Quid non ebrietas?
is an early composition of Willaert’s. Its experimental nature has not only caused lively musicological debate, but the work was already subject to polemic at Willaert’s time. In a letter of May 1524, the Bolognese theorist Giovanni Spataro reports that Willaert had sent the work to Pope Leo X, whose singers had not been capable of deciphering and performing it. Quid non ebrietas?
is indeed intended as a musical puzzle. The text is based on a passage in Horace’s Epistulae
I, 5 and concerns the ‘miracle of drunkenness’, which ‘unlocks secrets’ (‘operta recludit’) and ‘teaches skills’ (‘addocet artes’). These words seem to have inspired Willaert to a compositional tour de force. The notation suggests that the work ends on a seventh D–E, which would have caused intolerable dissonance. However, Willaert conceived the Tenor in such a way that it runs through the complete circle of fifths via the successive addition of flats. This means that the final note E should actually be sung as E double flat, or D. Willaert’s Quid non ebrietas?
can thus be considered a major contribution to the development of equal temperament.
from notes by Katelijne Schiltz © 2010