MIMESIS Munich Doctoral Program for Literature and the Arts

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Antonio Chemotti

Dr. des. Antonio Chemotti

Former Doctoral Student

Thesis Title

Polyphonic music pro mortuis in Italy 1550-1650: Mimesis in Sacred Music

(completed in 2017)


The research focuses on vocal music related to the Officium defunctorum and the burial service in Italy (1550-1650). The idea that these rituals were mainly the realm of plainchant is generally accepted, with the consequence that modern scholars interested in polyphony have devoted much more attention to the Requiem mass. Nevertheless, many polyphonic compositions survive, some of which had a strictly liturgical role. Others display characteristics which make them feasible for performance in one of the many paraliturgical occasions linked to the rite.
The contexts of production and performance of these compositions will be investigated through stylistic analysis, as well as, historical and archival research (combining sources like liturgical and chant books, caeremonialia, festival books, last wills etc.). This will allow me to gain a proper understanding of the role of plainchant and of polyphonic music during funeral ceremonies, avoiding analysis of these compositions as if they were just 'organised sound', but placing them into their historical and liturgical context.
At the same time, I will be able to show how the semantics of this repertoire heavily rely on strategies which can be beneficially described as mimetic. A case study focussing on the repertoire of Italian settings of the responsory Libera me Domine de morte aeterna will highlight the web of relationships which involve every level of the text, ranging from liturgical formularies to musical structures, trying to reconstruct the deep meaning of this music. This approach should offer not just a fresh look on issues of intertextuality in vocal sacred music, but it will also allow a greater understanding of whether these compositional strategies are particular to composing pro fidelibus defunctis or not.