Print page












There are many examples of figural music from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. In the Codex Chantilly (1047), a collection of canzonas and motets composed  between  the years 1370 and 1595, we find this canonic rondeau “Tout pas compas” by Baude Cordier, nickname of  Baude Fresuel, harp player at the court of Philip Duke of Burgundy. The date of composition is between 1384 and 1398, that is to say in the period of the Ars Nova, Ars magis subtiliter, of Guillaume de Machaut. Both the text and the length of the composition, 33 “tempora” (a “tempus” being the ratio between brevis and semibrevis, that is three semibreves in the tempus perfectum (the number of Christ’s years being a metaphor of perfection). (Picture 1)

The circular shape of the composition entails that every point may be the initial one and that the performance may be protracted indefinitely. From this point of view, this suggests analogies with “Vexations” (1892-3) by Erik Satie, which consist in a short theme for the piano that must be repeated 840 times, creating, after about 60 hours’ performance an undeniable psycho-aesthetic suggestion.

Another circular score is the “Sive lidium in sinemenon” (Florence, National Library, MS Banco Rari 229, Fol. 3V) by Bartolomč Ramos de Pareva ? (1440-1491). (Picture 2)

The Dutch composer Adam Gumpelzheimer (1559-1625) is the author of a score in the shape of the cross, and of two circular canons, two for each side, a rather complex structure for 6 and 8 voices. (Fig. 3). The same composer is also the author of other canons, always in the shape of the cross; one of them, entitled “Oriens” is for 9 voices. (Picture 4)              

Another song also shaped like a cross,  for four voices, is by the Swiss composer Ludwig Senfl (1486-1542) maestro di capella  of the Imperial Court and later of the Bavarian court, a noteworthy author of the Flemish polyphonic school. (Picture 5)

Nicolaes Bodding, a Dutch composer, wrote  a chessboard canon (Picture 6) and finally by Ghisilinus Danckerts we possess the motet “Ave malis stella” for four voices, also termed “guesswork” motet, composed around 1549 in Holland. (Picture 7)

To a kind of abstract figural music belongs the famous mirror canon in Bach’s Musical Offer (1747) (Picture 8), called also crab canon).

An analogous mirror shape is also inserted in the quintet for wind instruments op 26 by Arnold Schoenberg. (Picture 9)

Present-day musicians often compose scores which are real and proper technical drawings. Here is one by Paolo Castaldi in the score of “Tendre” (1962) (Picture 10)  and another one by Sylvano Bussotti from  “La passion selon Sade” (1965-66). (Picture 11)

Tom Johnson, American, returns in his “Simmetrie” (1980) (Picture 12) to Bach’s idea of the mirror canon.

Lastly here is a witty example of “music gone berserk” by the Roman poetess Elisabetta Gut (1983) (Picture 13).

<   Ο   >