Enigmatic music

Two voices composition with the “soggetto cavato” (carved out subject) composition technique

    School sections
    • Lower secondary school
    Educational subjects
    • Instrumental practice
    • Composition
    • Music and technologies
    • Music and…

Enigmatic music

The educational path is dedicated to the polyphonic music of the early sixteenth century and focuses, in particular, on the relationship between composer and patron in the Renaissance courts. It is divided into two parts: a first of listening and comprehension, a second of production. The first part deals with an emblematic case, the Missa Hercules dux Ferrarie by Josquin Des Prez. Through an experience of ear training, students learn to recognise the particular structure of this composition, whose cantus firmus is derived from the patron name according to a procedure called "subject cavato". The second part consists of a production experience through a music notation software. Students are asked to come up with a short two-part piece based on the model of Josquin's composition. Through the technique of the “soggetto cavato”, every song so composed conceals an encrypted message and can involve the class in a game of musical enigmistry. At the end of the work, the compositions are listened to through the digital reproduction of the software or performed by the students with instruments.

Work tools

The listening activity was conducted in the classroom with desks positioned in front of the IWB.

The production part took place in a computer lab equipped with one computer every two students. The students worked in pairs sharing the audio output from the PC through their earphones.

The use of a web-based music notation software facilitates the sharing of the documents and the cooperation between the students (Noteflight).

Educational purposes

The skills, goals and training objectives selected by the teacher for this experience are shown below.

    • Sound perception
    • Interpretation
    • Analysis
    • Comprehension
    • Composition
    Reading and Writing
    • Use of conventional analogic music notation
    Lower secondary school
    • Understands and evaluates events, materials, and musical works recognising their meanings, also in relation to his/her own musical experience and the different historical/sociological context.
    • Actively participating in music experiences through the execution and the interpretation of vocal and instrumental music pieces belonging to different genres and cultures.
    • Capacity to conceive and create music and multimedia messages, also though improvisation or collective elaboration processes, using also IT tools, in critical confrontation with models belonging to the musical heritage
    Reading and Writing
    • Integrating one’s own music experience with other knowledge and practices using appropriate codes and codification systems
Educational targets

The student:

  • distinguishes the presence of several parts in a polyphonic composition and distinguishes the melodic direction of the intervals that make up a simple melody
  • recognises the coexistence of the various functions (encomiastic and liturgical) in the composition taken into consideration
  • identifies the structural functions of the cantus firmus in the liturgical passage taken into consideration
  • identifies the different characteristics of the cantus firmus and of the other voices in the polyphonic organisation of the piece examined
  • relates the structure of the piece taken into consideration with the conventions related to Renaissance patronage
  • composes a two-part polyphonic piece in which the cantus firmus is derived from a textual motto through the technique of the "soggetto cavato"
  • uses music notation software to control the sound result of music writing, using the "trial and error" method


Commenti inseriti
Slide "Enigmatic music"
Slide Soggetto Cavato Download
Link utili
Link Download
Approfondimenti Download