Ars subtilior

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A chanson about love, Belle, bonne, sage, by Baude Cordier, is in a heart shape, with red notes indicating rhythmic alterations. CordierColor.jpg
A chanson about love, Belle, bonne, sage, by Baude Cordier, is in a heart shape, with red notes indicating rhythmic alterations.

Ars subtilior (Latin for 'subtler art') is a musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity, centered on Paris, Avignon in southern France, and also in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century. [1] The style also is found in the French Cypriot repertory. Often the term is used in contrast with ars nova, which applies to the musical style of the preceding period from about 1310 to about 1370; though some scholars prefer to consider ars subtilior a subcategory of the earlier style. Primary sources for ars subtilior are the Chantilly Codex, the Modena Codex (Mod A M 5.24), and the Turin Manuscript (Torino J.II.9).


Overview and history

Musically, the productions of the ars subtilior are highly refined, complex, and difficult to sing, and probably were produced, sung, and enjoyed by a small audience of specialists and connoisseurs. Musicologist Richard Hoppin suggests the superlative ars subtilissima, saying, "not until the twentieth century did music again reach the most subtle refinements and rhythmic complexities of the manneristic style." [1] They are almost exclusively secular songs, and have as their subject matter love, war, chivalry, and stories from classical antiquity. There are even some songs written in praise of public figures (for example Antipope Clement VII). Daniel Albright [2] compares avant-garde and modernist music of the 20th century's "emphasis on generating music through technical experiment" to the precedent set by the ars subtilior movement's "autonomous delight in extending the kingdom of sound." He cites Baude Cordier's perpetual canon Tout par compas (All by compass am I composed), notated on a circular staff.

Albright contrasts this motivation with "expressive urgency" and "obedience to rules of craft" and, indeed, "ars subtilior" was coined by musicologist Ursula Günther in 1960 to avoid the negative connotations of the terms manneristic style and mannered notation. [3] [ failed verification ] (Günther's coinage was based on references in Tractatus de diversis figuris, attributed to Philippus de Caserta, to composers moving to a style "post modum subtiliorem comparantes" and developing an "artem magis subtiliter".) [4] [ failed verification ]

One of the centers of activity of the style was Avignon at the end of the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy and during the Great Schism (1378–1417), the time during which the Western Church had a pope both in Rome and in Avignon. The town on the Rhône had developed into an active cultural center, and produced the most significant surviving body of secular song of the late fourteenth century.[ citation needed ]

The style spread into northern Spain and as far as Cyprus (which was a French cultural outpost at the time). [5] French, Flemish, Spanish and Italian composers used the style.[ citation needed ]

Notational characteristics

Manuscripts of works in the ars subtilior occasionally were themselves in unusual and expressive shapes, as a form of eye music. As well as Baude Cordier's circular canon and the heart-shaped score shown above, Jacob Senleches's La Harpe de melodie is written in the shape of a harp.

List of composers

The main composers of the ars subtilior (those from whom at least three compositions in this style are known) are Anthonello de Caserta, Johannes Cuvelier, Egidius, Galiot, Matteo da Perugia, Philipoctus de Caserta, Jacob Senleches, and Trebor. [6] Other composers associated with the style include:


Related Research Articles

<i>Ars antiqua</i> Musical style of the High Middle Ages

Ars antiqua, also called ars veterum or ars vetus, is a term used by modern scholars to refer to the Medieval music of Europe during the High Middle Ages, between approximately 1170 and 1310. This covers the period of the Notre-Dame school of polyphony, and the subsequent years which saw the early development of the motet, a highly varied choral musical composition. Usually the term ars antiqua is restricted to sacred (church) or polyphonic music, excluding the secular (non-religious) monophonic songs of the troubadours, and trouvères. Although colloquially the term ars antiqua is used more loosely to mean all European music of the 13th century, and from slightly before.

<i>Ars nova</i> Musical style of the Late Middle Ages

Ars nova refers to a musical style which flourished in the Kingdom of France and its surroundings during the Late Middle Ages. More particularly, it refers to the period between the preparation of the Roman de Fauvel (1310s) and the death of composer Guillaume de Machaut in 1377. The term is sometimes used more generally to refer to all European polyphonic music of the fourteenth century. For instance, the term "Italian ars nova" is sometimes used to denote the music of Francesco Landini and his compatriots, although Trecento music is the more common term for the contemporary 14th-century music in Italy. The "ars" in "ars nova" can be read as "technique", or "style". The term was first used in two musical treatises, titled Ars novae musicae by Johannes de Muris, and a collection of writings attributed to Philippe de Vitry often simply called "Ars nova" today. Musicologist Johannes Wolf first applied to the term as description of an entire era in 1904.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">F. Andrieu</span> 14th-century medieval French composer

F. Andrieu was a French composer in the ars nova style of late medieval music. Nothing is known for certain about him except that he wrote Armes, amours/O flour des flours, a double ballade déploration, for the death of Guillaume de Machaut in 1377. The work has been widely praised and analyzed; it is notable for being one of two extant medieval double ballades for four voices, the only known contemporary musical setting of Eustache Deschamps and the earliest representative of the longstanding medieval and Renaissance lamentation tradition between composers. He may be the same person as Magister Franciscus, although the scholarly consensus on this identification is unclear. With P. des Molins, Jehan Vaillant and Grimace, Andrieu was one of the "post-Machaut" generation whose pieces retain enough ars nova qualities to be differentiated from composers of ars subtilior.

Solage, possibly Jean So(u)lage, was a French composer, and probably also a poet. He composed the most pieces in the Chantilly Codex, the principal source of music of the ars subtilior, the manneristic compositional school centered on Avignon at the end of the century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baude Cordier</span> French composer (fl. early 15th century)

Baude Cordier was a French composer in the ars subtilior style of late medieval music. Virtually nothing is known of Cordier's life, aside from an inscription on one of his works which indicates he was born in Rheims and had a Master of Arts. Some scholars identify him with Baude Fresnel, a harpist and organist in the court of Philip the Bold, though other scholars have rejected this.

Jacob Senleches was a Franco-Flemish composer and harpist of the late Middle Ages. He composed in a style commonly known as the ars subtilior.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">La harpe de melodie</span>

La Harpe de Melodie is a musical composition by Jacob Senleches in the ars subtilior style.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chantilly Codex</span>

The Chantilly Codex is a manuscript of medieval music containing pieces from the style known as the Ars subtilior. It is held in the museum at the Château de Chantilly in Chantilly, Oise.

The Ivrea Codex is a parchment manuscript containing a significant body of 14th century French polyphonic music.

Borlet was a 14th- and 15th-century composer whose life we know extremely little about. It is thought that his name is an anagram of Trebol, a French composer who served Martin of Aragon in 1409 at the same time as Gacian Reyneau and other composers in the Codex Chantilly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grimace (composer)</span> 14th-century medieval French composer

Grimace was a French composer-poet in the ars nova style of late medieval music. Virtually nothing is known about Grimace's life other than speculative information based on the circumstances and content of his five surviving compositions of formes fixes; three ballades, a virelai and rondeau. He is though to have been a younger contemporary of Guillaume de Machaut and based in southern France. Three of his works were included in the Chantilly Codex, which is an important source of ars subtilior music. However, along with P. des Molins, Jehan Vaillant and F. Andrieu, Grimace was one of the post-Machaut generation whose music shows few distinctly ars subtilior features, leading scholars to recognize Grimace's work as closer to the ars nova style of Machaut. His best known and most often performed work in modern-times is the virelai and proto-battaglia: A l’arme A l’arme.

Jehan Vaillant was a French composer and music theorist. He is named immediately after Guillaume de Machaut by the Règles de la seconde rhétorique, which describes him as a "master … who had a school of music in Paris". Besides five pieces of music surviving to his name, he was also the author of a treatise on tuning. With Grimace and F. Andrieu and P. des Molins, Vaillant was part of the post-Machaut generation whose music shows few distinctly ars subtilior features, leading scholars to recognize Vaillant's work as closer to the ars nova style of Machaut.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Johannes Symonis Hasprois</span> Medieval French composer

Johannes SymonisHasprois was a French composer originally from Arras. Four of his works of music survive in four different manuscripts, and he may also have written a treatise on astrology.

The Modena Codex is an early fifteenth-century Italian manuscript of medieval music. The manuscript is one of the most important sources of the ars subtilior style of music. It is held in the Biblioteca Estense library in Modena.

Ursula Günther was a German musicologist specializing in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries and the music of Giuseppe Verdi. She coined the term ars subtilior, to categorize the rhythmically complex music that followed ars nova.

P. des Molins, probably Pierre des Molins, was a French composer-poet in the ars nova style of late medieval music. His two surviving compositions – the ballade De ce que fol pensé and rondeau Amis, tout dous vis – were tremendously popular as they are among the most transmitted pieces of fourteenth-century music. The ballade is found in 12 medieval manuscript sources and featured in a c. 1420 tapestry; the rondeau is found in 8 sources and referenced by the Italian poet Simone de' Prodenzani. Along with Grimace, Jehan Vaillant and F. Andrieu, Molins was one of the post-Guillaume de Machaut generation whose music shows few distinctly ars subtilior features, leading scholars to recognize Molins's work as closer to the ars nova style of Machaut.

Rodericus was a French composer of the 14th century.

The 1380s in music involved some significant events.

Magister Franciscus was a French composer-poet in the ars nova style of late medieval music. He is known for two surviving works, the three-part ballades: De Narcissus and Phiton, Phiton, beste tres venimeuse; the former was widely distributed in his lifetime. Modern scholarship disagrees on whether Franciscus was the same person as the composer F. Andrieu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gilbert Reaney</span> English musicologist (1924–2008)

Gilbert Reaney was an English musicologist who specialized in medieval and Renaissance music, theory and literature. Described as "one of the most prolific and influential musicologists of the past century", Reaney made significant contributions to his fields of expertise, particularly on the life and works of Guillaume de Machaut, as well as medieval music theory.


  1. 1 2 Hoppin 1978, 472–73.
  2. Albright 2004, 10.
  3. Günther 1960.
  4. Günther 1960, summarized in Josephson 2001.
  5. Josephson 2001.
  6. Apel 1973, 55.
  7. "Ars Magis Subtiliter".
  8. "Fumeux fume par fumee (Solage) - ChoralWiki".


Further reading

  • Apel, Willi. 1950. "French Secular Music of the Late Fourteenth Century". Mediaeval Academy of America.[ full citation needed ] text online
  • Arlt, Wulf [in German] (1973). "The Development of French Secular Music during the Fourteenth Century". Musica Disciplina . 27: 41–59. JSTOR   20532157.
  • Berger, Anna Maria Busse. 2002. "The Evolution of Rhythmic Notation". In The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, edited by Thomas Street Christensen, 628–56. The Cambridge History of Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-62371-5
  • Fallows, David. "Ars nova" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN   1-56159-174-2.
  • Gleason, Harold, and Warren Becker, Music in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Music Literature Outlines Series I. Bloomington, Indiana. Frangipani Press, 1986. ISBN   0-89917-034-X.
  • Günther, Ursula. 1963. "Das Ende der Ars Nova". Die Musikforschung 16:105–120.
  • Günther, Ursula. 1964. "Zur Biographie einiger Komponisten der Ars Subtilior". Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 21:172–99.
  • Günther, Ursula. 1965. The Motets of the Manuscripts Chantilly, Musée condé, 564 (olim 1047) and Modena, Biblioteca estense, a. M. 5, 24 (olim lat. 568) . Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 39. Neuhausen: American Institute of Musicology. Unaltered reprint, 1998.
  • Günther, Ursula. 1991. "Die Ars subtilior". Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft 11: 277–88.
  • Hentschel, Frank. 2001. "Der Streit um die Ars Nova: Nur ein Scherz?" Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 58:110–30.
  • Hoppin, Richard H. 1960–1963. Cypriot-French Repertory (15th c.) of the Manuscript Torino, Biblioteca Nazionale, J.II.9 , 4 vols. Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 21. Rome : American Institute of Musicology.
  • Hoppin, Richard H. 1968. Cypriot Plainchant of the Manuscript Torino, Biblioteca Nazionale J. II. 9 , facsimile edition with commentary. Musicological Studies and Documents 19. Rome: American Institute of Musicology. ISBN   978-1-59551-256-7.
  • Josephson, Nora S. "Ars subtilior" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN   1-56159-174-2.
  • Josephson, Nora S. (2003–2008). "Many Roads Lead to Rome: Multifarious Stylistic Tendencies and Their Musical Interrelationships within the "Ars Subtilior"". Musica Disciplina . 53: 71–97. JSTOR   30249358.
  • Köhler, Laurie. 1990. Pythagoreisch-platonische Proportionen in Werken der ars nova und ars subtilior. 2 vols. Göttinger musikwissenschaftliche Arbeiten 12. Kassel and New York: Bärenreiter. ISBN   3-7618-1014-8
  • Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. 1990. "Ars Antiqua—Ars Nova—Ars Subtilior". In Antiquity and the Middle Ages: From Ancient Greece to the Fifteenth Century, edited by James McKinnon, 218–40. Man & Music. London: Macmillan. ISBN   0-333-51040-2 (cased) ISBN   0-333-53004-7 (pbk)
  • Newes, Virginia Ervin. 1977. "Imitation in the Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior". Revue belge de musicologie/Belgisch tijdschrift voor muziekwetenschap. 31:38–59.
  • Pirrotta, Nino. 1966. "Ars Nova e stil novo". Rivista Italiana di Musicologia 1:3–19
  • Plumley, Yolanda M. 1991. "Style and Structure in the Late 14th-Century Chanson". Ph.D. diss., University of Exeter.
  • Plumley, Yolanda M. 1996. The Grammar of Fourteenth Century Melody: Tonal Organization and Compositional Process in the Chansons of Guillaume de Machaut and the Ars Subtilior. Outstanding Dissertations in Music from British Universities. New York: Garland. ISBN   0-8153-2065-5
  • Plumley, Yolanda M. 1999. "Citation and Allusion in the Late Ars Nova: The Case of 'Esperance' and the 'En attendant' songs". Early Music History 18:287–363.
  • Plumley, Yolanda, and Anne Stone. 2008. Codex Chantilly: Bibliothèque du Château de Chantilly Ms. 564 facsimile edition with commentary. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols (distributed by Old Manuscripts & Incunabula). ISBN   978-2-503-52776-5.
  • Smith, F. Joseph. 1964. "Ars Nova: A Re-Definition? (Observations in the Light of Speculum Musicae I by Jacques de Liège" Part 1. Musica Disciplina 18:19–35.
  • Smith, F. Joseph. 1965. "Ars Nova: A Re-Definition?" Part 2. Musica Disciplina 19:83–97.
  • Smith, F. Joseph. 1983. "Jacques de Liège's Criticism of the Notational Innovations of the Ars nova". The Journal of Musicological Research 4: 267–313
  • Stone, Anne. 1996. "Che cosa c'è di più sottile riguardo l'ars subtilior?" Rivista Italiana di Musicologia 31:3–31.
  • Tanay, Dorit. 1999. Noting Music, Making Culture: The Intellectual Context of Rhythmic Notation, 1250–1400. Musicological Studies and Documents 46. Holzgerlingen: American Institute of Musicology and Hänssler-Verlag. ISBN   3-7751-3195-7