A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Franco, Magister

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FRANCO, Magister (Franco de Colonia; Franco Leodiensis; Franco Parisiensis; Franco of Cologne; Franco of Liège; Franco of Paris.)

Though the claim of Magister Franco to the honour of having written the earliest known dissertation upon Measured Music has been very generally admitted, the confusion which prevails with regard to his personal identity has been increased rather than diminished by the endeavours of successive historians to set the question at rest. If we are to accept the contradictory theories that have been handed down to us, since the times of Burney and Hawkins, we shall find it impossible to avoid the conclusion; either, that three distinct Francos flourished at different epochs, in Cologne, Liége, and Paris; or, that a certain Magister Franco held scholastic appointments in those three cities, at impossibly distant dates.

The chief source of uncertainty is, the very grave doubt as to whether the writer of the famous musical tracts is, or is not, identical with a certain philosopher, named Franco, who was equally celebrated, in the 11th century, for his knowledge of Mathematics, Alchemy, Judicial Astrology, and Magic.

Sigebertus Gemblacensis,[1] who died in 1113, tells us that this learned writer dedicated a tract, 'De Quadrature Circuli,' to Herimanus, Archbishop of Cologne; and, as this Prelate died in February, 1055, the work must have been completed before that date. Trithemius[2] attributes this same tract, 'De Quadratura Circuli,' together with another, 'De Computo Ecclesiastico, et alia plura,[3] to Franco, Scholasticus Leodiensis Ecclesiae; who, he says, flourished under the Emperor, Henry III, about the year 1060, though there is evidence, of another kind, to prove that Franco continued in office at Liege, at least until the year of 1083.

The authors of the 'Histoire Littéraire de la France'[4] assure us that this Scholastic of Liége was the author of the tract 'De Musica Mensurabili.'

But, in direct opposition to this, Kiesewetter[5] brings forward evidence enough to satisfy himself, at least, that the tracts on Measured Music were neither written by the Alchemist and Magician of Cologne, nor, by the Scholastic of Liege, but, by some other Franco, who flourished not less than 130 or 150 years later—i.e. towards the close of the 12th century. This opinion—in which it is only fair to say that he is followed by De Coussemaker, Von Winterfeld, and Perne—rests, however, upon no stronger ground than the supposition that the period interposed between the writings of Guido d'Arezzo and Franco was insufficient for the development of the improved system described by the last-named master. Fétis, reasonably enough, protests against a conclusion unsupported by any sort of historical, or even traditional evidence. Kiesewetter first stated his views in the Leipziger allgem. mus. Zeitung, for 1828, Nos. 48, 49, 50. Fétis, in his Dictionary, opposed the new theory. Kiesewetter replied to the objections of Fétis, in Leipziger allgem. mus. Zeitung, for 1838, Nos. 24, 25. And, in the meantime, De Coussemaker, in his Histoire de l'Harmonie au moyen âge (pp. 144–147), suggests, somewhat confidently, that the real author of the disputed tracts was another Franco, who is known to have flourished at Dortmund, in Westphalia, about the year 1190. But, since not a particle of trustworthy evidence has ever been adduced in favour of these fanciful theories, we shall do well, until more light can be thrown upon the subject, to believe, with Fétis, and our own Burney and Hawkins, that the tracts attributed to Franco were really written by the philosopher of Cologne, about the year 1060.

The musical tracts attributed to Franco are—

  1. Ars Magistri Franconis de Musica Mensurabili.
  2. Magistri Franconis Musica.
  3. Compendium de Discantu, tribus capitibus.

The earliest known copy of the first of these MSS. is said to be preserved at Lire, in Normandy. The second tract—in the Bodleian Library, at Oxford[6]—is an exact transcript of the first, under a different title; though the authors of the 'Hist. Litt. de la France' do not appear to have been aware of the fact. The third tract—also in the Bodleian Library[7]—contains the best account of Discant, immediately after the time of Guido, that we possess. Copies of the Ars Cantus mensurabilis are also to be found in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, in the Paris Library, and in the British Museum (No. 8866, a fine MS. of the 15th century, unknown to Burney.) Fétis discovered a copy of the Compendium de Discantu in the Paris Library; and another MS. copy was presented to the Vatican Library by Queen Christina of Sweden. The Compendium begins with the words, 'Ego Franco de Colonia,' the genuineness of which Kiesewetter disputes.

Franco's claim to the honour of having invented the Time-Table rests, partly, on the contents of the treatise 'De Musica Mensurabili,' and, partly, on the authority of MSS. of later date than his own.

Marchetto di Padova, in his 'Pomerium de Musica Mensurata,' written about 1283, mentions his as the inventor of the first four musical characters—i.e. the Long, the Double-Long, the Breve, and the Semibreve. Joannes de Muris, in a MS. written about 1330, and bequeathed by Christina, Queen of Sweden, to the Vatican Library[8], speaks of 'Magister Franco, qui invenit in Cantu Mensuram figurarum,' and his testimony is particularly valuable, since he himself was, for a long time, very generally regarded as the inventor of Measured Music. Franchinus Gafurius[9] twice mentions Franco as the inventor of the Time-Table. Morley[10] says, 'This Francho is the most antient of al those whose works of practical Musicke haue come to my handes'; after which, he proceeds to describe Franco's treatment of the Long, and the Breve. And Ravenscroft[11] also tells us that Franchinus (sic) de Colonia was the inventor of the 'four first simple notes of Mensurable Musicke.'

On the other hand, it is certain that Franco cannot lay claim to all the inventions mentioned in his 'Ars Cantus Mensurabilis,' since he himself says, in that very tract, 'Proponimus igitur ipsam Mensurabilem Musicam sub compendio declarare, benedictaque aliorum non recusabimus interponere, errores quoque destruere et fugare, et si quid novi a nobis inventum fuerit, bonis rationibus sustinere et probare.'

The four primary characters are described in the Second Chapter of the MS., where they are figured thus—

The Perfect Long, he tells us, is equal to three Breves, 'quia a summa Trinitate, quæ vera est et pura perfectio, nomen sumpsit.' The Imperfect Long, represented by the same figure, is equal to two Breves only. The Breve was also Perfect, or Imperfect, under the same conditions. Two consecutive Longs, or Breves, were always Perfect; but, when a longer note was preceded or followed by a shorter one, the longer note was Imperfect, the time of the shorter one being needed to complete its Perfection. Nevertheless, an Imperfect Long, or Breve, could be rendered Perfect, by means of the sign called a Tractulus, the effect of which was precisely similar to that of the comparatively modern Point of Augmentation. A similar effect appears to have been produced by the Plica, added to the right side of the Long, or the left side of the Breve: but, Franco's remarks upon this sign are very obscure.

Longs, Breves, and Semibreves, were grouped together in certain combinations called Moods,[12] of which Franco admits five only, though he says that other Musicians used six, or even seven—a clear sign that he did not invent them. Of these Moods, the First consisted of Longs only; the Second, of a Breve followed by a Long; the Third, of a Long and two Breves; the Fourth, of two Breves and a Long; and the Fifth, of a Breve and a Semibreve. From which it follows, that the First Mood expressed the rhythm of the Spondee, or Molossus; the Second, that of the Iambus; the Third, that of the Dactyl; the Fourth, that of the Anapæst; and the Fifth, that of the Trochee; the entire series performing ihe functions allotted to the Mood, Time, and Prolation, of a later period.[13]

The Third Chapter of the MS. treats of Ligatures;[14] and the Fourth Chapter, of Rests, of which he gives some complicated examples, all reducible, however, to the simple form shown in our example in vol. ii. p. 471 b. In connecion with these, Franco also describes the Finis Punctorum, drawn across all the lines, and serving to divide the phrases of a Melody, precisely after the manner of the Bar, or Double-Bar, of modern Music, of which it is the evidenit homologue.

It is interesting to observe—though we believe no one has hitherto called attention to the fact—that the system of Notation here described is precisely that employed in the Reading Rota, 'Sumer is icumen in,' in which the Melody, in Mode XIII. transposed, is phrased in Franco's Fifth Mood, each Breve being Perfect when followed by another Breve, and Imperfect when followed by a Semibreve; and each phrase of the Melody being separated from that which follows it by a Finis Punctorum. Moreover, the Reading Rota is written upon a Stave precisely similar in principle to that employed by Franco, who always uses the exact number of lines and spaces needed to include the entire range of his vocal parts.[15]

The 'Compendium de Discantu,' second only in interest to the 'Ars Cantus Mensurabilis,' describes a form of Discant immeasurably superior to the Diaphonia taught, less than half a century earlier, by Guido d'Arezzo, in his Micrologus.[16] Unhappily, in the Oxford MS.—first described by Burney—the examples are lamentably incomplete; the Staves, in many cases, being duly prepared for their reception, while the notes themselves are wanting. Dr. Burney, after long and patient study of the text, was able to restore the following passage, in a form which he believed to be 'nearly' complete.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \clef bass \cadenzaOn \relative e' << { e1 e2 f \bar "|" d1 e \bar "|" e d2 c^"*" d c4 b c1^"*" \bar "|" e^"*" g2 g e1 f2 e4 d^"*" c2^"*" b c1 \bar "||" } \\ { a1_\markup { \smaller "Virgo Dei" } g2 f g1 c a b2 c g a4 g c,1_"*" e_"*" _\markup { \smaller Maria } c2 g' a1 f2 g_"*" c,_"*" d_\markup { \smaller Amoria. } c1 } >> }
Making every allowance for the jaunty modern air communicated to this little composition by Dr. Burney's employment of ordinary 18th century Notation, it must be admitted, that, with the sole exception of the Unison on the eighth note, and the Hidden Octaves between the last Crotchet in the Tenor and the last note but two in the Bass, as indicated by the asterisks, the rules of Strict Counterpoint, as practised in the 16th century, are observed in the disposition of every note, even to the formation of the Clausula vera at the end. The apparently gross Consecutive Octaves between the two last phrases offer no exception to the rule; since the interposition of the Finis Punctorum between them invests the first note of the concluding phrase with the importance of a new beginning. If, therefore, the learned historian's penetration should ever be justified by the discovery of a more perfect copy of the MS., we shall be furnished with a clear proof that Magister Franco was on the high road towards the discovery of Strict Counterpoint, in its present form. It is, however, only fair to say that Kiesewetter disputes both the correctness of Burney's example, and the existence of the rules upon which he bases it.

[ W. S. R. ]

  1. Chron. ad ann. 1047.
  2. De Script. Eccles. (Lut. Par. 1512.)
  3. Among these was one 'De Motu perpetuo.'
  4. L'Hist. Litt. de la France. Tom. viii. p.122. (Paris, 1747.)
  5. Geschicte der Europäisch-Abendländischen Musik. (Leipzig, 1846.)
  6. No. 842. f. 49.
  7. No. 2575, 60. 4.
  8. Compendium Joannis de Muribus; in Bibl. Vat. No. 1146.
  9. Practica Musicæ, Lib. ii. cap. 5.
  10. Plaine and Easie Introd., in the Annotations at the end of the volumen.
  11. Briefe Discourse of the true Use of charactering the Degrees in Mensurable Musicke, p. 1. (London, 1614.)
  12. We have here followed, for the sake of clearness, the plan adopted by our early English writers, of translating the word Modus as Mood, when it relates to rhythm, and Mode when it refers to the Ecclesiastical Scales.
  13. See Mode, Prolation, and Time, in vols. ii, iii, and iv.
  14. See Ligature, vol. ii.
  15. See the facsimile in vol. iii. p.269.
  16. See Guido d'Arezzo, App. vol. iv. p.659.