Brunelleschi’s Dome, an at the side of the road interlude

For The Professor:

The grand Duomo of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore, was dedicated by Pope Eugenius IV on March 25, 1436. An architectural marvel, the Duomo is crowned by a great dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, which remains (despite later inteventions by Michelangelo) the enduring symbol of the city, at once instantly recognizable. Brunelleschi’s achievement has not dimmed with time: More than 500 years later, Brunelleschi’s Dome remains the largest masonry dome in the world and the mystery of how it was constructed has not been fully solved (although a PBS special sought to answer that question: https://www.archdaily.com/477161/video-solving-the-mysteries-of-brunelleschi-s-dome).

To celebrate the 1436 dedication, the Papal choir, the Schola Cantorum, performed a motet by composer Guillaume Dufay. Nuper Rosarum Flores holds a special place in music history, as appears to be, in part, based not on current musical theory but rather informed by the architecture of the great dome itself. That observation has been deduced by modern musicologists from some anomalous compositional choices by Dufay. First, unlike typical motets of the period, the duration of the four sections of the work are divided into unequal ratios. Seecond, the vocal aned instrumental lines are related, although not mere duplicates. These features replicate in music the many sides of Brunelleschi’s Dome. Finally, and perhaps more tellingly, the unusual doubling of the cantus firmus replicates Brunelleschi’s design of a dome within a dome.

There is a tendency to overanalyze art, seeking a deeper meaning where none was intended. Certainly, those who attended the dedication of the cathedral made no such observations. Their reactions were decidedly more religious in nature, suggesting that Dufay’s music might bring about the salvation of mankind. But, on balance, I think musicologists have it right. The clue comes from Dufay’s choice of the text for the cantus firmus itself: Terribilis est locus iste (Magnificent is this place).

Guillaume Dufay, Nuper Rosarum Flores: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dV5b8AuLHg

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