A quodlibet (/ˈkwɒdlɪbɛt/; Latin for "whatever you wish" from quod, "what" and libet, "pleases") is a musical composition that combines several different melodies—usually popular tunes—in counterpoint, and often in a light-hearted, humorous manner.

There are three main types of quodlibet:

  • A catalogue quodlibet consists of a free setting of catalogue poetry (usually humorous lists of loosely related items).
  • In a successive quodlibet, one voice has short musical quotations and textual quotations while the other voices provide homophonic accompaniment.
  • In a simultaneous quodlibet, two or more pre-existing melodies are combined.[1] The simultaneous quodlibet may be considered a historical antecedent to the modern-day musical mashup.



The quodlibet originated in 15th-century Europe, during a time when the practice of combining folk tunes was popular.[2] Composer Wolfgang Schmeltzl [de] first used the term in a specifically musical context in 1544.[3]

Francisco de Peñalosa's quodlibet Por las sierras de Madrid occurs in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, a manuscript of the early 16th century. Composer Ludwig Senfl (1486–1542/43) was able to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies in a cantus firmus quodlibet; one such piece, "Ach Elslein, liebes Elselein [de]" / "Es taget", was noted for its symbolism rather than its humor.[3] In Spain, 1581 saw the publication of the ensaladas of Mateo Flecha et al. The ensaladas were comical compositions that mixed literary texts in a way similar to the quodlibet.[4]

It was not until 1618, however, that anyone published a rigorous definition of the quodlibet: Michael Praetorius described it as "a mixture of diverse elements quoted from sacred and secular compositions".[5][page needed] During the Renaissance, a composer's ability to juxtapose several pre-existing melodies, such as in the cantus firmus quodlibet, was considered the ultimate mastery of counterpoint.[3]

19th century to todayEdit

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 anywhere from six to fifty or more consecutive "quotations"; the distinct incongruity between words and music served as a potent source of parody and entertainment.[3] In the 20th century, the quodlibet remained a genre in which well-known tunes and/or texts were quoted, either simultaneously or in succession, generally for humorous effect.[6]


Classical musicEdit

Popular musicEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Stanley Sadie and Alison Latham (eds.), "Quodlibet", The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988), p. 608.
  2. ^ Vincent J. Picerno, "Quodlibet" in Dictionary of Musical Terms (Brooklyn, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1976), p. 304.
  3. ^ a b c d Maniates, Maria Rika; Branscombe, Peter; Freedman, Richard (2001). "Quodlibet". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.22748. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0.
  4. ^ Apel, Willi (2000). "Ensalada". Harvard Dictionary of Music (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Belknap Press. p. 294. ISBN 978-0-674-37501-7. OCLC 21452.
  5. ^ Praetorius, Michael. Syntagma Musicum, Volume III: Termini musici.
  6. ^ Latham, Alison (2002). "Quodlibet". In Alison Latham (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Music. London: Oxford University Press. p. 1022. ISBN 0-19-866212-2. OCLC 59376677.
  7. ^ Kirkpatrick, John (1984). "Critial Commentary". Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 2005-03-11.
  8. ^ a b bopuc/weblog: 1955, Glenn Gould remixes live, on piano
  9. ^ Notes on "I've Got A Feeling" by Alan W. Pollack

External linksEdit