Approaching early music texts
The problem of approaching and understanding early music texts has been proved extremely complicated; therefore, it has generated endless discussions and controversies, especially during the last decades. Two major camps, two highly opposed schools of thought, the so called “historicists” and “presentists”, have been laid out and maintained contrasting viewpoints: the latter tend to approach early music texts through an exclusively contemporary way of thinking, the former showing a kind of historic sensitivity.
By using the term “early music texts”, the present paper refers either to the pieces of early music, or to the, contemporary with them, theoretical treatises or textbooks of applied knowledge about music that aimed to record, codify, as well as, in a certain way, create and determine the codes, the conventions and the formal principles that shape musical practice of the late middle ages and the renaissance. The paper begins with a critical presentation of the two opposing schools of thought, the historicists and the presentists, and continues by showing the specific problems, the distortions, and the misunderstandings that arise when today scholars approach early music texts mainly aiming to confirm and support their own beliefs, viewpoints, and prejudices. In order to prove these cases, the paper focuses in examining the ways recent scholars understand late middle ages cadential formulas, namely the so called “double leading-tone cadence” and “Landini cadence”, using cadential passages from works of Guillaume de Machaut and Guillaume Dufay; finally, it presents and comments on analyses of early music by recent musicologists.