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Bicinium (from Lat. bis: ‘twice’ and canere: ‘to sing’ or ‘to play’)locked

  • Bruce A. Bellingham

A term applied by many modern scholars to any two-part vocal or instrumental composition of the Renaissance or early Baroque. In its stricter, historically more correct definition, it was used in German-speaking areas of the period, mainly by Lutheran Latin schoolteachers, to designate pedagogical duos. Duos were written for this purpose in the 15th century (see Bernstein, 1980), but the Lutherans were the first to realize their value as aids for teaching and practising contrapuntal music in all clefs and church modes.

The term’s earliest known appearance is in Jan z Lublina’s Tabulatura (manuscript, 1540), which contains a definition, rules for composition and examples (see Chybiński). Georg Rhau first used it in a printed collection in his two volumes of bicinia published in 1545. These provided an international repertory of 194 duos (followed by a smaller assortment of three- to eight-part compositions) with secular French (borrowed mainly from Moderne’s, Gardano’s and perhaps also Attaingnant’s chanson publications of the 1530s; see Bernstein, 1980), and sacred and secular German and Latin texts, in canonic, freely imitative and homophonic textures. The Latin duos, most closely reflecting Luther’s desire to train children both in music and in the Bible, are two-part sections usually from masses (‘Pleni’, ‘Benedictus’, the second Agnus Dei), Magnificat settings and motets by the Franco-Flemish composers of Josquin Des Prez’s generation. In borrowing duos from this large repertory, Rhau sometimes retained the original texts, but more frequently replaced them with biblical moralizing contrafacta (in spite of his claim in the dedication to Secundus tomus biciniorum of 1545 that he had ‘attached to the individual songs the words that properly belong to them’, as he did not wish to ‘commit an injustice against artists of great worth and renown’). His procedure provided a model for other Lutheran editors, notably Rotenbucher who in his Diphona amoena (1549) borrowed 91 Latin duos from similar sources (including some from Eustachio Romano’s Musica of 1521) and added biblical texts to them.

Although not specifically recommending use of bicinia, contemporary Lutheran school ordinances frequently cited treatises with duo and trio examples. The early Lutheran theorists (including Rhau, Listenius and Lampadius) still followed the 15th-century tradition of Tinctoris, Gaffurius, Cochlaeus and Ornithoparcus in composing their own examples for illustrating rules of proportions. Artis canendi (1537) by Sebald Heyden marked a turning-point by providing for his schoolboys exercises ‘sought out with especial care from the best musicians … Josquin, Obrecht, Pierre de La Rue, Heinrich Isaac and the like’. Many of these ‘marvels of the musical art’ are duo- and trio-canons (or fugae), considered particularly good pedagogical material because they could be ‘correctly sung by boys of the same age among themselves’. Heyden’s method of progression from duos to trios to larger compositions may have been the model for Glarean (in his Dodecachordon) and definitely was for Wilfflingseder.

The most widely used textbook, the tiny Compendiolum musicae by Heinrich Faber (so popular that it was recommended by 49 school ordinances from 1559 to 1613 and was the basis of later revisions by Christoph Rid and Gumpelzhaimer, and the model for Colhart, Vulpius and Walliser), includes 12 duo and trio examples ‘extremely well suited to beginners’. Faber suggested that teachers supplement his own pieces with ‘many more examples, especially considering there are two-voice songs in print’ (perhaps referring to Rhau’s 1545 collections). In the 1560s Wolfgang Figulus and Ambrosius Wilfflingseder gathered their exercises in supplements to their books. In 1581 Friedrich Beurhaus designated his examples, many borrowed from Faber and Figulus as well as Rhau, as ‘bicinia’, ‘tricinia’ and ‘quadricinia’ in his supplement. By the 1590s, Lindner’s and Gumpelzhaimer’s large collections dwarfed the size of their brief handbooks of rules. Lindner’s title shows the changing emphasis in pedagogy: a collection of 80 bicinia (many by Lassus) ‘to which is added a handbook’. The Lutheran conservativeness continued well into the 17th century with bicinia collections and handbooks that maintained a duo style little changed from Josquin’s time.

Compared with the Lutheran bicinia, the Italian duo publications of the same period are progressive. Intended for a more exclusive clientèle, and particularly for private instruction of amateurs, most of the Italian collections include more contemporary music: chansons, madrigals and especially instrumental ricercares. The publications of Metallo, Lupacchino and Tasso, each with numerous editions, dominated the market.

The early wave of bicinium cultivation was not without influence on Catholic composers such as Castro and notably Lassus. The latter’s popular Novae aliquot contains 12 Latin pieces (whose style resembles that of the earlier Lutheran bicinia) and 12 textless ricercares (after the style of the contemporary Italian instrumental duos). A 1601 edition of his duos with a third part added, considered by Boetticher to be a ‘document of early monody’, illustrates a later manifestation of bicinium style, the concerto ecclesiastico in Italy and the geistliches Konzert in Germany (see Adrio). The amalgamation of various styles, including the bicinium and tricinium, in numerous early 17th-century publications such as Grimm’s Fest-Bicinia, nebst dem Generalbass (1636) and his Tyrocinia (1624), really tricinia with and without figured bass, is worthy of more research. By the late 17th century, a further alteration of the term occurred with the Lutheran Pezel’s Bicinia for Stadtpfeiffer; it continued to be used to designate duos for brass instruments by Mattheson (Der vollkommene Capellmeister, 1739), Altenburg (Versuch einer Anleitung, 1795) and Koch (Musikalisches Lexikon, 1802), the latter two including tricinia and quadricinia in a similar style. Numerous 20th-century composers, notably Kodály, have revived the term for compositions with a pedagogical purpose.

Sources before 1680

(selective list)

Music collections

This list includes the German collections using the term in title or dedication, and those Italian and French collections with a pedagogical purpose or those that are sources for German publications.

Nouelz nouvaulx (1512) [lost]

E. Romano: Musica (Rome, 1521¹), ed. in MRM, vi (1975)

A-Wn 18832, c1535

Quarante & quatre chanson a 2 (Paris, 1535; P. Attaingnant), lost, cited in Gesner: Pandectarum (Zürich, 1548)

Trente et une chansons (Paris, 1535; P. Attaingnant), lost, cited in Gesner; Le parangon … quart livre (Lyons, 153818; J. Moderne)

Canzoni francese, 2vv (Venice, 1539²¹; A. Gardano)

D-Mbs 260, ed. E. Evans and B. Bellingham, RRMR, xvi–xvii (1974)

J. Gero: Il primo libro de madrigali … 2vv (Venice, 154114), ed. L. Bernstein and J. Haar (New York, 1979)

G. Scotto: Il primo [–terzo] libro de i madrigali, 2vv (Venice, 1541–62)

Il primo libro, 2vv (Venice, 154319; A. Gardano)

A. Licino

Il primo libro di duo cromatici (Venice, 1545)

Bicinia gallica, latina, germanica (Wittenberg, 15456-7; G. Rhau), ed. B. Bellingham (Kassel, 1980)

C. Othmayr: Bicinia sacra (Nuremberg, 1547), ed. in EDM, xxvi (1956)

Diphona amoena (Nuremberg, 154916; E. Rotenbucher), ed. R. Bodig (Albany, CA, 1996) [without texts]; Bergkreyen, 2vv (Nuremberg, 155120; E. Rotenbucher)

J. Wannenmacher: Bicinia sive duo germanica ad aequales (Berne, 1553³¹)

Premier livre de chansons a 2 (Paris, c155524; A. Le Roy & R. Ballard)

B. Lupacchino and J. Tasso: Il primo libro, 2vv (Venice, 155924)

P. Vinci

Il primo libro della musica, 2vv (Venice, 1560)

G. Paien: Il primo libro de madrigali, 2vv (Venice, 1564)

Liber musicus, 2vv (Leuven and Antwerp, 157115; P. Phalèse & J. Bellère)

R. de Lassus: Novae aliquot … ad 2vv (Munich, 1577)

A. Chrysoponus: Bicinia nova (Prague, 15797)

V. Galilei: Contrapunti, 2vv (Florence, 1584)

J. Paix: Selectae … fugae, 2 … vocum (Lavingen, 1587 [lost], 2/159030)

F. Guami: Ricercari a 2 (Venice, 1588)

F. Nicoletti: Madrigali, 2vv (Venice, 1588)

Bicinia, sive cantiones (Antwerp, 159019; P. Phalèse & J. Bellère)

T. Whythorne: Duos, or Songs, 2vv (London, 1590)

F. Lindner: Bicinia sacra (Nuremberg, 159127)

G. Metallo: Ricercari a 2 (Venice, ?1591)

J. de Castro: Sonets … 2vv (Antwerp, 1592)

J. de Castro: Chansons … 2vv (Antwerp, 1592)

J. de Castro: Bicinia seu 2vv (Cologne, 1593)

T. Morley: The First Book of Canzonets, 2vv (London, 1595)

T. Mancinus: 2 vocum cantiuncularum (Helstadt, 1597)

P. Fonghetti: Capricci et madrigali (Verona, 1598)

G. Gastoldi: Il primo libro della musica, 2vv (Milan, 1598)

S. Calvisius: Bicinia septuaginta (Leipzig, 1599 [lost], 2/1612)

G. Otto

Opusculum, 2vv, D-Kl, dated 1601

L. Viadana: Cento concerti ecclesiastici, a 1, a 2 … voci libro II (Venice, 1602)

G. Puliti: Scherzi, capricci et fantasie per cantar, 2vv (Venice, 1605)

M. Praetorius: Musae Sioniae … 9. Theil (Wolfenbüttel, 1610) [repr. as Bicinia und Tricinia, 1611]

E. Bodenschatz: Bicinia XC selectissima (Leipzig, 1615)

D. Friderici: Bicinia sacra (Leipzig, 1623)

H. Grimm: Prodromus musicae ecclesiasticae … Fest-Bicinia, nebst dem Generalbass (Brunswick, 1636)

J. Pezel: Bicinia variorum instrumentorum (Leipzig, 1675)

For other modern edns see SCMA, viii (1945)

HM, iii, iv, v, xviii, xix, xxiii, xxiv, xxvii, xxviii, lxxiv, clxxxvii (1949–65)

Antiqua Chorbuch, ii (Mainz, 1951–2) and Musica instrumentalis, iv (Zürich, 1960), as well as under individual composers and publishers.


Using duo and trio examples
G. Rhau

Enchiridion (Wittenberg, 1518, 23/1553)

N. Listenius: Rudimenta musicae (Wittenberg, 1533, 47/1600)

Lampadius: Compendium musices (Berne, 1537, 5/1554)

S. Heyden: Musicae, id est artis canendi (Nuremberg, 1537, 2/1540 as De arte canendi; H. Faber: Compendiolum musicae (Nuremberg, 1548, 46/1617)

G. Faber: Erotematum (Basle, 1553)

J. Zanger: Practicae musicae (Leipzig, 1554)

J. Oridryus: Practicae musicae (Düsseldorf, 1557)

W. Figulus and M. Agricola

Deutsche Musica und Gesangbüchlein (Nuremberg, 1560, 3/1568)

A. Wilfflingseder: Musica teutsch (Nuremberg, 1561, 6/1575)

A. Wilfflingseder: Erotemata (Nuremberg, 1563)

C. Rid: Musica: kurzer Inhalt (Nuremberg, 1572, 13/1655) [abridgment of H. Faber: Compendiolum musicae]

F. Beurhaus: Musicae erotematum (Dortmund, 1573, 4/1591)

F. Beurhaus: Musica rudimenta (Dortmund, 1581)

F. Lindner: Bicinia sacra … quibus adjuncta est compendaria (Nuremberg, 159127)

A. Gumpelzhaimer, ed.: Compendium musicae (Augsburg, 159126, 15/1681) [based on Rid’s edn of H. Faber: Compendiolum musicae]; D. Wolkenstein: Compendium musicae (Strasbourg, 1596)

P. Eichmann

Praeceptae musicae (Stettin, 1604)

J. Colhart, trans. and ed.: Musica: kurtze … Anleitung (Leipzig, 1605, 3/1609) [modelled on H. Faber: Compendiolum musicae]; M. Vulpius: Musicae compendium (Jena, 1608, 7/1665) [modelled on H. Faber: Compendiolum musicae]; M. Beringer: Musicae … Singkunst (Nuremberg, 1610)

C. Walliser: Musicae figuralis praecepta (Strasbourg, 1611) [modelled on H. Faber: Compendiolum musicae]; B. Gesius: Synopsis doctrinae musicae (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1615)

N. Gengenbach: Musica nova (Leipzig, 1626)

J. Demantius: Isagoge artis musicae (Nuremberg, 1607, 9/1684)

E. Grüber: Synopsis musica (Regensburg, 1673)

J. Quirsfeld: Breviarum musica (Dresden, 1675, 5/1717)

H. Gradenthaler: Horologium musicum (Regensburg, 1676)


  • MGG1 (H. Albrecht)
  • MGG2 (L. Finscher)
  • A. Chybiński: ‘Polnische Musik und Musikkultur des 16. Jahrhunderts in ihren Beziehungen zu Deutschland’, SIMG, 13 (1911–12), 463–505
  • E. Preussner: ‘Die Methodik im Schulgesang der evangelischen Lateinschulen des 17. Jahrhunderts’, AMw, 6 (1924), 407–49
  • L. Nowak: ‘Eine Bicinienhandschrift der Wiener Nationalbibliothek’, ZMw, 14 (1931), 99–102
  • A. Adrio: Die Anfänge des geistlichen Konzerts (Berlin, 1935)
  • K. Ameln, C. Mahrenholz and W. Thomas, eds.: Handbuch der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenmusik, 2 (Göttingen, 1935)
  • A. Einstein: ‘Vincenzo Galilei and the Instructive Duo’, ML, 18 (1937), 360–68
  • H. Albrecht: ‘Zur Rolle der Kontrafaktur in Rhaus Bicinia von 1545: ein Vorbericht’, Festschrift Max Schneider, ed. H.J. Zingel (Leipzig, 1955), 67–70
  • A. Murphy: The Bicinia variorum instrumentorum of J. Chr. Pezel (diss., U. of Tallahassee, 1959)
  • W. Boetticher: ‘Eine französische Bicinien-Ausgabe als frühmonodisches Dokument’, Festschrift Karl Gustav Fellerer, ed. H. Hüschen (Regensburg, 1962), 67–76
  • E. Livingstone: The Theory and Practice of Protestant School Music in Germany as Seen through the Collection of Abraham Ursinus (ca. 1600) (diss., U. of Rochester, NY, 1962)
  • D. Kämper: ‘Das Lehr- und Instrumentalduo um 1500 in Italien’, Mf, 18 (1965), 242–53
  • W. Sheley: The Instrumental Instructional Duo (diss., U. of Rochester, NY, 1966) [incl. edn of A-Wn 18832]
  • L.F. Bernstein: Cantus Firmus in the French Chanson for Two and Three Voices, 1500–1550 (diss., New York U., 1969)
  • K. Niemöller: Untersuchungen zu Musikpflege und Musikunterricht an den deutschen Lateinschulen vom ausgehenden Mittelalter bis um 1600 (Regensburg, 1969)
  • D. Kämper: Studien zur instrumentalen Ensemblemusik des 16. Jahrhunderts in Italien, AnMc, no.10 (1970)
  • B. Bellingham: The Bicinium in the Lutheran Latin Schools during the Reformation Period (diss., U. of Toronto, 1971)
  • B.A. Bellingham: Foreword to Georg Rhau: Bicinia … 1542 (Kassel, 1980)
  • L. Bernstein: ‘French Duos in the First Half of the Sixteenth Century’, Studies in Musicology in Honor of Otto E. Albrecht, ed. J.W. Hill (Kassel, 1980), 43–87
See also Tricinium.
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