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Musical style of the late middle ages
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. 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." 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 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 canonTout 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.[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".)[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.
The style spread into northern Spain and as far as Cyprus (which was a French cultural outpost at the time). French, Flemish, Spanish and Italian composers used the style.
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.
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. ISBN0-521-62371-5
Fallows, David. "Ars nova" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN1-56159-174-2.
Gleason, Harold, and Warren Becker, Music in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Music Literature Outlines Series I. Bloomington, Indiana. Frangipani Press, 1986. ISBN0-89917-034-X.
Josephson, Nora S. "Ars subtilior" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN1-56159-174-2.
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. JSTOR30249358.
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. ISBN3-7618-1014-8
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. ISBN0-333-51040-2 (cased) ISBN0-333-53004-7 (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. ISBN0-8153-2065-5
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.