In late fifteenth-century Europe, motets (Latin-texted polyphonic compositions with predominantly sacred-devotional subjects) began to be gathered in “cycles” and to be copied as such in manuscripts.

The present project, started at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, Switzerland) in September 2014, aims to catalogue and analyze this repertoire, exploring a broad range of issues, from the choice of texts and the compositional strategies to the performing contexts. In particular, we will try to understand whether the idea of “cycle” itself reflected peculiar liturgical circumstances or rested on different criteria.

The main focus of the project will fall on the motet cycles copied in manuscripts prepared in Milan under the direction of chapel master Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522). Known as “motetti missales”, these pieces (written by prominent composers such as Loyset Compère, Gaspar van Weerbeke and Gaffurius himself) were most likely associated with the liturgy of the Mass, and present a broad spectrum of intertextual phenomena, as suggested by the existing literature.

On the one hand, we will try to reconstruct in detail, for the first time, the liturgical and devotional contexts for the performance of these motets in Sforza Milan, and to study in depth the meaning and implications of textual and compositional choices.
On the other hand, the outcomes of the Milanese case study will predictably give us new and more refined tools for interpreting other cycles of different origin.

The results of the project will include, besides a comprehensive catalogue of the cycles, a mapping of the intertextual connections (in terms of texts, melodies, and contrapuntal structures), and abundant new data regarding the conception, performance, reception, and transmission of this fascinating repertoire.