English  Summary  of  the  Work


> Introduction

(I) Specified chromatic inflections in vocal sources
(II) The theorists' statements
(III) Instrumental tablatures
(IV) Doubling the subtonic
(V) General conclusion

A short history of the leading note
from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century.

A contribution to the study of Musica Ficta



Musica ficta certainly belongs to the most exciting issues of Medieval and Renaissance musicology. As it involves lost oral traditions, it can be approached only through modern reconstructions based on early documents, many of which are either fragmentary or ambiguous. Thus this research often ends up resembling some kind of criminal investigation, an exciting challenge indeed for modern scholars.

As my personal experience suggests, new ideas on this subject are not necessarily welcomed by specialists who have been used to a precise conceptual framework for years. The present article aims at expounding briefly the main novelties of my conception of musica ficta, thus enabling people to judge for themselves. However, it should be remembered that this is only a succinct description; for a complete discussion, the reader is referred to the book itself:

Vincent Arlettaz: Musica Ficta. Une histoire des sensibles du XIIIe au XVIe siècles, Sprimont, Mardaga, 2000, 526 p., bibl., ind., ex. mus. (ISBN 2-87009-721-1)

[Important message: In spite of some bookseller's contentions, this book is not out of print! You should provide your bookseller with either ISBN or SODIS code (947 38 58)]

General concepts

My work has been specifically devoted to the history of the leading note, which, as we all know, was largely left unwritten in many repertories of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Of course, this is only a part of the general problem of musica ficta (which also includes the question of the flat, and -- more generally -- of hexachordal transposition), yet an important part, whose interest need not to be emphasized here.

Documents used so far by musicologists to uncover the rules governing implied chromatic accidentals include:

1. Sources of vocal polyphony.
2. Instrumental sources (tablatures).
3. Theoretical treatises.

The overall rule concerning the implied leading note runs as follows: if a cadential formula (i.e. a lower auxiliary note, generally prepared by a suspension, and followed by a silence or a stop, see ex. 1) appears in the melody, the middle note of the formula should be raised, if it is not already a half-tone below the final:


The other possible wording of the rule involves the harmonic intervals which occur with another voice (typically the tenor): if the penultimate note of the cadential formula is a sixth from the tenor, this sixth (which resolves to the octave by contrary motion of both parts) should be made major:


The same applies to the third before a fifth:



On the other hand, the third progressing to the unison should be minor:



There are other cases as well, but these are the most important ones.

The aim of my research has been to study a large collection of theoretical and practical sources, and note any exceptions to these rules.

Continued: (I) Specified chromatic inflections in vocal sources >>>

© Vincent Arlettaz
- last update 27 December 2002 -

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