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A quodlibet (Latin for "what pleases") is a piece of music combining several different melodies, usually popular tunes, in counterpoint and often a light-hearted, humorous manner. There are three main types of quodlibet:
- A catalogue quodlibet consists of a free setting of catalogue poetry (usually humorous lists of loosely related items).
- In a successive quodlibet, one voice has short musical quotations and textual quotations while the other voices provide homophonic accompaniment.
- In a simultaneous quodlibet, two or more pre-existing melodies are combined. The simultaneous quodlibet may be considered a historical antecedent to the modern-day musical mashup.
The origins of the quodlibet can be traced to the 15th century, when the practice of combining folk tunes was popular. Composer Wolfgang Schmeltzl (de) first used the term in a specifically musical context in 1544. An early exponent of the genre was 16th century composer Ludwig Senfl whose ability to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies in a cantus firmus quodlibet resulted in works such as Ach Elselein/Es taget, a piece noted for its symbolism rather than its humor. Even earlier we can find another example in Francisco de Peñalosa's Por las sierras de Madrid, from his Cancionero Musical de Palacio. However, it was Michael Praetorius who, in 1618, provided the first systematic definition of the quodlibet as "a mixture of diverse elements quoted from sacred and secular compositions". During the Renaissance, a composer's ability to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies, such as in the cantus firmus quodlibet, was considered the ultimate mastery of counterpoint.
19th century to today
The quodlibet took on additional functions between the beginning and middle of the 19th century, when it became known as the potpourri and the musical switch. In these forms, the quodlibet would often feature anywhere from six to fifty or more consecutive "quotations"; the distinct incongruity between words and music served as a potent source of parody and entertainment. In the 20th century, the quodlibet remained a genre in which well-known tunes and/or texts were quoted, either simultaneously or in succession, generally for humorous effect.
In the 16th century, an independent variant of the quodlibet named ensalada developed in Spain.
The word also refers to a mode of academic debate or oral examination (usually theological) in which any question could be posed extemporaneously. Quodlibet debates were popular in Western culture through the thirteenth century and are still in use today in Tibetan Buddhist theological training.
- The masses of Jacob Obrecht, which sometimes combine popular tunes, plainsong and original music.
- The last (thirtieth) variation of Bach's Goldberg Variations is a quodlibet.
- Bach's Wedding Quodlibet or Quodlibet, which is not a quodlibet by the above definition but a ten-minute procession of nonsense, jokes, puns, obscure cultural references, word games, and parody of other songs. At times, the music imitates a chaconne and a fugue while deliberately obscuring the counterpoint. It is unlike any of Bach's other works, and a few scholars doubt its authenticity, despite the fact that the sole surviving source is a fair copy manuscript in Bach's own handwriting.
- Gallimathias musicum, a 17-part quodlibet composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of ten.
- Louis Moreau Gottschalk combined Hail, Columbia and Yankee Doodle at the end of his piano piece, The Union.
- Quodlibet on Welsh Nursery Rhymes by Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott.
- Pianist Glenn Gould improvised a quodlibet including The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the King. According to his account, Gould came up with this Quodlibet while taking a bath.
- Peter Schickele's Quodlibet for Small Orchestra, Unbegun Symphony, and others.
- Fantasia on Auld Lang Syne by Ernest Tomlinson. The composer claims that the piece references 152 works.[this quote needs a citation]
- The Grateful Dead's medley "The Other One" includes the song "Quodlibet for Tenderfeet".
- Scholar Alan W. Pollack has pointed out that The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling" is a quodlibet of sorts.
- "I Believe" – Stan Beard and Barry Tucker published a quodlibet arrangement of this popular sacred song with Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" in 1972.
- Nina Simone's 1958 interpretation of "Little Girl Blue" is a quodlibet, combining the Rodgers and Hart melody and lyrics with the melody of the popular carol "Good King Wenceslas".
- Stanley Sadie and Alison Latham (Eds.), "Quodlibet," The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988), p. 608.
- Vincent J. Picerno, "Quodlibet" in Dictionary of Musical Terms (Brooklyn, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1976), p. 304.
- Maria Rika Maniates with Peter Branscombe/Richard Freedman, "Quodlibet," 2007, Grove Music Online, Online (December 18, 2007).
- In book 3 of his Syntagma musicum.
- Maria Rika Maniates with Peter Branscombe/Richard Freedman, "Quodlibet," 2007, Grove Music Online, Online (December 19, 2007).
- Latham, Alison (2002). "Quodlibet". In Alison Latham. The Oxford Companion to Music. London: Oxford University Press. p. 1022. ISBN 0-19-866212-2. OCLC 59376677.
- bopuc/weblog: 1955, Glenn Gould remixes live, on piano
- Notes on "I've Got A Feeling" by Alan W. Pollack