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Masterclass Prof. Catherine Saucier (Arizona State University)

Multiplicity, Meaning, and Interpretive Community: Reading Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Motets

Date: 18-19 February 2016
Time: 18 February, 16.15-19.00 hours; 19 February, 9-13
Venue: Utrecht University (18 February: Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, Ravensteynzaal (1.06); 19 February: Janskerkhof 2-3, 3512 BK Utrecht, room 115)
Credits: 1-2
Open to: Research MA students in Musicology and in the Humanities Fee (non-members):
Coordinated by: Karl Kügle (UU)

From its inception in the thirteenth century, the motet was prized for its musical and verbal complexity—a genre characterized by a seemingly enigmatic multiplicity of voices, texts, and allusions decipherable only by the most erudite minds. Stylistic and thematic transformations in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries reflect the increasingly diverse contexts in which the motet was heard, thereby multiplying the meanings that may have been associated with these allusive works. The motet of this period thus offers rich potential for hermeneutic analysis, as attested by the varied methods by which musicologists seeking to interpret the underlying meanings of individual motets have examined the interplay of music, text(s), and historical context(s).

Catherine Saucier, Associate Professor of Musicology at Arizona State University and Affiliate Faculty of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Music History from The University of Chicago and a B.M. in Cello Performance from Indiana University. Dr. Saucier specializes in late-medieval sacred music, hagiography, and city culture in the Low Countries, specifically the Belgian city of Liège, where she has conducted extensive archival and liturgical research supported by grants and fellowships from the Quebec government, the Medieval Academy of America, The University of Chicago, the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and ASU. Her current research focuses on the musical veneration of St John the Evangelist in the diocese of Liège and beyond. Her publications include A Paradise of Priests: Singing the Civic and Episcopal Hagiography of Medieval Liège (published in 2014 by the University of Rochester Press in partnership with Boydell & Brewer) and articles in Early Music History, The Senses and Society, Speculum, Acta Musicologica, and the Journal of the Alamire Foundation.

This event is organised by the Huizinga Institute in cooperation with Research Group Musicology, Utrecht University.


This master class will consist of a lecture and seminar on the same topic held by Catherine Saucier. Both the lecture and seminar will examine methods for interpreting the complex and varied genre of the motet in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, by addressing the following questions:  How was the motet of this period, more than other genres, conducive to the interplay of multiple meanings?  In which contexts did contemporaneous listeners hear these works?  What strategies do present-day musicologists use to uncover the many layers of meaning embedded in these texts, and which elements of the music do they prioritize?

The lecture will focus on a case study of the motet Hic est discipulus ille for St John the Evangelist by the sixteenth-century Netherlandish composer Nicolas Gombert. In his musical setting of the distinctive words In principio erat Verbum from the Gospel of John, Gombert quotes a pre-existing Gospel motet (by his alleged teacher Josquin des Prez) modeled on the Gospel tone to which this text was recited during Mass. Yet a careful reading of Gombert’s biblical imagery, and the medieval exegetical traditions with which it was understood, expands the referential horizons of Hic est discipilus ille well beyond these previously identified moments of musical quotation. Gombert thus evokes the Evangelist’s voice in multiple forms, creating an audible link to earlier musical traditions within an original framework—much the way exegetes repeated and reinterpreted the commentaries of their predecessors.

The masterclass will examine interpretive approaches to three additional motets, each representing a different subgenre. Starting from James Haar’s overview of the motet in this period and Rob Wegman’s introduction to broader concepts of multiplicity, meaning, and interpretive community, participants will explore the diverse ways in which hermeneutic analysis of a range of motet types intersects with historical understanding.

Preparation and readings:

Participants are asked to acquaint themselves with the following motets, by studying the scores (in the recommended modern editions and facsimiles, when available) and by listening to the suggested recordings.


  • Johannes Brassart, O rex Fridrice / In tuo adventu –see Johannes Brassart, Opera Omnia, vol. 2, ed. Keith Mixter, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 35 (1971), 27-31
  • Antoine Busnoys, Anthoni usque limina –see Antoine Busnoys Collected Works: Part 2, The Latin-Texted Works, ed. Richard Taruskin, Masters and Monuments of the Renaissance 2 (1990), 138-148
  • Anonymous, Vulnerasti cor meum –see Cristóbal de Morales, Opera Omnia, vol. 3, ed. Higinio Anglés, Monumentos de la Música Española 15 (1954), 166-171


  • Antoine Busnoys, Anthoni usque limina – see Choirbook of the Burgundian Court Chapel: Brussel, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Ms. 5557, ed. Rob Wegman (Peer: Musica-Alamire, 1989), fols.  48v-50r


  • Stimmwerck, Flos virginum: Motets of the 15th Century (CPO, 2015)
  • Pomerium, Antoine Busnoys: In hydraulis and Other Works (Dorian, 1993)
  • Orchestra of the Renaissance, Canticum canticorum, dir. Richard Cheetham (Glossa, 2000)
  • Further Required Readings:
  • James Haar, “Conference Introductory Remarks,” in Hearing the Motet: Essays on the Motet of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Dolores Pesce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 12-16
  • Rob Wegman, “For Whom the Bell Tolls: Reading and Hearing Busnoys’s Anthoni usque limina,” in Hearing the Motet, 122-141
  • Catherine Saucier, “Acclaiming Advent and Adventus in Johannes Brassart’s Motet for Frederick III,” Early Music History 27 (2008): 137-179
  • Remi Chiu, “You Have Wounded My Heart: Songs of Songs Motets and the Wound of Desire, “ in The Motet Around 1500: On the Relationship of Imitation and Text Treatment?, ed. Thomas Schmidt-Beste (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), 533-544


In an essay of 750-1,000 words, please respond to the following questions drawing upon ideas from each of the assigned readings, using one of the assigned motets as the basis for specific details:

  1. How was the motet of this period, more than other genres, conducive to the interplay of multiple meanings?
  2. How does the interpretation of signifiers intersect with historical understanding in present-day readings of these works?
  3. Reflect on one broader question of interpretation raised by these studies and/or the repertory itself.

Participants are also requested to prepare an informal presentation (5-10 minutes) of their responses to Questions 2 and 3.

Participants must submit their essays to on or before the deadline of 12 February 2016.

All assignments will be graded and receive 2 EC. Students wishing to audit the master class (1 EC) are expected to attend both sessions in full, do all preparatory readings, and participate actively in discussion but will not be called upon to submit written work or do a classroom presentation.