January 16, 2017. Tieleman Susato. Last week we wrote about Metastasio, a poet and librettist who left an indelible mark on the history of opera; this week we turn to a publisher who was equally important in the development of Renaissance music. Tielman Susato was born sometime between 1510 and 1515, but where - we are also not sure, probably not far from Cologne, as he referred to himself as “Susato Agrippinus”: Agrippina, the wife of the emperor Claudius, was born in a Roman settlement on the Rhine that later became Cologne, and the Romans renamed it in her honor. We do know that by 1529 Susato was living in Antwerp and working as a calligrapher. A musician, he also joined the town band. He played different wind instruments: the sackbut (an early trombone), the trumpet, flute and recorder. In 1541 he joined two prominent Antwerp printers and eventually acquired the firm. Somewhere around 1542 the firm published its’ first book of music: it was the first not just for Antwerp but for all of Northern Europe – as before that, the Italians dominated the trade.
The history of music printing starts with the invention of the metal movable print by Johannes Gutenberg; his famous Bible was printed in 1450. Gutenberg didn’t print music, though. It was Ottaviano Petrucci who, about half a century after Gutenberg’s great invention, printed the first book of music sheets. Petrucci used what is called the triple-impression method: on every sheet he would first print the staff lines, then the words and then the notes. This process created a high-quality page but was very time-consuming. In 1520 the single-impression method was developed: all components were printed together, and even though the results were messier, the single-impression method won over as it was much simpler and faster in production. It was this single-impression technique that Susato used to print his first music book, Quatuor vocum musicae modulations, a collection of four-part motets by a dozen different composers, one of whom was Susato himself.
Sometime around 1544 Susato met the composer Jacob Clemens non Papa who had recently moved to Antwerp. They became good friends and several years later Susato published Clemens’s most famous work: his setting of 150 psalms called Souterliedekens (Little Psalter Songs in Flemish). Susato also published important books of music by Josquin des Prez andOrlando di Lasso. For example, his 1545 Quatuor vocum musicae modulations, printed 24 years after Josquin’s death, is the first book, whether in manuscript form or in print, containing many of Josquin’s chansons.
Susato was also quite a prolific composer, although not on the same level as some of the greats whose music he published. His instrumental dances are pleasing. Here, for example, is a Ronde from his collection of dance music usually called Dansereye (it’s performed by the ensemble New London Consort). By the end of his life Susato moved to Sweden; there’s no record of him past 1570. Susato, who was important in improving the printing technology (he developed new music fonts) should be especially remembered for making music more accessible to the people; he concentrated on publishing the music of his fellow Flemish composers, and that was exactly when Flemish music had reached its heights. The composers he published were among the most important ones, whether they worked in Flanders, in Rome, or anywhere else in Europe.