By Thomas W. Patteson
Published Online (2008)
Introduction: To write about the Ars subtilior is to enter a strange territory. The music itself is strange enough, but the musicological construction of Ars subtilior as an historical period (or genre, or stylistic development), being a relatively recent development and subject to a number of controversies regarding the fundamental nature of the phenomenon, further complicates intellectual access. Just as it is a characteristic of media to become apparent only when they malfunction, the problematic and contested nature of the Ars subtilior calls to our attention the very difficulties inherent in the process of historical and stylistic categorization. But rather than hoping to attain for the Ars subtilior the same transparent self-evidence of such music-historical designations as “Baroque” or “Classical,” we should take from it a cautionary reminder about the contingency and alterability of all such notions.