The contemporary perception of text-music relations in motets c.1500
The goal of my dissertation research is to uncover a tertium quid between two inadequate modern positions on the function of words within motets produced by the so-called ‘Josquin generation’ of composers whose careers ended around 1520. Modern reception has usually approached these motets retrospectively, through the text-focused perspective of the post-Reformation era. Where this has not been the case, they have been appreciated as proto-symphonic ‘absolute music’ - an equally anachronistic position. My dissertation presents a more contemporary view of the relationship between words and music, informed by contemporary writings on the subject and formal analysis. The formal structures of music and poetry often overlap and need not indicate a superior function of one or the other. The salient formal elements of late-fifteenth century motets readily lend themselves to the setting of formally divided text, be it poetry or prose. Likewise, motet texts, and particularly compiled ones, are readily divided for the purposes of musical setting. In some instances we can postulate a priority of text or of music but in many more instances it is impossible and perhaps anachronistic to judge, given the way both words and music function towards the same goal of formal coherence. Composers certainly went to some effort to compile or compose meaningful texts for their motets. It is clear from the settings of these texts, however, that composers were not operating with an unwritten theory about word-tone relations - certainly not an agenda to make music and words relate in more than a general way.