoris
dedicated a treatise to the two composers he admired
most, Ockeghem and Busnois (Coussemaker, IV, 16).
In one of his tracts he called the former optimi ingenii
(Coussemaker, IV, 152). Even the musical
performers, relegated before to the realm of artes
now receive a new appreciation. Their
virtuoso feats and their appeal to the emotions cause
them to be listed by name and to have their art
described in critical detail. Again, Tinctoris leads the
way by dedicating one of his writings to a singer of
the Papal Chapel (Coussemaker, IV, 41).

But one of the most interesting developments is the
emergence of music critics from the ranks of the noble
amateurs or the intellectual elite. Their critiques of
the great performers of their time were often published
in book form. Luigi Dentice, a Neapolitan nobleman
(Dialoghi, 1553), and the Florentine mathematician
Cosimo Bartoli (Ragionamenti accademici, 1567) have
left us delightful samples of the beginnings of concert
reviews—concerts, to be sure, given in the private
circles of princes, popes, and academies (Lowinsky
[1966], pp. 140-41).

The significance of these and other reports lies in
the growing kinship between the composer and the
performer of the Renaissance. The latter, following the
example of the former, places his art more and more
into the service of the expression of human affects.
Many are the stories of the miraculous emotional effect
made by great lutenists and clavecinists of the sixteenth
century—stories that recall the ancient myths of
Orpheus and Timotheus and that place the performer,
held in contempt in the Middle Ages, closer and closer
to the creative sphere by virtue of his personal, pas-
sionate involvement and the resulting original inter-
pretation of the music performed.

The art of singing and playing itself becomes the
subject of theoretical interest; whole books appear on
the singer's and player's art of improvising embellish-
ments. Here is an area where the newly won freedom
of the performer clashes with that of the composer,
for few were the composers who enjoyed having their
works “embellished.”

The emphasis on composer and performer indicates
that the Renaissance returned music to the sense of
the ear. Music, in the Middle Ages, was like a window
through which the philosophical mind gazed at the
universe to perceive its harmonious order. In the
Renaissance it was in the first place an object of aes-
thetic enjoyment. “The ear is the true teacher,” wrote
Adrian Petit Coclico in 1552 (Bukofzer, fol. B2v). But
Tinctoris already had taken the decisive step from the
medieval emphasis on music as number to the new
stress on music as sound when in one of his famous
eight rules of counterpoint he said: “This, however,
is in my opinion to be left entirely to the judgment
of the ears” (Lowinsky [1965a], p. 365).

The realization of the individuality and originality
of a composer leads quite logically to the downgrading
of the rules and to a new appreciation of talent and
inspiration. The Bolognese composer, choir director,
and theorist Giovanni Spataro wrote to a Venetian
musician in a letter of 5 April 1529:

The written rules can well teach the first rudiments of
counterpoint, but they will not make the good composer,
inasmuch as good composers are born just as are the poets.
Therefore, one needs almost more divine help than the
written rule; and this is apparent every day, because the
good composers (through natural instinct and a certain
manner of grace which can hardly be taught) bring at times


such turns and figures in counterpoint and harmony as are
not demonstrated in any rule or percept of counterpoint

(Lowinsky [1964], p. 481).

Spataro transferred the aphorism “The poet is born,
not made” (poeta nascitur non fit), which became so
popular in the poetic theory of the Renaissance, to the
composer. Characteristically, he uses the term instinto
to designate the irrational power in a great
composer that guides him in the regions uncharted by
rules. Whereas Boethius conceived of natural instinct
as of a lower form of consciousness, Spataro opposes
it to rational learning as a higher, and almost divine,
form of awareness. In this he was preceded by
Baldassare Castiglione, who in his Il Cortegiano (pub-
lished 1528, completed 1514) has the Count uphold
the independence of a great artist against Signor
Federico's insistence on imitation of the great masters.
The Count asks Federico. “Who should have been
Homer's model, and whom did Boccaccio and Petrarch
imitate?” and he goes on to say that the true master
of these great writers was their genius and their own
inborn judgment (Ma il lor vero maestro cred'io che
fosse l'ingegno ed il lor proprio giudicio naturale
). And
he persuades Signor Federico to the point where the
latter is willing to admit that, in the choice of genre,
and the display of style and temperament, every artist
should follow his own instinct (s'accommodi allo
instinto suo proprio;
Lowinsky [1964], p. 482 n. 74).

In the same vein, the Florentine music theorist Pietro
Aron, a friend of Spataro who figures in the latter's
correspondence, writes in his Lucidario (1545):

Experience teaches that some who have practiced the art
of composition for a good part of their lives are surpassed
by others who have been composing for a short time only.
Wherefore one may believe that good composers are born
and cannot be made through study and long practice but
rather through heavenly influence and inclination: graces,
to be sure, that heaven grants to few in large measure....
As we see that one and the same figure and form treated
by different sculptors in marble or in other material has
much more perfection in the one than in the other as their
creators differ from one another in excellence, likewise, I
say, it happens in this our harmonic faculty, which many
of our composers possess. Each one of them knows the
material, i.e. the musical intervals, and gives them a fitting
harmonic form which differs in excellence, in sweetness and
loveliness according to the composer's individual skill and
natural grace

(Lowinsky [1964], p. 483).

Pietro Aron almost anticipates the brilliant formulation
in which Giordano Bruno, in his Eroici furori (1585),
condemns the pedantic makers and watchers of rules:
“There are as many kinds of poetic rules as there are
kinds of poets” (Thüme, p. 26). Bruno in turn comes
close to Kant's definition of genius, which will be
discussed below.

“Invention” and “originality” now become so essen-
tial that Glareanus, in his Dodekachordon (1547), can
pose the question: “Shall we not consider him who
invented the melody of the Te Deum or the Pange
a greater genius than him who later composed
a whole Mass on it?” (Lowinsky [1964], p. 479). Pur-
suing this question, Glareanus says:

In both [the melodic inventor and the contrapuntist] this
is to be ascribed more to the energies of genius, and to
some natural and inborn talent than to craftsmanship. And
this can be proved through those who never studied music,
and nevertheless show a miraculous ability in inventing
melodies, as is apparent in our vernacular [folk song], the
Celtic [French] or the German; but also through those who
are masters of counterpoint although they were often poorly
taught—to say nothing of the other disciplines. From this
it appears certain that neither is possible for a man unless
he is born for it, or, as the people say, unless his mother
gave it to him—which is just as true for the painters, the
sculptors, and the preachers of the Divine Word (for about
the poets there can be no doubt) and for all works dedicated
to Minerva

(Lowinsky [1964], p. 479).

The word translated here as “genius” is the Latin
ingenium. Edgar Zilsel has pointed out that the term
ingenium as characterizing extraordinary inborn talent
was unknown in the Middle Ages (Zilsel, pp. 251ff.).
The word was used in many senses ranging from art
and intrigues (see the Italian inganno) to legal docu-
ment and instrument of war (“engineer”). Only in the
Renaissance did it assume the meaning of outstanding
talent; it was so used by Alberti, Leonardo, Aretino,
and countless other writers of the period. However,
the weight of Glareanus' statement rests not on the
interpretation of ingenium, but on his distinction be-
tween extraordinary natural talent and craftsmanship,
and on his insistence that the former far exceeds the
latter in importance.

Glareanus' statement recalls Aribo's admiration for
the musicus naturalis; it anticipates the romantic idea
of the genius of folk song and folk singer as well as
the modern system of the arts. It antedates by fifty
odd years Jacobus Pontanus' poetics (1600) that con-
tains “the most explicit comparison between poetry,
painting, and music that I have been able to discover
in Renaissance literature” (Kristeller, p. 517). In fact,
Glareanus adds to painting, poetry, and music, dis-
cussed by Pontanus, sculpture and eloquence.
Glareanus' source of inspiration—considering that he,
like Luscinius, knew Greek—was probably Plato's Ion
in which Socrates is presented as speaking of precisely
the same combination of arts: painting, sculpture,


music, poetry, all of which are related to Ion's profes-
sion, the recitation of Homer, for which Glareanus
substitutes eloquence in the divine service.

The stress on originality brings with it the apprecia-
tion of individuality. A German publisher, Hieronymus
Formschneider, in a print of three-part compositions
of 1538, excuses the lack of author attributions with
the remark that each of the composers has his own
outstanding style easily recognized by the connoisseur.
Theorists discuss the individual style of composers—
again Glareanus leads his contemporaries in the sharp-
ness of his critical judgment—and poets sing the praises
of composers as creators of a recognizable personal
idiom of expression.

One hears an echo of Glareanus' ideas in the dialogue
on music, Solitaire second ou prose de la musique
(1552), by the French poet and humanist, Pontus de

... as poetry takes its source from natural talent and the
inspiration of the sacred choir [of Muses] of Parnassus, so
Music, too, requires natural gift, impelled by the same
enthusiasm. It may take more talent to invent a single
melodic turn of phrase for the expression of a conceit to
write the “air” or the “theme” of a chanson, than to place
two, three, or more counterpoints against a cantus firmus
and to write what one calls figured music, or a finished
composition (chose faite), though the latter requires more

(Tyard, p. 132).

As the sixteenth century progresses, the irrational
aspect of the compositional process gains increasing
attention. Spataro used the term instinctus naturalis
to account for the marvelous inventiveness and
originality of great composers. Other writers change
this term to inclinatio naturalis. Hermann Finck, in
a treatise published in 1556, which, significantly,
stresses the importance of an expressive rendering of
the text, reserves the title of musicus for the composer:

But only composers deserve that title. I consider those as
composers who, as the learned agree, were carried to that
field of study by natural inclination, and who cultivated
their natural talent from tender youth on through art,
practice, and varied and frequent exercises.... And if it
is of importance in the other disciplines who your first
teacher and mentor is, certainly in this art it is of greatest
significance that he who by nature burns with a love of
music use an experienced teacher and devote himself totally
to imitating him

(Lowinsky [1964], pp. 487-88).

To early and rigorous training Finck adds three
irrational elements in his characterization of the
composer: natural talent, natural inclination, and en-
thusiasm, for this is surely what he intends to convey
with his expression, “by nature burning with a love
of music.” And all three elements—talent, inclination,
enthusiasm—carry the adjective naturalis or a natura.
Not training and practice alone make the composer,
but an inborn quality that cannot be rationally
accounted for except as a gift of Nature.

What is translated here as enthusiasm is not what
Plato had in mind when he spoke of the furor poeticus,
a concept that has played a significant role in the
literary criticism of the sixteenth century (Weinberg,
I, Ch. VII). Finck's “enthusiasm” shares with Plato's
furor poeticus the element of emotional intensity with
which poet or musician embraces his chosen art, but
what separates the two concepts of Finck and Plato
is the element of rationality. Plato believes that once
the poet is inspired—and without inspiration he has
no invention—he is out of his senses and out of his
mind. “For not by art does the poet sing, but by power
divine” (Lowinsky [1964], p. 488). But the Renaissance
theorist, however strongly he may stress irrational
elements, never abandons the idea of a rational and
practical mastery of the musical craft as an indispensa-
ble basis for the work of genius. Indeed, Finck stresses
the necessity for the young genius to grow up in the
workshop of an older master, whose compositions he
should take as models for his own.

This is apparent even in those formulations in which,
finally, the instinctus naturalis and the inclinatio natu-
are elevated to the impetus naturalis. Lampadius,
Protestant cantor in Lüneburg and author of a textbook
on music published in 1537 (Compendium musices),
describes the process of composition in these words:

As poets are stirred by a certain natural impulse to write
their verses, holding in their minds the things that are to
be described, so the composer must first contrive in his mind
the best melodies and must weigh these judiciously, lest
one single note vitiate the whole melody and tire his
listeners. Then he must proceed to the working-out—that
is, he must distribute the contrived melodies in a certain
order, using those that seem most suitable

(Lowinsky [1964],
p. 489).

We have here one of the earliest descriptions of the
process of composition as we conceive it today.
Lampadius distinguishes three phases: melodic inven-
tion (the musician is stirred by some inward power),
careful evaluation (the aesthetic judgment passes on
the work of inspiration), and finally elaboration (the
composer proceeds to work out the purified melodic
ideas—he selects, he rejects, and he organizes). This
is much the same working process as we will find
described by Roger North and, more articulately, by
Friedrich Nietzsche.

Dedications and prefaces to sixteenth-century prints
of music reflect the change of ideas. When the Parisian
music publishers, Adrian Le Roy and Robert Ballard,


in the dedication of a print of motets by Orlando di
Lasso of 1564, wished to pay tribute to the genius of
the youthful composer, they called him a natura factus
magis, quam disciplina institutus,
“more a product of
nature, than of professional training” (Van den Borren,
p. 836).

Medieval theory does not admit that a composer may
at times disregard rules with impunity, indeed that this
may make him a better composer. This idea begins
to take shape in Renaissance writings. We saw how
Luscinius praised Nicolaus Craen for sidestepping the
traditional rules. Zarlino, too, in his celebrated Institu-
tioni harmoniche
of 1558 (p. 235), states that poetic
license is allowed to the composer as well as to the
poet. “Poetic license” becomes an integral part of the
concept of genius. It is not by chance that the most
advanced definition of genius should occur in the
treatise of a man claiming to have been a pupil of
Josquin des Prez and to report the master's method
of teaching, Adrian Petit Coclico's Compendium
(1552). Josquin des Prez was to the Renaissance
musician the very incarnation of musical genius. Here
is what Coclico reports on Josquin's method:

Josquin did not consider everybody cut out for the study
of composition; he decided that only those should be taught
who were carried by a singular natural impetus to that most
beautiful art, for he used to say that there exist so many
lovely compositions that hardly one in a thousand could
compose anything as good or better

(Lowinsky [1964], p.

And again, when enumerating the requirements for the
student of composition, Coclico lists in the first place
the ability to improvise a counterpoint and in the
second place

that he be led to composing by a... certain natural impetus
so that neither food nor drink can please him before he
has finished his musical work. For when the inner impetus
urges in this way one can achieve more in one hour than
otherwise in a whole month. Useless are composers who
lack these singular raptures

(Lowinsky [1964], p. 492).

Coclico's ideas are formulated in a framework of
decided opposition to the whole philosophy of medie-
val theory. In a complete reversal of the medieval
hierarchy of musicians Coclico pronounces as “kings
of music” not the theorists but those who combine
theory with practice, who understand thoroughly the
art of composing, who know how to embellish a com-
position and how to express all emotions in music.

The two ideas of music as expression and of musical
genius go together historically and conceptually. The
Renaissance theorists who come closest to the modern
concept of genius are the same ones who stress the
idea that music serves to express human emotions. Not
only do these two concepts go hand in hand, they
converge in their attitude towards “the rules.”

In transcending the rules, genius opens new vistas
and music gains new dimensions of expressiveness. Any
musical device, to reach the sphere of emphatic
expression, must verge on the limits of the permissible
or, indeed, pass beyond them. Any work of genius will,
of course, transcend all ordinary limitations. Yet, the
extraordinary and the impermissible need the ordinary
and the permissible as background without which they
lose their significance and their effect. This is why
Zarlino advises the composer not to persist too long
in the use of licenze, for he understands that a series
of breaches of rules will never amount to a work of
art. Genius knows how to endow the breaking of a
rule with that same sense of necessity that the rule
itself embodied; the disregard of convention is not the
goal, but a by-product of his work.

The Renaissance is the first epoch in European intel-
lectual history that recognized that neither observation
of rules nor practice and experience suffice to make
the good composer, that great composers will find
felicitous turns and figures not demonstrated in any
textbook, that there are artistic elements of manner
and grace that defy definition, and that rules, teaching,
practice, and experience are all superseded by the
inborn talent, the ingenium of the individual, who is
driven to his art by a natural impetus so strong that
it overcomes hunger and thirst, so powerful that it may
put the composer into a state of ecstasy, and that in
such a state of heightened awareness and activity the
composer's mind can achieve more than in long periods
of ordinary work. For all this the composer, according
to some writers, must enjoy divine help and heavenly

The Renaissance drew a clear line of demarcation
between craftsman and genius. Glareanus even goes
so far as to elevate the nature of genius above that
of talent—a question that occupied the attention of
later thinkers a great deal. He already suggests the
classical definition found in eighteenth-century writings
by attributing greater ingenium to the inventor of new
melodies than to the contrapuntal elaborator of a given
melody. Invention and originality distinguish genius
from talent. Talent imitates; genius assimilates and

The Renaissance replaces the medieval definition of
creation as making something out of nothing with the
concept of creation as making something new, some-
thing that the world had not seen or heard before,
something fresh, original, personal. Nothing illuminates
more sharply the heightened confidence of the Renais-
sance writer in man's unlimited abilities than the belief
that the artistic genius reaches up to God Himself,


sharing with Him in the joy of creation. Had not Julius
Caesar Scaliger, in the opening chapter of his Poetices
libri septem
(1561), called the poet “another God”
(alter Deus), and Shaftesbury later a “second maker”?
No wonder, then, that the epithet divus, applied in
the Middle Ages only to saints, was transferred by the
secular urban society of the Renaissance to secular
celebrities. Aretino appears to have been the first to
use the term in a letter to “the divine Michelangelo”
(Zilsel, pp. 276ff.). It is precisely in the same period
that the term divinus enters into writings on music.
In 1542 the Venetian Sylvestro Ganassi del Fontego
speaks of the Flemish composer Nicolas Gombert,
master of the choirboys in the Emperor's chapel, as
huomo divino in tal professione (Lowinsky [1964], p.
484). And in the second part of the same work pub-
lished one year later, he calls the chapel-master of San
Marco in Venice, Adrian Willaert, nuovo Prometheo
della celeste Armonia.
The same Aretino who had
called Michelangelo “divine” speaks in his Marescalco
of Willaert as sforzo di natura, “miracle of nature”
(Lowinsky [1964], p. 484). All of these expressions point
to a concept of creativity based on the new ideas of
originality and inventiveness. Insofar as Man is creative
in this new sense he partakes of God's nature and may
therefore properly be addressed as “divine.”

To the medieval mind such thought was blasphe-
mous. “God alone creates,” pronounced Saint Thomas
Aquinas; “no mortal being can create” (Summa Theo-
)—a position that followed logically from his
definition of creation as creare ex nihilo: “To create
means to produce something out of nothing.” Earlier,
Saint Augustine in his De Trinitate had maintained:
Creatura non potest creare, “the creature cannot cre-
ate” (Lowinsky [1964], p. 477).

The Renaissance is the first period in the history of
music in which composers are viewed as individuals
endowed with an extraordinary personal and psycho-
logical constitution. The same agent who, in writing
to Ercole of Ferrara about Isaac and Josquin, conceded
that Josquin was the better composer, also remarked
that as a person he was difficult, both in his relations
with other musicians and with his patron, that he
composed only when it pleased him and not when
commanded. From Serafino dall'Aquila's sonnet of
1503 addressed to Josquin we know of the master's fits
of melancholy and despair. We hear from Manlius not
only of his outbursts of temper during rehearsals, from
Glareanus the anecdotes of his witty musical responses
to forgetful or demanding patrons, but also of his
unending search for perfection that made him go over
his compositions again and again, changing, polishing,
refining (Osthoff, I). A picture emerges of an altogether
original character, endowed with a strong tempera
ment and a deep sense of obligation to his genius, an
individual utterly unwilling and unable to compromise
in matters of his art.

The anecdotes concerning Josquin and his noble
patrons also suggest that a new relationship between
artist and patron is in the making: here are the begin-
nings of parity between the aristocracy of talent and
the aristocracy of blood and rank. The incredibly fa-
miliar tone of Orlando di Lasso's letters to his patron,
Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria, with whom he drank,
played, and joked, is an illustration of this new rela-
tionship between an artist and a prince in the latter
part of the century.

Carlo Gesualdo, finally, is a representative of the free
artist. Born a prince, and hence economically and
socially independent, he was in his own employ, as
it were, accountable only to himself. The freedom of
his style is a reflection of his independence as well as
of the fierce and uncontrolled temperament that led
to the well-known tragic events of his life.

Josquin, Lasso, Gesualdo, however different they
were in character and as artists, share one essential
quality: they are musical geniuses whose extraordinary
gifts are matched by extraordinary personality; they
exhibit immense strength of feeling, spontaneity,
originality, independence as personalities and in their
social relationships; they are great individuals, and each
one of them was hailed in his time as the foremost
representative of an expressive style of music. At the
same time Josquin, Lasso, and Gesualdo conformed to
the psychological image of the Renaissance concept
of genius. The famous Problem XXX,1 of Aristotle—or
Pseudo-Aristotle—begins with the question: “Why is
it that all those who have become eminent in philoso-
phy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly
melancholics?” (Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl, p. 18).
Problem XXX,1 was well known in the Renaissance.
It was taken up by Marsilio Ficino, celebrated for his
attempt to reconcile Plato and Christianity. It was he
who “gave shape to the idea of the melancholy man
of genius and revealed it to the rest of Europe” (in
his three books De vita triplici, 1482-89; Klibansky,
Panofsky, and Saxl, pp. 255ff.). And indeed, our three
great composers fit surprisingly well into this picture:
Josquin, the loner, the temperamental conductor, the
ceaseless refiner of his works, writing when his inner
voice compels him, a deep melancholic in life, and
in his music a “specialist” in melancholy; Lasso and
Gesualdo, preoccupied with the idea of Death in their
work as no composers before them, the former suffering
from a mental collapse two years before his death, the
latter involved in the double murder of his wife and
her lover, an event that cast an ineradicable shadow
over his whole creative life (the murder took place


in 1590; the first publication of Gesualdo's music oc-
curred in 1594).

A new personal style in music and a new image of
the musician as a person different from the common
run of people seem to emerge more or less simulta-
neously. This appears from censures as well as from
anecdotes about musicians that begin to circulate in
the sixteenth century. Joachim Vadian, poet and
humanist at the court of Maximilian I, in a eulogy
(1517) of the composer and organist Paul Hofhaimer,
criticized the musicians who “believe themselves to be
lacking in genius, unless their demeanor is frivolous
and dubious, and who act as if seized by Platonic
madness” (Moser, p. 44). Antonfrancesco Doni, in his
entertaining and witty dialogue on music (1544),
expressed a view of the artistic personality that must
have been current for some time in the literary circles
of Italy: “Musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, and
their like are all real people, attractive, and often
cheerful, though at times eccentric when the fancy
strikes them” (Lowinsky [1964], p. 486). Doni proceeds
to tell humorous stories about the clash between artists
and ignorant and presumptuous Philistines—plebei, as
he calls them—stories that prove that the Renaissance
created not only the image of the “artist,” but also
its foil, that of the “Philistine.”