Sound Patrons: The Medici and Florentine Musical Life

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Book Chapter

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The Medici: Citizens and Masters


The sixty year period of Medici de facto rule during the fifteenth century can be framed by two musical monuments that, appropriately, mark a beginning and an end. Guillaume Dufay's Nuper rosarum flores was commissioned and performed for the consecration of the Florentine cathedral in 1436, and , while this marked the end of a construction project that had begun in 1297, it was the beginning of Santa Maria del Fiore as a newly completed center of Florentine religious and civic life. At the far end of this period, when Lorenzo the Magnificent died in 1492, Heinrich Isaac and Poliziano collaborated in the creation of a sonic funeral monument, Quis dabit capiti meo aquam. The subsequent history of both works bears out their status as lasting memorials, for they remain among the best known and most frequently performed works of the Renaissance. It is perhaps significant that the first work bears no obvious traces of Medici references or emblems, while the second is entirely suffused with the image of Lorenzo, whom many had come to regard as a "Caesar" or "tyrannus." This would appear to define an evolution of Medici rule from patron to signore, a thesis that appears in the pioneering work of Frank D'Accone on the fifteenth-century history of the Florentine polyphonic chapel, the Cantori di San Giovanni. In fact, ruling families such as the Este, Sforza, and Aragonese house had pursued increasingly aggressive policies in the cultivation of polyphonic chapels, and, by the last qurarter of the century, these had become de regueur signs of courtly magnificence, cosmopolitanism and dynastic ambition. Florence was alone among non-courtly centers in Italy to pursue this goal, and the Medici--Lorenzo above all--had much to do with this, but their image as princely patrons of music aspiring to the courtly model of their neighbors has not been seriously revaluated, nor has Medici patronage of polyphonic music and musicians been placed in the larger context of Florentine musical life and literary traditions, about which we now know a good deal more.


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