MCE 6: Gaspar van Weerbeke, Quam pulchra es

Edited by Cristina Cassia

The ascription to ‘Gaspar’ is reported both in the index of I-Mfd 1, where it refers to the whole cycle, and at the beginning of the motet Quam pulchra es in I-Mfd 2, on f. 48v. The fragmentary state of I-Mfd [4] does not allow to know if any ascription was entered there.

I-Mfd 1, ff. 134v-143r (8 motets)

I-Mfd 2, ff. 48v-51r (3 motets)

I-Mfd [4], ff. 132v-135r (3 motets)

Besides being the oldest source, I-Mfd 1 is also the only one that transmits the complete cycle, and has therefore been considered the main source for this critical edition. Its readings are usually correct and a few mistakes were emended at a later stage. Quam pulchra es, Ave regina caelorum mater, and O Maria clausus hortus were also entered in I-Mfd 2, while in I-Mfd [4] Quam pulchra es is followed by Mater patris filia and O pulcherrima mulierum. Although the readings of I-Mfd 2 and I-Mfd [4] differ slightly in a few details such as rhythm and ligatures from those in I-Mfd 1, each pair of concordances plausibly stems from a single ancestor. For more detailed information, see the introduction.

Quam pulchra es is one of the six motetti missales cycles copied in the Milanese Libroni between the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, under the supervision of the local choirmaster Franchinus Gaffurius.[1] Although the complete cycle, consisting of eight motets, appears in Librone 1, which was bound in 1490,[2] its composition probably dates back to the 1470s, during Gaspar van Weerbeke’s first stay in Milan. In fact, the Flemish composer, whose early career is still unknown, had been in Galeazzo Maria Sforza’s service since winter 1471–2 and became vice-abbot of the ducal chapel in 1474.[3] The ascription to ‘Gaspar’ is written both in the index of Librone 1, where it refers to the whole cycle, and at the beginning of the motet Quam pulchra es in Librone 2.

Among the motetti missales cycles, Quam pulchra es not only has the largest number of concordances within the Libroni complex, but is also the only one whose motets were also copied in Librone [4], the latest manuscript of the series, probably finished in 1507.[4] So far, none of the motets composing this cycle has been found in other sources of the same period, thus confirming its particular connection with Milan.

The texts of this Marian cycle are drawn from antiphons, sequences, and prayers (some in turn deriving from the biblical Song of Songs), mostly attested in the liturgy and in the books of hours of the time.[5] Although these texts are associated generically with Marian feasts, a few passages are directly related to her Nativity, Assumption, and particularly to her Conception, whose feast was officially established by Pope Sixtus IV in 1477.[6] Weerbeke himself probably chose and assembled the texts of this cycle, as he also did for his other motetti missales cycle entered in Librone 1, Ave mundi domina.[7]

Despite the complete lack of loco rubrics in the sources, the cycle Quam pulchra es can be partitioned as follows, by analogy with the other motetti missales cycles with specific indications:[8]

1. Quam pulchra es [loco Introitus]
2. Alma redemptoris mater [loco Gloria]
3. Salve virgo salutata [loco Patrem]
4. O pulcherrima mulierum [loco Offertorii]
5. Ave regina caelorum mater (2.p.: Ave corpus domini) [loco Sanctus]
6. O Maria clausus hortus [post Elevationem]
7. Mater patris filia [loco Agnus]
8. Tota pulchra es (2.p.: Iam enim hiems) [loco Deo gratias]

Although most scholars agree on this subdivision, Knud Jeppesen, followed more recently by Nolan Ira Gasser, only counted seven motets, considering the ‘verte folium’ indication between motets 5 and 6 as a cue to a single composition in three parts.[9] In fact, taken as a whole, these two motets form what Agnese Pavanello has defined the ‘Elevation complex’, three different phases corresponding respectively to Sanctus or loco Sanctus, ad Elevationem, and Post Elevationem that were sung continuously in the Liturgy during the Consecration and the Elevation.[10] In this critical edition, the two motets are transcribed separately, following the index of Librone 1, which lists no. 5 and no. 6 one after the other as individual compositions, and in analogy with the structure of the other motetti missales with rubrics.[11] In any case, this subdivision is merely formal and affects neither the liturgical function of these motets nor their performance: motets 5 and 6, which in the eight-motet structure correspond respectively to loco Sanctus and post Elevationem,[12] were surely meant to be sung without interruption, as the finalis D of the first motet, instead of G as in the whole cycle, clearly indicates.[13]

Weerbeke probably conceived the eight motets from the beginning not as independent compositions, but as a unit, as is shown by both textual and musical correspondences within the whole cycle, such as, for example, the use of recurring motifs.[14] However, it is not possible to establish if their order in Librone 1 coincides with that planned originally by the composer. In fact, in the motetti missales repertory the only motet with recognizable features is that for the Elevation, which displays both a text specifically linked to that liturgical moment and homorhythmic writing. In the absence of loco rubrics, the position of the other motets within the cycle is virtually interchangeable. Thus, it might be possible that the sequence of the motets was rearranged at some point and that motet no. 8, with its reduced texture, was not originally in the last position as it is now in Librone 1.[15] Nevertheless, in the current configuration of the cycle, the three motets with texts drawn from liturgical items related to the Song of Songs (nos. 1, 4, and 8) are located in first, middle, and last position, and each of them contains the word ‘pulchra’ in its incipit.[16] Whatever order Weerbeke had in mind in composing this cycle, the current balanced structure does not appear to be random.

Although a few motets could possibly be linked to pre-existent melodies, no cantus prius factus has been identified so far. Still, the melody of the first six bars of the Tenor of motet no. 1 recalls that at the beginning of the Tenor of the first motet of the other motetti missales cycle by Weerbeke copied in Librone 1, Ave mundi domina; probably both are based on a pre-existent Marian melody.[17]

Librone 1, the oldest manuscript of the Libroni series, is the only one that transmits the whole cycle, and therefore has been selected as the main source for this critical edition. A few motets were also copied in Libroni 2 and [4]: in Librone 2, motet no. 1 is followed by the ‘Elevation complex’,[18] made of nos. 5 and 6; in Librone [4], motet no. 1 is instead associated with no. 7 and no. 4.

In Librone 1, the cycle was entered by Scribe A[19] in a section consecrated to motetti missales, and is framed by Weerbeke’s cycle Ave mundi domina[20] and the shortened version of Loyset Compère’s [Missa] Galeazescha.[21] The source is quite accurate; some corrections in both music and text, part of which are surely in Franchinus Gaffurius’s hand, reveal that the cycle was somehow revised at a certain point, even if a few uncorrected mistakes still remain. Scribe A has also copied the smaller grouping of motets in Librone 2, which was plausibly completed in 1492.[22] Strangely enough, although the copyist is the same, the versions of these motets in Libroni 1 and 2 differ slightly. Leaving aside various inconsistencies in spelling and a few graphical variants (as ligatures or accidentals written down in one Librone and implied in the other), the most remarkable differences concern the values of notes in unisons, which are separate in Librone 1 and conflated in a single note with the corresponding total length (usually a dotted semibreve) in Librone 2. Although this change does not impair the contrapuntal structure of the piece, it is significant because it affects the text underlay. Most likely all these differences are due to Scribe A’s distraction or initiative: in fact, a few major mistakes shared by both versions[23] seem to rule out the existence of two distinct ancestors for these pieces. For the same reasons – i.e. insignificant variants and shared errors – a common ancestor is also plausible for motets copied both in Librone 1 by Scribe A and in Librone [4] by Scribe J.[24] However, in this latter case, a few noticeable differences in text underlay, and mainly that corresponding to measures 1–6 of motet 4, with a long melisma on ‘O’ in Librone 1 and ‘O pulcherrima’ in Librone [4], rather than being simply ascribed to Scribe J’s initiative, may point to a different way of performing the pieces. This is even more likely as Libroni 1 and [4] were compiled at a distance of nearly two decades. Probably the time elapsed also accounts for the addition of a ‘3’ in the Bassus part of Librone [4], measure 3. Thanks to the color, this passage is self-explanatory without any addition, as it is in Librone 1, and thus the ‘3’ of Librone [4] is redundant; however, by inserting it, Scribe J reveals that at that time this kind of notation might have raised doubts about its meaning.[25]

The case of motet 1 is unique, since this composition is the only one in the whole Libroni complex that was copied three times, in Libroni 1, 2, and [4]. As previously observed for the other motets whose double versions were all entered by Scribe A, the two versions of Quam pulchra es in Libroni 1 and 2 probably stem from a common ancestor. The version in Librone [4], instead, is nearly identical down to the tiniest detail to that in Librone 2; therefore it seems clear that Scribe J simply copied it from that manuscript.

Compared to previous editions,[26] the present one takes advantage of the complete digitization of the four Libroni. The quality of the images, made available in high resolution on the portal, has enriched this new edition in two major ways: on the one hand, it has allowed a more accurate reading of the concordances in Librone [4], which, so far, had only been accessible through a poorly legible facsimile published in 1968;[27] on the other hand, thanks to the colour images of the other three Libroni,[28] it has become possible to easily detect corrections and distinct layers of interventions, details that have never been taken into account before.

Basel, September 2020

[1] For a complete overview of the motetti missales and a comprehensive bibliography, see Daniele V. 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. See also the MCE General introduction on GCO (Gaffurius Codices Online, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis,

[2] The colophon of the volume bears the date 23 June 1490; however, a few compositions, especially those copied on the blank folios of two consecutive gatherings, were surely added later. See Daniele V. Filippi, ‘The Making and the Dating of the Gaffurius Codices: Archival Evidence and Research Perspectives’, in Reopening Gaffurius’s Libroni, ed. Agnese Pavanello (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana (LIM), forthcoming) and Martina Pantarotto, ‘Scripsi et notavi: Scribes, Notators, and Calligraphers in the Workshop of the Gaffurius Codices’, in the same volume.

[3] For the date of composition of this cycle, see Gerhard Croll, ‘Das Motettenwerk Gaspars van Weerbeke’ (Ph.D. diss., Georg-August Universität, 1954), 240, and Gaspar van Weerbeke, Collected Works: The Motet Cycles, ed. Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 106/3 ([s.l.]: American Institute of Musicology; Hänssler-Verlag, 1998), p. xi. Weerbeke resided twice in Milan: first from 1471–2 to 1481, then – after joining the papal chapel for a few years – from 1489 to 1495. For more detailed biographical information, see Gerhard Croll and Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl, ‘Weerbeke [Werbeke, Werbeck], Gaspar [Jaspar, Gaspart] van’, in Grove Music Online, version updated 10 July 2012, accessed 5 Aug. 2020, and Paul A. Merkley, ‘Weerbeke in Milan: Court and Colleagues’, in Gaspar van Weerbeke: New Perspectives on His Life and Music, ed. Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl and Paul Kolb, Epitome musical (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), 47–58.

[4] This date was written in the colophon, now lost; see Davide Stefani, ‘Le vite di Gaffurio’, in Ritratto di Gaffurio, ed. Davide Daolmi, Studi e saggi 3 (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2017), 27–48, at 38, and Filippi, ‘The Making and the Dating of the Gaffurius Codices’.

[5] Agnese Pavanello, ‘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, at 355–56. Most of the texts of this cycle are centonate and, as far as is known, do not agree with any existing version; for details concerning the texts of the individual motets and their sources, see MCD (Motet Cycle Database, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, C13a, and Nolan Ira Gasser, ‘The Marian Motet Cycles of the Gaffurius Codices: A Musical and Liturgico-Devotional Study’ (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 2001), 286–93.

[6] Gasser, ‘The Marian Motet Cycles’, 293, suggests that, even if this cycle seems to be particularly linked to the feast of Mary’s Conception, it ‘should not be considered exclusively connected to it’, for Weerbeke would have started the cycle with a text linked specifically to this feast. According to Pavanello, ‘Praying to Mary’, 370–71, however, this cycle could have been conceived precisely for this feast, and, if this were the case, the date of its composition should have been close to 1477.

[7] Pavanello, ‘Praying to Mary’, 354–56. The cycle Ave mundi domina was entered on ff. 126v–134r [I.90]–[I.97] (the numbers between square brackets refer to the GCO-Catalogue). See also MCD C12a.

[8] Among the other five missales cycles contained in the Libroni, only Compère’s Hodie nobis de virgine and [Missa Galeazescha] and the anonymous Ave domine Iesu Christe (probably also composed by him; see the introduction to MCE 2) have the rubrics. Concerning the meaning of loco rubrics, 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, no. 1 (2017), 11–32, at 23–24, and Filippi, ‘Breve guida ai motetti missales’, 148–51.

[9] See Knud Jeppesen, ‘Die 3 Gafurius-Kodizes der Fabbrica del Duomo, Milano’, Acta Musicologica, 3, no. 1 (1931), 14–28, at 26–27, and Gasser, ‘The Marian Motet Cycles’, 285–86. The eight-motet structure is claimed, among others, by Croll, ‘Das Motettenwerk Gaspars van Weerbeke’, 181; Thomas L. Noblitt, ‘The Ambrosian “Motetti Missales” Repertory’, Musica Disciplina, 22 (1968), 77–103, at 81; Pavanello, ‘Praying to Mary’, 378–80. See also the critical edition of the cycle in Weerbeke, Collected Works: The Motet Cycles, 20–37. The indication ‘nell'indice: Messa di Gaspar sostituita da nove mottetti’, found in Gaspar van Weerbeke, Messe e Mottetti, ed. Giampiero Tintori, Archivium Musices Metropolitanum Mediolanense 11 (Milan: Veneranda Fabrica del Duomo di Milano, 1963), p. iii, and Howard Mayer Brown (ed.), Milan, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Sezione musicale, Librone 1 (olim 2269), Renaissance Music in Facsimile 12a (New York and London: Garland, 1987), p. xii (without ‘nell’indice’ and with ‘Gaspar’ reduced to ‘G[aspar van Weerbeke]’), both based on Claudio Sartori, Le musiche della Cappella del Duomo di Milano: Catalogo delle musiche dell’Archivio (Milano: Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, 1957), 46, is completely wrong and misleading. In fact not only, contrary to what is stated, this sentence does not appear at all in the index of Librone 1, but also ‘Iam enim hiems’ is not listed as a separate (ninth) motet, and has therefore to be considered as the secunda pars of the eighth motet Tota pulchra es. Similarly, the three motets of this cycle copied in Librone 2 do not constitute a missales cycle together with the following Ave regina caelorum ave and Quem terra pontus aethera (from Weerbeke’s cycle Ave mundi domina), since these five compositions are not defined ‘Messa di Gaspar sostituita da cinque mottetti’ in the index of Librone 2, as wrongly maintained in Weerbeke, Messe e Mottetti, p. iii (again from Sartori, Le musiche della Cappella del Duomo, 48).

[10] On the Elevation complex, see Agnese Pavanello, ‘The Elevation as Liturgical Climax in Gesture and Sound: Milanese Elevation Motets in Context’, Journal of the Alamire Foundation, 9, no. 1 (2017), 33–59, and Filippi, ‘Breve guida ai motetti missales’, 156–57.

[11] Moreover, the total length of a single motet in three parts would be disproportionate in relation to the others.

[12] According to Croll, ‘Das Motettenwerk Gaspars van Weerbeke’, 194, this motet should have been ad Elevationem. However, the text de corpore Christi and the chords with fermata typical of the Elevation style are used in the second part of the previous motet, and not in this one. Noblitt, ‘The Ambrosian “Motetti Missales” Repertory’, 81, correctly indicates ‘post Elevationem’, thereafter retained in the following literature.

[13]Ave regina caelorum mater and O Maria clausus hortus are also transmitted together in Librone 2, ff. 49v–51r [II.14]–[II.15], where they are connected through both ‘verte folium’ rubrics and custodes.

[14] For detailed analysis of this cycle, see Croll, ‘Das Motettenwerk Gaspars van Weerbeke’, 188–89, 193–97, 225–38, and Gasser, ‘The Marian Motet Cycles’, 285–303. For specific information about single motets, see Pavanello, ‘Praying to Mary’. Concerning Weerbeke’s method of conferring unity on a motet cycle, see also 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.

[15] See Pavanello, ‘Praying to Mary’, 366.

[16] Gasser, ‘The Marian Motet Cycles’, 293; Gasser does not cast doubt on the structure of the cycle, adding further (286) that the two parts of Tota pulchra es create ‘a greater weight of closure to the entire cycle’.

[17] See Pavanello, ‘Praying to Mary’, 357. This melody sounds like a paraphrase of the Kyrie IX de beata Virgine, as already observed by Croll, ‘Das Motettenwerk Gaspars van Weerbeke’, 206.

[18] See n. 10 above.

[19] For the designation of the copyists and the extent of their work, see GCO-Inventory and Pantarotto, ‘Scripsi et notavi’.

[20] See n. 7 above.

[21] Hereafter I use the term ‘version’ to distinguish the different readings of a motet according to the sources in which it was copied; these variant readings are the result of the process of transmission of the piece and do not reflect any involvement of its author. The short subset of the [Missa] Galeazescha was entered on ff. 143v–149r [I.106]–[I.108] (MCD C14a), while the complete eight-motet cycle is in Librone 3, ff. 125v–135r [III.19]–[III.26] (MCD C14b).

[22] According to recent research, Librone 2 is to be dated to 1492; see Filippi, ‘The Making and the Dating of the Gaffurius Codices’. Concerning the peculiarities of the motets for the Elevation, see Pavanello, ‘The Elevation as Liturgical Climax’.

[23] See the Critical apparatus. Concerning internal concordances and Scribe A, see also Cristina Cassia, ‘Gaffurius at the Mirror: The Internal Concordances of the Libroni’, in Reopening Gaffurius’s Libroni, ed. Agnese Pavanello (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana (LIM), forthcoming).

[24] The comparison with the versions of Librone [4] is limited to the extant fragments of the volume, which was severely damaged by the fire during the international exposition held in Milan in 1906. For further details on its recovery and on its actual state, see Maddalena Peschiera, ‘Un “pratico” in soccorso della Veneranda Fabbrica: Achille Ratti e il restauro dei documenti bruciati nell’Esposizione internazionale del 1906’, ed. Franco Cajani, I quaderni della Brianza, 40, no. 183: Pio XI e il suo tempo: atti del convegno, Desio, 6 febbraio 2016 (2017), 275–98.

[25] For similar additions of ‘3’, written by scribes in passages which, to their eyes, could be tricky, see Richard Sherr, ‘Thoughts on Some of the Masses in Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Cappella Sistina 14 and Its Concordant Sources (or, Things Bonnie Won’t Let Me Publish)’, in Uno Gentile et Subtile Ingenio: Studies in Renaissance Music in Honour of Bonnie J. Blackburn, ed. Jennifer Bloxam, Gioia Filocamo, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Epitome musical (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 319–33, at 329–30.

[26] See Weerbeke, Messe e Mottetti, pp. vi–xi (table with variants of the motet Quam pulchra in Libroni 1 and 2, and a few general observations on the other motets of the cycle) and 44–75 (edition); Weerbeke, Collected Works: The Motet Cycles, pp. lix–lxxvi (critical commentary) and 20–37 (edition).

[27] Angelo Ciceri and Luciano Migliavacca (eds.), Liber capelle ecclesie maioris: Quarto codice di Gaffurio, Archivium Musices Metropolitanum Mediolanense 16 (Milan: Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, 1968).

[28] Black and white facsimiles of the first three Libroni have already been available for a couple of decades. See Brown, Librone 1; Howard Mayer Brown (ed.), Milan, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Sezione musicale, Librone 2 (olim 2268), Renaissance Music in Facsimile 12b (New York and London: Garland, 1987); Howard Mayer Brown (ed.), Milan, Archivio della Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Sezione musicale, Librone 3 (olim 2267), Renaissance Music in Facsimile 12c (New York and London: Garland, 1987).

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MCE 06-01 Quam pulchra es
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MCE 06-02 Alma redemptoris mater
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MCE 06-03 Salve virgo salutata
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MCE 06-04 O pulcherrima mulierum
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MCE 06-05 Ave regina caelorum mater : Ave corpus domini
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MCE 06-06 O Maria clausus hortus
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MCE 06-07 Mater patris filia
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MCE 06-08 Tota pulchra es : Iam enim hiems
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