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date: 14 December 2019

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

  • Bruce A. Bellingham


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

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, ...

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