>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
> > 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
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).
>> 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 & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034
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