Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Busse Berger, Anna Maria. “How Did Oswald von Wolkenstein Make His Contrafacta?” In The Cambridge History of Fifteenth-Century Music, edited by Anna Maria Busse Berger and Jesse Rodin, 164–82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Analysis of Oswald’s contrafacta reveals the function of memory in the reworking of polyphonic models. Most composers of polyphony in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were musically literate and familiar with mensural notation. Minnesinger Oswald von Wolkenstein (c. 1376-1445) was active among nobles who valued written works, but his training as a knight would not have prioritized literacy. Scholars have not previously focused on compositional process but rather the tradition of polyphonic transmission; examining Oswald’s output can shed light on his unique compositional and memory devices. His borrowed chansons would have been performed from memory rather than notation, and after he had learned a tenor line, Oswald would compose poetry and dictate to his scribe. The transformations between the models and his songs reveal a preference for strophic forms and memorable texts. Generally considered the inventor of the “Tenorlied ,” Oswald recast the tenor voice as the melody, leaving its original contour unaltered. He also consistently eliminated the countertenor and transformed melismatic lines into syllabic ones. Oswald’s compositions were notated either in a simple version of one or two voices, or in fuller polyphonic settings by a musically literate person with access to a copy of the model chanson. This investigation emphasises the great importance of memory and oral compositional practice in Oswald’s works. His process for creating contrafacted tenor lieder can be described as secondary orality, and illustrates how writing changed but did not replace oral tradition during the late Middle Ages.

Works: Oswald von Wolkenstein: O wuniklichter, wolgezierter mai (165), Wol auf, wir wollen slafen (165–67, 175), Stand auf, Maradel (168–69), Frölich, zärtlich, lieplich und klärlich, lustlich, stille, leise (169–77).

Sources: Binchois: Triste Plaisir et douloureuse joye (165); Anonymous: En tes douz flans (164–75).

Index Classifications: 1400s

Contributed by: Emily Baumgart, Chelsey Belt, Maria Fokina

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