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Masterclass Prof. Dr. Klaus Pietschmann (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

Heavenly and Earthly Pleasures: Modes and Functions of Perceiving Sacred Music in the 15th and 16th Centuries

Date: 8-9 October 2015
Time: 8 October, 16.15-19.00 hours; 9 October, 9-13
Venue: Utrecht University (8 October: Janskerkhof 13, 0.06; 9 October: Janskerkhof 15A, 201)
Credits: 1-2
Open to: Research MA students in Musicology and in the Humanities
Fee (non-members): € 100
Coordinated by:  Karl Kügle (UU)
Register here

The lecture will concentrate on different attitudes towards the spiritual potential of liturgical polyphony in the context of the Catholic reform movement. Departing from the autobiography of the 15th-century composer Johann von Soest, who describes his first experience with sacred polyphony as a transcendental revelation (similar to well known descriptions by Italian authors like Giannozzo Manetti), the theological concept of the inner senses and the transformation of the senses in the hereafter will be discussed with reference to texts by authors such as Celso Maffei and Bartolomeo Rimbertini. These documents clearly show that sacred polyphony was primarily understood and valued as a representation of angelic singing and as such formed an important part of the devotional practices of the elite. In sharp contrast to these concepts the growing criticisms expressed by reformers like Girolamo Savonarola denied this representational quality of sacred polyphony and favoured “active” singing and listening: the claim for intelligibility and abandonment of lascivious elements will be interpreted as a changing attitude towards the perception of sacred music which strengthens active listening and redefines the sensual impact of liturgical music. I will focus on one particularly important example representative of this changing attitude: Prudencio de Sandoval’s description of Emperor Charles V listening to sacred polyphony.

Klaus Pietschmann received his PhD in Musicology from the University of Münster with a doctoral thesis on the Papal chapel during the pontificate of Paul III. He was scientific assistant at the University of Zurich (2003-06, Habilitation in 2006 with a study on opera in Vienna around 1800), assistant professor at the University of Bern (2006-09) and Deborah Loeb Brice Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies Villa I Tatti in Florence (2008-09). Currently he is professor of musicology at  Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz (Germany). Together with Christiane Wiesenfeldt (Weimar) he conducts the research project “The Renaissance mass between artificiality and liturgical functionality”.

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

Preparation and readings:

Participants are asked to acquaint themselves thoroughly with the Sanctus sections of Josquin’s Missa Pange lingua and Brumel’s Missae Et ecce terrae motus and Victimae Paschali laudes (both by listening and reading the score, preferably using facsimiles of the original notation supplemented when necessary by modern transcriptions/editions). To provide the necessary cultural-historicaland performative context, participants will also familiarize themselves with the Mass liturgy as practiced around 1500 .

The following materials provide the necessary information.


  • Harper, John: The forms and orders of Western Liturgy from the tenth to the eigteenth century. Oxford, 1991.
  • Ordo Missae 1474:
  • Andrew Kirkman’s The Cultural Life of the Early Polyphonic Mass. Medieval Context to Modern Revival. Cambridge, 2010 .

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources (recordings, editions)

Students are advised to use the recordings by A sei voci (Missa Pange lingua), the Tallis Scholars (Missa Et ecce terrae motus), and the Hilliard Ensemble (Missa Victimae paschali laudes). Fortranscriptions, they may refer to the standard editions (New Josquin Edition, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae ) in order to supplement their preparatory studies.

Further required readings:

  • Klaus Pietschmann: ‘The Sense of Hearing Politicized. Liturgical Polyphony and Political Ambition in Fifteenth-Century Florence,’ in: Wietse de Boer, Christine Goettler u. Herman Roodenburg (Hrsg.): Religion and the Senses in Early Modern Europe, Leiden 2013, 273-288.
  • Fallows, David: Josquin, Turnhout 2009.
  • Blackburn, Bonnie: ‘For whom do the singers sing?,’ in: Early Music 25 (1997), 593-609.
  • Long, Michael: ‘Symbol and Ritual in Josquin’s Missa di Dadi,’ in: Journal of the American Musicological Society 42 (1989), 1-22

Unfortunately we cannot offer pdf’s of the books but Utrecht University is in the process of putting hard copy on reserve for the course ‘Current Musicology’ in the University Library City Centre at Utrecht where the materials can be consulted from mid September onward. The Harper book is an exception: It is non-circulating and must be consulted at Special Collections in the UU Library Uithof, 6th floor. All the other materials are available online (including the two journal articles). Alternatively, they can be consulted in hard copy at research libraries throughout the country. The same goes for the ‘standard editions’ that students are expected to use – available at UU City Centre, and probably also in a few places elsewhere in the NLs.


Listen carefully (i.e., repeatedly and with an “analytical” ear) to the musical settings listed above, focusing specifically on the sections identified as objects for detailed study (Sanctus, Agnus Dei). Based on your listening experience, your own analysis of the music, and your critical reading of the assigned literature , write a short essay (750-1250 words excl. bibliography) in which you discuss one or several of the research questions listed above (i.e., the relationship between music and actions performed simultaneously during the Mass, or the potential impact of the composers’ personal devotion on the compositional shape of the Mass) to the best of your abilities. Also prepare a brief presentation (5 slides/ 5 minutes at most!) where you present the highlights of your research, or the research questions/working hypotheses resulting from your preparatory work in class.

Note: You will be assessed primarily on the quality of your argument as developed from the materials made available to you, not on the factual “correctness” of your answer. Therefore do not hesitate to go out on a limb but make sure that your methodology is stringent and coherent when doing so.

Your essay has to be submitted to by 2 October 2015.