6.18 Humanist Music Education

The first humanist music textbook aimed at Latin-school students was the Isagoge in Musicen of Heinrich Glareanus, whom we have already met as an author of a successful geography textbook (section 4.18 ). His half-Greek title means nothing more than Introduction to Music. The ten chapters were intended for students who needed to understand music and perform it in simple fashion but who were not usually expected to go on to use music professionally. (96)

The Isagoge was elegantly printed by Johann Froben at Basel in 1515. It is simple and sober except for a florid architectural title page with putti cut by Hans Holbein the Younger. Froben was the perfect humanist publisher, a friend of Erasmus and Alciati, with a workshop full of skilled craftsmen who could achieve any look while presenting the greatest literary achievements of humanism in handsome and readable form. His textbooks all followed a severely typographic style, but they also achieved a certain charm by the use of small, elegantly spaced italic types. The origin of this style was Italian --it derived from models provided by Aldo Manuzio-- but Froben applied it to a music book for the first time. It would take more than a decade for Italian printers to re-adapt the model for music books.

Music textbooks published in Italy (starting in the fifteen twenties) were altogether more pretentious. Those of Pietro Aaron (ca 1480-1545?), for example, tried to rival the monumentality of university-level law or medicine textbooks in folio or large quarto. The title pages presented the author seated formally in a university chair surrounded by students. In fact, Aaron never actually taught at a university. This portrait was a pose intended to lend authority to his claim that his books would divulge "the secret chambers of this [musical] art." (97) Despite such claims, which would seem to put his books into a popularizing category, Pietro Aaron's early works were intended for academics who were at the period debating the meaning of newly discovered classical texts on music. The pompous typographic dress, then, was fully appropriate to the pretensions of the author.

Toward the end of his life, Aaron composed a short, textbook-level treatment of music theory. It appeared (probably posthumously) with a title that also sounds like that of a ricettario: A Little Compendium of Many Doubts, Secrets, and Thoughts About Plainchant and Polyphonic Song. (98) This Compendiolo, however, did not for a minute look like a ricettario. It is only eighty pages long, but it appeared in a large quarto format furnished with an elegant title page that arranged roman capitals in three descending sizes followed by several lines in graceful italic types.

The printer was Giovanni Antonio Castiglione, well known at Milan for high-quality illustrated books and equally handsome volumes of music. The Compendiolo contains no musical examples. Instead, the book proceeds through seventy-five brief chapters, moving from rule to rule in solid blocks of text relieved only by section heads. Its layout is indistinguishable from that of a humanist textbook on a literary or historical subject.

Aaron's Compendiolo appeared in 1545, about the time of the author's death. This date was some years after comparable humanist-style music textbooks imported from the North came onto the Italian market, but contemporaneously with the first native Italian textbooks on the model of Northern European ones. It is possible that Aaron's printer and others at the period had in mind the model offered by Glareanus's Isagoge or more recent textbooks like the pretty pocket books published for the Lutheran Christian schools by Georg Rhaw. Certainly, graceful roman and italic types in spacious quarto or compact octavo formats would become the norm for singing textbooks in the second half of the century. (99)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (96) Judd 2000, 117-120.
  • (97) Aaron 1516, trans. and quoted by Blackburn 2001, 2-4.
  • (98) Aaron 1545.
  • (99) E.g. Aiguino 1581 and Tigrini 1588; the possible German models include Rhaw 1538.
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