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HPSCHD-L  May 2007

HPSCHD-L May 2007

Subject:

tones or modes (long)

From:

John Howell <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 23 May 2007 16:41:20 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (137 lines)

>Stuart Frankel wrote:
>
>Vincent Ho wrote:
>>  I know about the difference between authentic and plagal modes, theory
>>  wise, ever since I was in high school...however I am still confused about
>>  them when it comes to organ pieces.
>
>You're not the only one. The problem is that the modes were
>a way of classifying monophonic pieces - range enters into
>the classification - and they don't make too much sense for
>polyphony, as theorists of the time had ample opportunity to
>note. But you still needed them for practical reasons, in
>order to hook up with appropriate (monophonic) chant, which
>is why it was so common for organ pieces to be labeled with
>the mode - precisely because it wasn't obvious, and they had
>to be labeled.

Hi, Vincent.  Stuart has it exactly right on both important points. 
The thing always to remember is that this was never considered a 
monolithic, one-size-fits-all system.  It was put together around the 
year AD 1000 by practical, working church musicians who felt a need 
to organize a full thousand years of chant melodies so make their 
everyday lives easier.  (Not to mention a thousand years of 
developing reciting tones and Psalm tones and Magnificat tones, etc.) 
Forget the term "music theorist"!!  It didn't exist.  In fact, they 
did a remarkably good job in fashioning a system that met their 
needs, but those needs involved monophonic music and such early 
polyphony as existed adapted well to it.  (They thought they were 
reestablishing the system from Greek antiquity, as passed on by 
Boethius in the early 6th century, but Boethius screwed up the 
information and they ended up inventing a brand new system that 
worked for THEIR music.)

It's unreasonable to think that 500 years later a system devised for 
one use in one time would still be the perfect system for music that 
had been developing, especially in the area of polyphony, for those 
five centuries.  But it was still used, as much as it could be, 
because (a) as Stuart says, it was a means of classifying and 
matching divers parts of the church's service music, and (b) because 
they didn't have anything yet to replace it with.  That wouldn't be 
recognized until the 1680s, and not given a theoretical basis until 
1722.  Theorists at mid-16th century (and by this time we can refer 
to them as theorists, even though they were also and first practical 
performers and musicians) attempted to deal with the problem by 
expanding the modal system, but it didn't really work.  And when the 
system finally DID get revised it was not to many modes but to fewer, 
major and variations on minor.

In practical terms, the mode of a polyphonic piece COULD be 
identified if needed.  It was the mode of a single part, the tenor 
(whether or not it was actually labeled "tenor").    And the tenor 
was defined as the part which descended by step to the final at the 
final cadence.  Very seldom, if ever, would the superius have 
functioned as a tenor, since it was almost always an "ornamenting 
voice" (i.e. ascending by half step to the final at the last cadence).

One identifying feature of the medieval modes--the melodic range--had 
become of very little practical importance, and the second 
feature--the reciting note--rather difficult to identify in the 
polyphonic web.

>  > On a sidenote, I thought most elevazioni should be written in mode III,
>>  ie, the "mystic" Phrygian mode.  But I found examples, such as
>>  Frescobaldi, wrote in mode IX.

I'm not sure why you think modes III (and IV) were considered 
especially "mystic."  It sounds like a very romantic notion.  And 
mode IX was one of the "extra" ones that Frescobaldi would have 
known, but was not part of the original system.  All these "values," 
just like "Major is Happy and Minor is Sad," are modern and had no 
existence in the music of earlier times.

>  > Finally, can someone explain to me why many of these compositions,
>>  especially intonazioni, end in a major triad chord (raised third)?

It's been theorized (by modern theorists) that medieval musicians 
sang in a Pythagorean temperament, in which major 3rds would have 
been stretched quite wide and would, indeed, have been perceived as 
dissonances.  I personally have trouble with that theory, since (a) 
temperaments have NEVER been necessary except for keyboard 
instruments with fixed pitch pipes or strings, and (b) just 
intonation, not tied to any given temperament, is perceived as being 
"in tune" to an extent that no keyboard temperament can ever claim. 
I simply can't picture practical singers deliberately forcing 
themselves to sing harsh thirds instead of smooth acoustical thirds. 
But we just don't know.

What we actually KNOW is just this:  When theory had to account for 
music in two or more parts, they differentiated between perfect 
consonances (unison, octave, fifth, fourth), imperfect consonances 
(thirds and sixths), and dissonances (everything else).  In fact the 
theoretical definition of a renaissance cadence is formed by two 
voices moving from a dissonance to an imperfect consonance to a 
perfect consonance.

Acceptance of a final third can thus be seen as a cultural evolution 
(and just possibly an acoustical one as well), and it happened pretty 
much during the 15th century.  In the 1430s DuFay snuck in a raised 
major third at the end of his Isorhythmic motet "Nuper rosarum 
flores," but took the voice off it immediately (once it had been 
introduced to the resonance of the church in Florence--a real master 
stroke that is hard to appreciate in a modern concert hall).  But by 
the early 1500s, in the music of Josquin and his contemporaries, the 
major third in the final had become an acceptable variation.  (And by 
the time of Josquin it had also become impossible to avoid every 
tritone by manipulating the rules of musica ficta.)

>
>Sounds better in meantone especially with organ mixtures,
>etc. - provided you're willing to accept the major third as
>a consonance at all (early medieval musicians weren't).
>
>>  Isn't
>>  that defeat the purpose of establishing a mode?
>
>Not really becuase modes are entirely melodic.

Exactly.  It was a change in fashion.  And the modes, and cadences, 
are defined melodically and NOT harmonically.  It did take longer for 
a minor third to become acceptable in the final concentus, though.

There are experts on the Early Music List who can quote from specific 
treatises by specific scholars, and even they can't always agree on 
how the music was actually expected to sound!  I'm just a working 
musician who tries to know as much about it as I can, so as to 
present reasonable performances.

John


-- 
John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411  Fax (540) 231-5034
(mailto:[log in to unmask])
http://www.music.vt.edu/faculty/howell/howell.html

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