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Musical Games, Puzzles, and Riddles of the Renaissance

Playing cards from the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods recall a courtly society that prized games, puzzles, and riddles. Composers found ways to participate in this culture by writing music that manipulated the rules of notation, sometimes taking a cue from verbal puns. Pomerium presents a program of works from the Renaissance that exhibit compositional gamesmanship in their structure or notated appearance. Works include Baude Cordier’s picture songs from about 1410, Antoine Busnoys’s Pythagorean motet of 1464 honoring Ockeghem and the slightly later bell motet honoring St. Anthony, Henricus Isaac’s “Silver and Gold” Mass (ca. 1500), and Josquin Desprez’s Mass of the Dice from the 1480s. The program concludes with the six-voice Agnus Dei from Josquin’s Missa Malheur me bat of around 1505, a tour de force of musical canons.

Above: Pomerium photo courtesy of the artist

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