Ecco La Primavera: Music of the Italian Trecento



The Italian trecento, or what we in English call the fourteenth century, saw a great flourishing of art, music, and literature--and unimaginable catastrophe, as the Black Plague took half the population of Europe (some have estimated that 60 per cent of Florence’s population died).

This was also the century of the poet Petrarch, of the artist Giotto, of composers such as Francesco Landini, who survived the plague, and of the writer Boccaccio (1313-1375). Boccaccio’s most famous work, the Decameron, takes place during the plague, as three young men and seven young women take refuge in a villa outside the city in the hope that distance might help their chances of survival. Boccaccio paints an idyllic picture as the young people spend their time singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and telling stories, which he presents in the same kind of collective manner as one finds in the later Canterbury Tales. The readings that we present in the course of the program are from the Decameron.

The music of the Italian trecento featured melodies that were very florid, or in other words highly ornamented. Whether this reflected the character of an improvised regional vocal style, we do not know for sure, but it is interesting to note that certain kinds of the ornamental patterns occur in the works of multiple composers.  The notation was rhythmically complex and visually stunning, with various colors and diamond-shaped notes. The craft of joining music and poetry was very important, even in the popular ballata style, as well as the more virtuosic caccia and madrigal (not to be confused with the later fa-la-las, which are an entirely different thing).

There are many literary references to the use of instruments with singing and dancing, but very little purely instrumental music survived from the medieval period. We do have a stunning collection of Italian dances (istampitte) now housed in the British Library, but no specific instrumentation is indicated; two of these are included in our program. The organ Kyrie, which is sung alternatim style (alternating chant and instrumental sections), is from slightly later manuscript called the Faenza Codex, in which many keyboard settings of earlier trecento and ars nova vocal pieces can be found. 

In addition to Francesco Landini and the ever-prolific Anonymous, the other composer featured in our program is Johannes Ciconia. As you can guess from the “Johannes” part, Ciconia was not Italian; however, he spent his career in Italy, working at the cathedral in Padua. He is known especially for his skill at mixing the styles of the Italian trecento and the French ars nova, which presaged the style developments that would take place in the fifteenth century. An example is Doctorum Principem, a motet written for his patron Francesco Zabarella on the occasion of that esteemed gentleman’s appointment as cardinal in 1411.


Lamento di Tristano, La Rotta


Anonymous Italian istampitta

No avrà ma pieta


Francesco Landini (1325-1397)

Reading from Boccacio’s Decameron


La Manfredina & Rotta


Anonymous Italian istampitta

La bionda treçça


Francesco Landini

Reading from Boccacio’s Decameron


Lucente stella


Merce o morte Johannes Ciconia (1370-1412)

Per tropo fede




Kyrie cunctipotens genitor


Codex Faenza

Doctorum principem

Johannes Ciconia


O rosa bella

Johannes Ciconia

Reading from Boccacio’s Decameron


Ecco la primavera

Francesco Landini


The Texas Tech Collegium Musicum, Spring 2017


Rachel Anderson

Ashli Bradshaw

John Clements

Stephanie Council

Rob DeVet

Kathleen Felty

Cynthia Fletcher

Sila Gundiler

Roger Landes

Jared Lewis

Angela Mariani

Kevin McClarney

Robin Phillips

Chuck Pineda

Benjamin Robinette

Stephanie Streseman

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