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Zarlino, Anamorphosis, and Cinquecento Italy

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This paper examines the relationship between Gioseffo Zarlino’s personal considerations and the socio-cultural circumstances in Cinquecento Italy on the basis of anamorphosis—the idea that an object can be understood from multiple angles. Arguably one of the most important theorists of the sixteenth century, Zarlino, although cognizant of chords as vertical constructs, deliberately disguised tonality as modality. This prompts a myriad of questions as to why he did not further develop his theory into a major-minor schema, given that he had already emphasized the Ionian and Aeolian modes in Le Istitutioni Harmoniche. This paper explores the reasons behind his conservatism, arguing that Zarlino’s religious posts and the tumultuous religious-cultural-political climate of late-sixteenth-century Venice influenced his anamorphic inclinations. The paper also attributes his constraint to the prevalent Renaissance concept of the imitation of nature. By looking into the essential qualities of nature, notably eternality, this paper claims that the imitation of nature can explain both the perpetuation of modality and Zarlino’s adoption of tonality. The paper concludes that Zarlino’s belief in God can be seen as an overarching force in his theoretical formulation, positing a hierarchical relationship among the factors discussed.


Zarlino, Anamorphosis, Cinquecento Italy, modality, tonality

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