Nalysis of Ave Maria mater Dei by William Cornysh (c.1468-1523).

Tell a story about the piece of music and four part antiphon, Ave Maria mater Dei by William Cornysh (c.1468-1523). When, for whom and for what reasons was it written; how the music works; the meanings of the text, let the reader feel that s/he has fully encountered the music face to face.
Get to know the sound of your chosen piece:

Listen to the music and follow it in facsimile. You should be able to recognise this piece if a snatch of it were to be played.

Get to know the look of your chosen piece(s):

Having used the facsimile, get to know the look and feel of the piece:
- its layout of the piece on each opening of the manuscript (file attached)
- the location of each voice-part relative to the others
- illuminated capitals: what type; what do they depict?
- superscriptions and other marginalia (like composer attributions)
- notation: coloration, ligatures, red/black text; any notational quirks or peculiarities (are there any uncorrected copying errors, for instance?)
- was the piece listed in each of the two inventories, on ff. 1r and 126v?

Research the history and context of your chosen piece(s)

Attribution: who wrote it?
- how much do we know about the composer?
- did he work at more than one place?
- look for clues in his career as to why he might have written the piece.

Provenance: where was it written?
- this is sometimes an important clue: do we know of any other surviving polyphony that was written at this place?
- Does any corroborative evidence survive, by way of archival records or other data, as to the kind of place, physically or  broadly speaking  metaphysically?
- How might it have been transmitted to Eton by 1500?

For what sort/size of performing group was the piece written?
- clues to this can often deduced from answers to the above questions: a motet written, say, at St George s, Windsor, was written for a larger group of performers than a comparable piece written at Fotheringhay or Tattershall Colleges
- keep a mental note of what you find out here, as it can be used as critical evidence in terms of performance practice.

When was the piece written?

For what purpose was the piece composed?
- This is difficult to answer at an early stage, although answers sometimes reveal themselves further down the investigative line.
- The ritual function of the piece is usually self-evident: A Magnificat was written for performance at the evening office of Vespers, and a Salve regina as part of the evening memorial to the Virgin Mary
- But the occasion is more subtle.
- Look for clues in:
o Text (this might be generic or topical)
o Extrinsic references: sometimes you find a named piece mentioned in the archival records of a specific organisation. On these grounds, for instance, we can deduce quite a lot of information about motets written by Robert Fayrfax.


Research the verbal text of your chosen piece

The usefulness of this exercise will vary according to the particular text. Some texts have a long history and are used very commonly (Salve regina, Gaude flore virginali, Stabat mater, for instance): you can glean a lot about these texts from Books of Hours and from scholarly work done so far on Marian devotion in the later middle ages, for instance by Nigel Morgan and Peter Lefferts..

What is the pre-history of the piece? Read around the topic a little: is there a long tradition of setting this particular text to polyphony? Or is it a newly-written text?


Get to know the music again, and start interrogating it systematically

Use the following headings as signposts for your investigation:
- scoring: overall compass, vocal textures and musical structure
o do changes in vocal scoring coincide with, or overlap with, divisions of the verbal text?
o How varied are combinations of different voices?
- notation: mensuration; rhythm, coloration, ligatures
-  finger-print clues: does this piece have any characteristics which distinguish it from others?
o Concordance/discordance
o Cadences:
 How are they ornamented?
 Are cadences avoided or emphasised?
 Are they modally consistent or varied?
o Phrase-structures: arched? Segmented? Short? Long?
o Diadic counterpoint: do two voices clearly  drive the contrapuntal texture at any given point? Or throughout? Or not at all? (take care: look for clear cadential movement, plus conjunct, or near-conjunct 6ths)
On William Cornysh in general, David Skinner s Musical Times article:  William Cornysh: clerk or courtier? and Roger Bowerss chapter on the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey also contains information on Cornysh (find files attached). Also for the manuscript see Frank Harrisons transcription in the Eton Choirbook, 2nd ed, vol.111 (MS.178, Musica Brittanica).

Also for help (see below):

William Cornysh, Gentleman of the Tudor court, gave entertainments for exalted ears. He wrote secular songs and performed plays for both Henry VII and Henry VIII of England, as well as the royal court of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. But he also taught choirboys and sang the music of the Church in the Royal Chapel. His masses and many motets travelled widely throughout England, and several of them survive in a huge manuscript choirbook compiled between 1490 and 1502 for use in the chapel of Eton College. This volume collected 93 pieces of music, especially ones devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, from all around the country. Among William Cornyshs eight contributions to the Eton Choirbook is a clear and sonorous setting of the text Ave Maria, mater Dei, regina coeli domina.”

Cornyshs Ave Maria mater Dei shares a number of characteristics common to much of the Eton Choirbook repertory and thus common to much English sacred music at the turn of the century. The text he chose is unabashedly Marian, though without a specific known liturgical assignment. After calling Mary the queen mother of God, lady of the heavens, and empress of the world below, it asks her to guide all Christian people to serve her will. As is the case with many other Eton Choirbook pieces, Ave Maria mater Dei clearly breaks the piece into sections by shifting vocal textures: a declamatory opening invocation in all four voices followed by three-voiced and two-voiced music before returning to the complete texture, for instance. Also common to English music of the time is Cornyshs near-complete avoidance of imitation; less commonly, he eschews any structural cantus firmus. He drives the musical progress instead by twisting and florid melodic lines, and by often complex rhythmic patterns. Harmonically, the composer highlights full triadic sonorities and exploits harmonic changes between the notes B and B flat, C and C sharp. He also carefully chooses his textural breaks, using all four voices only for the first cry Ave Maria, the medial prayer Miserere mei, and the final Amen.

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