A “virtuous” stacked canon

I’m pleased to report on a recent attempt to solve a canon found on the title page of a music anthology, Odae suavissimae (1601/1602?). Philipp Schöndorff (sometimes Schöndorpp) (1558–after 1617) dedicated this collection, including two eponymous odes, to his Liégeois compatriot Jacob Chimarrhaeus (1542–1614). Both men were at that date employed at the Imperial court of Rudolf II, Chimarrhaeus as almoner (previously as a singer and very good viol player) and Schöndorff as a chapel singer and trumpeter. Indeed, the Schöndorff had gained employment at Rudolf’s court following Chimarrhaeus’s recommendation in 1590, and the younger man’s esteem for his older co-worker may have stemmed in part from that gesture.

As so often happens among researchers these days on social media, musicologist Erika Supria Honisch reached out to colleagues for help to solve the canon that appears towards the top of the ornately engraved title page,  indicated by “CAN 4. VOC”, that is a canon in four parts (4 ex 1). [Edit: I’ve modified the previous sentence, so it does not sound like it is just Dr Honisch reaching out! JS] The canon sets the text “DOMAT OMNIA VIRTUS”, which seems to have been Chimarrhaeus’s motto: “Virtue conquers everything”. I’m grateful to Dr Honisch for the opportunity to exercise my mind on this canonic puzzle and sharing the following image.

Odae suavissimae detail
Detail of title page of Odae Suavissimae (1601/1602?) showing a canon on “Domat omnia virtus”.

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A “New” Concordance for “Pourtant si mon amy”

In an earlier post I identified a new concordance for Jean Mouton’s stacked canon En venant de Lyon, which lay basically in plain sight in the choir stalls of Lodi Cathedral. This serendipitous discovery came about from the fact that I have been cataloguing the canonic repertoire from the fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries, and had recalled the melodic profile of Mouton’s canon from other sources when viewing the Lodi panel.

Since around 1983, scholarship has known of a double canon Pourtant si mon amy n’a point de monnaye in the manuscript Uppsala, Universitetsbiblioteket, Vokalmusik I Handskrift 76a, fols. 41v-42r, ascribed to the early sixteenth-century composer Ninot le Petit (actually given as “Minot le petit” – a misreading by the scribe of their source?). Howard Mayer Brown (1983, 1987) and Louise Litterick (2013) both list this chanson as a unicum in the Uppsala chansonnier, that is a piece of notated music lacking any known concordances. Peter Woetmann Christoffersen, who is responsible for a wonderful project producing online editions (and critical commentary) of all the repertoire of the Loire Valley chansonniers and related sources (including the Uppsala chansonnier), also lists this canonic song as recently as an update from 27 February 2019 as a unicum. Christoffersen’s scholarly online edition can be viewed by following this link.

Excerpt Pourtant si mon amy in Uppsala 76a
Beginning of Pourtant si mon amy in Uppsala 76a, including the inscription to “Minot le petit” (Ninot Le Petit)

It turns out that Pourtant si mon amy is also found in an early French print. Brown could not have possibly known this fact since it occurs in the early collection of double canons Chansons et Motetz en Canon published by Pierre Attaingnant in Paris around 1528.  Although it was suspected since 1961 that such a book existed (though at that time only the last four folios were known), the music world had to wait until 1995 when Ludwig Finscher announced the discovery of a complete copy of the Chansons et Motetz en Canon. (The fact that an edition, whose print run must have run into hundreds of copies, only survives in one complete copy is not an unusual, even though the slim chances of survival of many printed music books from this period, is a slightly distressing thought for music historians. Kate van Orden has recently reflected on this survival rate for early music prints in her book Materialities.)

The reader can compare the online edition of Pourtant si mon amy from Attaingnant’s print (fols. 22v-23r) prepared by Frank Dobbins, Marie-Alexis Colin and Patrice Nicolas with Christoffersen’s (link given above). Note that Dobbins et al. do not reduce original note values, while Christoffersen halves them. The canonic song is transmitted anonymously in Attaingnant’s print. Retaining the attribution from the Uppsala chansonnier to Ninot Le Petit, who wrote another double canon, nonetheless seems plausible. There as several differences in the text of each source and minor differences in the music that will be object of a future study.


Brown, Howard Mayer. 1983. “A “New” Chansonnier of the Early Sixteenth Century in the University Library of Uppsala: A Preliminary Report.” Musica Disciplina no. 37:171-233.

Brown, Howard Mayer. 1987. Uppsala, Universitetsbiblioteket, Vokalmusik I Handskrift 76a, Renaissance Music in Facsimile. New York: Garland.

Finscher, Ludwig. 1995. “Attaingnantdrucke aus einer schesischen Adelsbibliothek.” In Festschrift Klaus Hortschansky zum 60 Geburtstag, edited by A. Beer and L. Lütteken, 33-42. Tutzing: Schneider.

Litterick, Louise. 2013. “Out of the Shadows: The Double Canon ‘En l’ombre d’ung buissonnet’.” In Instruments, Ensembles, and Repertory, 1300-1600, edited by Timothy J. McGee and Stewart Carter, 263-298. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

Recent articles on the analysis of contrapuntal repertoire

I am pleased to announce the recent publication of two articles that explore my interests in Renaissance and Baroque counterpoint. Both studies adopt analytical frameworks that are informed in part by pioneering work by other scholars over the last two decades but also by the generally neglected theories of the turn of the twentieth-century Russian composer, performer and pedagogue, Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev. In their different ways, my two publications bring into focus the need for identification and precise description of procedures for which modern scholarship often has no names but that seem to have been common currency in the past.

My article published in the December 2018 issue of Acta Musicologica focuses on compositions by Josquin (the canonic five part chansons Incessemant livré, Douleur me bat, Plusieurs regretz), Willaert (the motet Congratulamini mihi omnes) and Ockeghem (“Et resurrexit” from Missa Prolacionum). I offer ways to reconcile Taneyev’s theories with current directions in Renaissance scholarship so that we can arrive at deeper understandings of underlying contrapuntal mechanisms at work in this rich and beautiful repertoire.

My article in the December 2018 issue of Music Theory Online focuses on two triple fugues from Bach’s Art of Fugue. I argue how Contrapuncti 8 and 11 are interrelated not only through three shared fugue subjects but by specific contrapuntal techniques that serve to articulate sectional relationships both within and across these two wonderfully intricate compositions. I harness theories of formal structure in Bach’s music proposed by Joel Lester along with Taneyev’s ideas about contrapuntal interplay of melodic lines at different temporal offsets.

Collins, D. 2018. “Approaching Renaissance Music using Taneyev’s Theories of Movable Counterpoint.” Acta Musicologica 90/2: 178–201. Subscriber access here.

Collins, D. 2018 “Horizontal-Shifting Counterpoint and Parallel-Section Constructions in Contrapuncti 8 and 11 from J.S. Bach’s Art of Fugue.” Music Theory Online 24/4 Open access here.

My research was supported in part by a Discovery Project from the Australian Research Council.

Mouton sighted at Lodi

Jason Stoessel's Research Blog

I’m currently writing a chapter on the material representation of canons in early sixteenth-century northern Italian art. The number of canons in art  suggests that they played an important role in the musico-visual culture in courts and ecclesiastical institutions of this time. Some better known examples of canons in paintings include the Agnus Dei II of Josquin’s Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales in Dosso Dossi’s Allegory of Music and Ockeghem’s Prenez sur moy in one of the intarsia of Isabelle d’Este’s grotta at the Ducal Palace in Mantua.

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Pre-print preview of new article on the Tournai Canons

We are pleased to announce the release of the pre-print version of our article on the repertoire of canons in French music from the mid fourteenth century. The article, “New light on the mid fourteenth-century chace: canons hidden in the Tournai manuscript”,  features recently discovered canons (including lead author Stoessel’s transcriptions) from the same manuscript that contains the famous Tournai Mass. It discusses the place of the Tournai canons in the contemporary repertoire north of the Alps and sets out a new framework for analysing the composition of canons in the mid fourteenth century. The article is scheduled to appear in print early next year in Music Analysis. Under the terms of Wiley’s article sharing policy, the early access version of the article can be read online at the following link. Final publication details (issue, number, year of publication and pagination) will appear in the final version.

Research for this article was supported by Australian Government through the Australian Research Council (project number DP150102135).