Content and structure


The Motet Cycles Database contains information about cycles of polyphonic motets composed and transmitted in manuscript or printed form in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. The main focus of the dabatase is c.1470 to c.1510, but a few cases from the following decades are also included.

A motet cycle is understood here as a group of self-contained pieces arguably conceived as such based on aspects of style, text, and transmission. A cycle normally contains more than two pieces, but certain short cycles, especially those for the elevation (or otherwise connected with the Blessed Sacrament), are recorded in the database as exceptions. Individual motets with an elevation section from the Milanese Libroni are also included. A motet cycle usually consists of motets, but hybrid cycles can contain items from the Mass ordinary as well.

Elements of musical style that contribute to identify a cycle as such include notably the homogeneity (or similarity) of scoring, tonal type, and mensuration patterns, and the presence of pre-existent or newly composed musical material shared among the motets.

Elements regarding the text include the composite and interpolated nature of the texts, the presence of shared features, contents, and liturgical or devotional associations, and the derivation from a common source.

Elements regarding the transmission include the independent transmission of individual motets, the presence of cycle titles or rubrics in the sources, and various characteristics of the source layout (e.g. the presence of custodes).

Only cycles present as such in at least one source are included; ‘virtual’ and reconstructed cycles are not included.

Independent motets (with the exceptions discussed above) and pieces belonging to other genres from the Milanese Libroni are currently not included, thus the database at the present stage does not aim to be a comprehensive catalogue of the Libroni.


Structure and focus

The database aims to account for a relatively small but intricate repertory, in which a given motet may belong to more than one cycle, cognate cycles share several of their component motets, and identical or similar texts are set within different cycles. Therefore, the database is organised on three searchable and interlinked levels: the level of “Cycles”, the level of  “Motets”, and the level of “Texts”. The additional level of “Sources” is provided as a reference. The level of “Motets” is further subdivided into “Master motets” (considering motets as abstract compositional entities) and “Motets in sources” (considering the individual embodiment of the master motet in a given source); one “master motet” may therefore correspond to one or more “motets in sources”.

As the cycles copied in the Milanese Libroni and at least partially originating from the environment of the Sforza Ducal Chapel and the Duomo form the core of the repertory considered in the database, the information included in the "Texts" records has a special focus on Milanese sources.