MCE General Introduction

Agnese Pavanello

The Motet Cycles Edition (MCE) is a critical digital edition of the corpus of motet cycles known as ‘motetti missales’, in particular the two Marian cycles by Gaspar van Weerbeke (Ave mundi domina and Quam pulchra es), the two cycles by Loyset Compère (Hodie nobis de virgine and Ave virgo gloriosa), the anonymous cycle Ave Domine Iesu Christe (whose attribution to Compère is still debated), and the cycle Salve mater salvatoris by Franchinus Gaffurius. These cycles are all transmitted in the Libroni of the Milanese Duomo, copied by and under the supervision of Gaffurius during his tenure as chapel master of the cathedral from 1484 to 1522, and preserved in the Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo. The manuscripts, also known as Gaffurius Codices, are fully digitized in the Gaffurius Codices Online portal ( In addition, the MCE includes two anonymous cycles (Natus sapientia and Gaude flore virginali), handed down in the manuscript Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Mus. Ms. 3154, associated with the motet cycles of the Milanese Libroni for their cyclic structure and the inclusion of music for the Elevation.

As the designation ‘motetti missales consequentes’, written down by Gaffurius in the index of Librone 1,[1] discloses, the motet cycles listed under this heading were meant to be performed during mass as an additional layer of sound and prayer enriching the spoken texts of the liturgy. The rubrics ‘loco Introitus’, ‘loco Gloria’, ‘loco Patrem’, ‘loco Offertorii’, ‘loco Sanctus’, ‘ad (or post) Elevationem’, ‘loco Agnus’, and ‘loco Deo gratias’, included in several of the cycles, clearly link this music to the celebration of mass.[2] The term ‘consequentes’ highlights the intention of providing a series of motets apt to be sung more or less continuously, in all likelihood during the celebration of a low mass (alternatively, the loco rubrics might work as reference for the synchronization with longer rituals).[3] The inclusion of music ‘loco Sanctus’/‘ad Elevationem’ shared by these cycles characterizes their formal structure. In fact, the crucial ritual of the Elevation of the host, which marks the mystery of transubstantiation, is emphasized in all these cycles by a passage in chordal consonant polyphony, visually amplified by fermatas.[4] This striking and impressive sonic gesture drew attention to the only moment of the mass in which all the faithful had to be focused on the action at the altar (instead of on their own prayers or meditational exercises).[5]

The ‘loco Sanctus’/‘ad Elevationem’ sections included in these cycles have been taken as a distinctive mark for a definition of the motetti missales as a specific ‘genre’ related to the Milanese environment. This idea was especially emphasized by Thomas Noblitt, who proposed a connection between this repertory and the Ambrosian rite of the Milanese church.[6] He also tried to systematize the corpus in question, assuming the eight-motet model as a sort of absolute paradigm.[7] In line with previous suggestions by Gerhard Croll and Ludwig Finscher, he also proposed a Milanese or, more accurately, Ambrosian connection for the anonymous cycles in Munich 3154, which at first he tentatively ascribed to Johannes Martini (only to withdraw the proposal in a later publication).[8]

The idea of the motetti missales as a well-defined genre has, however, been questioned in later studies. Lynn Halpern Ward in particular drew attention to the variety of motet cycles included in the Milanese Libroni and to their formal flexibility, implying that motet cycles might have been differently performed and variously combined with other motets (for instance with Elevation motets, if actually performed during mass).[9] Indeed, the multiple transmission of the same cycles, with different and/or differently ordered component motets,[10] exposes the limits of a rigid approach to the classification of the motetti missales. In fact, such an approach risks obscuring the nature and purpose of these motets as sung prayers and thus their intrinsic flexibility as accompaniment to specific services, in relation to specific functions and contexts of performance.

Subsequent studies from a historical point of view helped to frame these cycles with Elevation section differently. In a richly documented article dedicated to the patronage of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Patrick Macey collected evidence to associate the motet cycles of Compère and Weerbeke copied in the Duomo manuscripts with the court environment and with the Roman rite followed by the Sforza dukes.[11] Completely changing the perspective on these works compared to previous studies, Macey’s contribution opened new research paths for the motetti missales, from that moment on mostly considered as an expression of specific musical habits of the private liturgy at the Sforza court (and thus somehow ‘detached’ from the Duomo’s Ambrosian environment and services). Indeed, some of the loco rubrics refer to liturgical items usually not part of the Ambrosian mass and more properly to be referred to mass services in the Roman rite.[12]

A different approach in dealing with the motet cycles of the Libroni was later followed by Nolan Gasser, who analysed the repertory from a broader and more inclusive perspective. By focusing on the texts and their liturgical-devotional background, he discussed the group of the missales in the larger context of the Milanese transmission of motets and motet cycles of various sizes, tracking a connection with the different forms of devotion and liturgy practised inside and outside the environment of the cathedral.[13] Gasser’s study had the great merit of placing the texts set in polyphony in the foreground, showing their importance for the exegesis of the repertory and of its liturgical and devotional function.

The connection of the motetti missales with Milan as a specific ‘genre’ related to that city has been repeatedly underscored in studies and historical overviews over the last decades, albeit mostly in the new Sforza-centred perspective. Similarly, the association of the anonymous Munich cycles with the Milanese environment has barely been questioned.[14] However, the numerous unsolved queries raised by the motet cycles of the Milanese Libroni and by the motetti missales in particular have stimulated new research on this repertory, aimed at a deeper understanding of the cultural context and historical circumstances in which such motet cycles originated. New investigations, which took place in the context of a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation in 2014–17,[15] led to the compilation of a database (the Motet Cycle Database), in which the motet cycles of the Libroni as well as other motet cycles (or motets in several parts) from the end of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the sixteenth century were catalogued for the first time.[16] Besides providing evidence of the amount of repertory classifiable under ‘motet cycles’ and of the parameters associated with an idea of cyclicity, this database provides basic but indispensable information on the cycles, and notably on their texts, with the appropriate references to sources and bibliography.

During the project and related activities several studies were carried out and published, leading to a significant enrichment of the knowledge of and around this repertory. This output has anchored the Milanese motet repertory to a wider panorama of singing practices in a sacred context, also linking the motet cycles by Franco-Flemish composers such as Compère and Weerbeke to usages of their native place of origin.[17] To be mentioned here in particular are the contributions published in the Journal of the Alamire Foundation in 2017[18] and the collection of studies gathered in the books Codici per cantare and Motet Cycles between Devotion and Liturgy issued in 2019, dedicated to the exploration of many different aspects of the transmission of motets in cycles, addressed from an interdisciplinary perspective.[19]

Successively, the wish to make available a full ‘critical digitization’ of Gaffurius’s Libroni and an edition of the missales cycles reflecting the most recent research results inspired the follow-up project Polifonia Sforzesca/Sforza Polyphony, again funded by the SNF and hosted at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in 2018–20.[20]

* * *

The present critical edition follows up-to-date philological standards. Each motet cycle is provided with a critical apparatus – listing variants and errors as well as all divergences from the edited text – and an introduction dealing with the most salient questions related to that specific cycle. Unlike previous editions of the same works, the MCE maintains the original values of the mensural notation:[21] this helps to convey a different sense of tempo and tempo relationships, and facilitates the analytical comparison between different cycles (formerly edited according to divergent principles, and partially without critical commentary, as in the case of Compère’s cycles).[22] In order to supply accurate information on the motet texts, often neglected even in critical editions, each Latin text has been edited separately and provided with a critical apparatus listing textual errors and variants, accompanied with a commentary. Special attention is given to the textual design of the cycles in the introductions as well: recent research has in fact revealed that the polyphonic style of the motetti missales is often closely related to the textual choices, and hence to the previous performance tradition of those same texts (notably for such metric and rhymed genres as the sequence).

The edition takes advantage of the fact that the main sources of the edited motet cycles are available online and can be visualized on the same portal, Gaffurius Codices Online, thus facilitating a comparison between original sources and the modern edition, with all the related editorial choices. The encoding in MEI (and the rendering in Verovio) permits visualization of the edition with different options, simplifies the consultation of the critical apparatus, and makes future expansions and linking easily possible as well. The availability of the MCE as a digital open-access resource is ultimately meant to facilitate the circulation of this music, all too rarely performed (if at all), and to favour further research on this fascinating and still enigmatic repertory.


I would like to thank Rolf Wissmann for patiently taking care of the technical side of the edition in collaboration with Daniel Berthereau: to both goes my deep gratitude. I also want to cordially thank Bonnie Blackburn for the revision of all English texts and Leofranc Holford-Strevens for solving some issues concerning the Latin texts.

[1] See

[2] For a recent discussion of the definition of motetti missales, of the ‘loco’ rubrics as well as of the ideas developed over the years on this group of cycles, see the synthesis by Daniele Filippi: ‘Breve guida ai motetti missales (e dintorni)’, in Codici per cantare: I Libroni del Duomo nella Milano sforzesca, ed. Daniele V. Filippi and Agnese Pavanello, Studi e saggi, 27 (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2019), 139–69.

[3] On the connection of the motetti missales with the low mass and on the theological principles that justified the coexistence of devotional practices and liturgical action see Daniele V. Filippi, ‘“Audire missam non est verba missae intelligere...”: The Low Mass and the Motetti Missales in Sforza Milan’, Journal of the Alamire Foundation, 9/1 (2017), 11–32. The duration of a ferial low mass might approximately correspond to that of the performance of a cycle. The celebration of low masses on solemn occasions is also documented for Milan and the performance of motetti missales in festive services is thus also thinkable.

[4] After Simon Quercu (Opusculum musices, published in Vienna in 1509, p. 47), these signs were used to indicate that all voices sing together for the sake of devotion or of fullness of sound (‘aut propter devotionem, aut propter sonorositatem’). On the Elevation motets transmitted in the Milanese Libroni see Felix Diergarten, ‘“Aut propter devotionem, aut propter sonorositatem”: Compositional Design of Late Fifteenth-Century Elevation Motets in Perspective’, Journal of the Alamire Foundation, 9/1 (2017), 61–86; Agnese Pavanello, ‘The Elevation as Liturgical Climax in Gesture and Sound: Milanese Elevation Motets in Context’,  Journal of the Alamire Foundation, 9/1 (2017), 33–59.

[5] See Filippi, ‘“Audire missam”’.

[6] Thomas L. Noblitt, ‘The “Motetti Missales” of the Late Fifteenth Century’ (Ph.D. diss., The University of Texas, 1963). Id., ‘The Ambrosian “Motetti Missales” Repertory’, Musica Disciplina, 22 (1968), 77–103.

[7] Noblitt, ‘The Ambrosian “Motetti Missales” Repertory’. However, Gerhard Croll had already discussed the motet cycles by Weerbeke as ‘substitution masses’ in his dissertation of 1954, also timidly suggesting a connection with the Ambrosian rite. See Gerhard Croll, ‘Das Motettenwerk Gaspars van Weerbeke’ (Ph.D. diss., Georg-August Universität, 1954), esp. 179–238, at 184. At the same time Ludwig Finscher studied the motet cycles of Compère, providing useful analysis and information. See Ludwig Finscher, ‘Die Messen und Motetten Loyset Compères’ (Ph.D. diss., Georg-August Universität, 1954), 238–300. Finscher pointed out the connection with the Ambrosian Liturgy in his book Loyset Compère (c.14501518): Life and Works, Musicological Studies and Documents, 12 ([Rome]: American Institute of Musicology, 1964), 89–117 at 89–90.

[8] The ascription to Johannes Martini was advanced in Thomas L. Noblitt, ‘The “Motetti Missales” of the Late Fifteenth Century’, 144–50. Noblitt withdrew the proposal in his edition of the Munich manuscript. See Thomas L. Noblitt (ed.), Der Kodex des Magister Nicolaus Leopold: Staatsbibliothek München Mus Ms. 3154, Das Erbe deutscher Musik, 80–83 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1987), iv, no. 32, p. 364.

[9] Lynn Halpern Ward, ‘The “Motetti Missales” Repertory Reconsidered’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 39/3 (1986), 491–523.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Patrick P. Macey, ‘Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Musical Patronage in Milan: Compère, Weerbeke and Josquin’, Early Music History, 15 (1996), 147–212.

[12] Particularly in the case of the Agnus Dei. The term ‘introitus’ too (if not used as a synonym of ‘ingressa’) seems to point to the Roman rite.

[13] Nolan Ira Gasser, ‘The Marian Motet Cycles of the Gaffurius Codices: A Musical and Liturgico-Devotional Study’ (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 2001). See also id., ‘“Beata et Venerabilis Virgo”: Music and Devotion in Renaissance Milan’, in Crossing Boundaries: Issues of Cultural and Individual Identities in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Sally McKee (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999), 203–38.

[14] In particular Joshua Rifkin claimed the Milanese origin of the anonymous cycles in his impressive contribution ‘Munich, Milan, and a Marian Motet: Dating Josquin’s “Ave Maria … Virgo Serena”’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 56/2 (2003), 239–350, at 246, n. 20.

[15] Motet Cycles in the Late Fifteenth/Early Sixteenth-Century: Function, Performance, and Compositional Design in the Context of Musico-Liturgical and Devotional Practices. See


[17] On a Franco-Flemish connection see in particular Pavanello, ‘The Elevation as Liturgical Climax’; ead., ‘Praying to Mary: Another Look at Gaspar van Weerbeke’s Marian Motetti Missales’, in Motet Cycles between Devotion and Liturgy, ed. Daniele V. Filippi and Agnese Pavanello, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis Scripta, 7 (Basel: Schwabe, 2019), 339–80; Felix Diergarten, ‘“Gaude Flore Virginali” – Message from the “Black Hole”?’, in Motet Cycles between Devotion and Liturgy, 429–55.

[18] Already mentioned above: see n. 3 and n. 4.

[19] Codici per cantare: I Libroni del Duomo nella Milano sforzesca, ed. Daniele V. Filippi and Agnese Pavanello, Studi e saggi, 27 (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2019); Motet Cycles between Devotion and Liturgy, ed. Filippi and Pavanello. For a discussion of the most relevant questions related to the motet cycles repertory, see the introduction to this second book at pp. 1–16. Related to these studies are also Daniele V. Filippi, ‘Operation Libroni: Franchinus Gaffurius and the Construction of a Repertory for Milan’s Duomo’, in Sounding the Past: Music as History and Memory, ed. Karl Kügle (Turnhout: Brepols, 2020), 101–14; Agnese Pavanello, ‘Weerbeke’s Stylistic Repertoire: New Insights from the Marian Motets’, in Gaspar van Weerbeke: New Perspectives on His Life and Music, ed. Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl and Paul Kolb, Epitome Musical (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), 123–49.

[20] Polifonia Sforzesca/Sforza Polyphony: The Motet Cycles in the Milanese Libroni between Liturgy, Devotion, and Ducal Patronage: see and The output of this research project includes the book Reopening Gaffurius’s Libroni, ed. Agnese Pavanello (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2021), which will be accessible online in this portal.

[21] See the Editorial Methods.

[22] Former editions include: Loyset Compère, Opera Omnia: Motets, ed. Ludwig Finscher, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae, 15/4 ([Rome]: American Institute of Musicology, 1961); id., Messe, magnificat e motetti, ed. Dino Faggion, Archivium Musices Metropolitanum Mediolanense, 13 (Milan: Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, 1968); Franchino Gaffurio, Mottetti, ed. Luciano Migliavacca, Archivium Musices Metropolitanum Mediolanense, 5 (Milan: Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, 1959); Gaspar van Weerbeke, Messe e mottetti, ed. Giampiero Tintori, Archivium Musices Metropolitanum Mediolanense, 11 (Milan: Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, 1963); id., Collected Works: The Motet Cycles, ed. Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae, 106/3 ([Rome]: American Institute of Musicology; Hänssler, 1998). The anonymous Munich cycles are edited in Noblitt (ed.), Der Kodex des Magister Nicolaus Leopold, i, nos. 31 and 32, pp. 135–37, 151–68. For the problems caused by different principles of transcription see Clare Bokulich, ‘Metre and the Motetti Missales’, in Motet Cycles between Devotion and Liturgy, ed. Filippi and Pavanello, 397–427.