AskDefine | Define quodlibet

Dictionary Definition

quodlibet n : an issue that is presented for formal disputation

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A form of music with melodies in counterpoint.
  2. A mode of philosophical debate popular in the middle ages.

Extensive Definition

A quodlibet is a piece of music combining several different melodies in counterpoint, usually popular tunes, and often in a light-hearted or humorous manner. The term is from the Latin meaning: "whatever" (literally a compound word of quod (what) libet (pleases)". There are three main types of quodlibet. The catalogue quodlibet consists of a free setting of catalogue poetry (usually humorous lists of loosely related items); in the successive quodlibet one voice has short musical and textual quotations while the other voices provide homophonic accompaniment; and in the simultaneous quodlibet, two or more pre-existing melodies are combined. (The simultaneous quodlibet may be considered a historical antecedent to the modern-day musical mashup.)


The origins of the quodlibet can be traced to the 15th century, when the practice of combining folk tunes was popular. Wolfgang Schmeltzl first used the term in a specifically musical context in 1544. An early exponent of the genre was 16th century composer Ludwig Senfl (c. 1492-1555), whose ability to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies in the cantus firmus quodlibet resulted in works such as Ach Elselein/Es taget, a piece noted for its symbolism rather than its humor.. Even earlier we can find another example in Francisco de Peñalosa's (c.1470 - 1528) "Por las sierras de Madrid", from his "Cancionero musical de palacio". However, it was Praetorius who in 1618 provided the first systematic definition of the quodlibet as "a mixture of diverse elements quoted from sacred and secular compositions" in book 3 of his Syntagma musicum. During the Renaissance, a composer's ability to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies, as in the cantus firmus quodlibet, was considered the ultimate mastery of counterpoint.
The quodlibet took on additional functions between the beginning and middle of the 19th Century, when it became known as the potpourri and the musical switch. In these forms, the quodlibet would often feature between a half a dozen and 50 or more consecutive "quotations;" the often distinct incongruity between words and music served as a potent source of parody and entertainment. In the 20th Century, the quodlibet remained a genre in which well-known tunes or texts (or both) were quoted, either simultaneously or in succession, generally for humorous effect.


A famous example of a quodlibet is at the end of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Another example is Gallimathias Musicum, a 17 part quodlibet composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he was about 10 years old. A fine modern example is the 'Quodlibet on Welsh Nursery Rhymes' by the distinguished Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott.
More serious quodlibets are in the masses of Jacob Obrecht, which sometimes combine popular tunes, plainsong and original music.
A song for four soloists and basso continuo by J. S. Bach, called the "Wedding Quodlibet" or just "Quodlibet" (BWV 524), is not a quodlibet by the above definition, but a ten-minute procession of nonsense, dumb jokes, puns, obscure cultural references, word games, and parody of other songs. At points the music imitates a chaconne and a fugue, and the music sometimes deliberately "mixes up" the choral lines. It is unlike any of Bach's other works, and a few scholars doubt it was written by Bach.
An independent variant of the quodlibet named Ensalada developed during the 16th century in Spain.
The Grateful Dead concert favorite The Other One is a medley that includes the song Quodlibet for Tenderfeet. (Deadheads will recognize the lyrics "The other day they waited...")
Peter Schickele's "Quodlibet for Small Orchestra" and "Unbegun Symphony" are amusing examples of this form, particularly for those slightly more versed in Western art music.
The well known pianist Glenn Gould came up with a Quodlibet including the Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the King/Queen According to his own account, Gould came up with this Quodlibet while taking a bath.
At the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, a quodlibet containing the mournful theme of Padmé's funeral and the Imperial March can be heard as Darth Vader and the Emperor look out at the Death Star under construction.
A progressive rock band from New Jersey known as the Age of Reason wrote an instrumental composition known as "Quodlibet". It opens with a church organ solo which segues into a 16th note bass guitar/hammond organ riff. Various themes are explored before the song ends with a rousing symphonic gong.
The word also refers to a mode of academic debate or oral examination (usually theological) in which any question could be posed extemporaneously. Quodlibet debates were popular in Western culture through the thirteenth century (1200s) and are still in use today in Tibetan Buddhist theological training.


quodlibet in Catalan: Quòdlibet
quodlibet in German: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Spanish: Quodlibet
quodlibet in French: Quodlibet
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quodlibet in Hungarian: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Dutch: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Polish: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Portuguese: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Slovak: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Finnish: Quodlibet
quodlibet in Swedish: Quodlibet
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