(I) Specified chromatic inflections in vocal sources
> (II) The theorists' statements
(III) Instrumental tablatures
(IV) Doubling the subtonic
(V) General conclusion
> first part
Many modern scholars have long been working on the question of musica ficta. Most of them have favoured a method based on the examination of the evidence drawn from early theoretical treatises. But none of these treatises can be considered complete, nor able to answer all the questions that a modern researcher might conceivably ask; hence the idea of assembling the most instructive passages from every one of them, fitting as it were the pieces of the puzzle together.
There is a weak point in this method, however: it assumes that all theoreticians share (more or less) one and the same doctrine. Indeed, this is far from being the case. In many instances, authors come to criticize one another; and cases may be found where ancient writers directly contradict what modern scholars think of as being universal truths of the period.
Therefore, in the present "theoreticians" section, I shall above all endeavour to present the principal points at variance between contemporary authorities, and attempt to follow the evolution of their conceptions, historically as well as geographically.
The "classical" doctrine of attraction
I shall call it "classical" because it is the one most frequently proposed by ancient authorities; it is largely in accordance, too, with the dominant view among present-day musicologists.
The need for a leading note at the cadence could be expressed by medieval and Renaissance theorists in two quite distinct ways. The first formulation is a melodic one; the second one instead concentrates on simultaneous intervals (progressions of consonances). To begin with, let us present a theoretical, abstract model of both.
1. The melodic formulation
In the case of a melodic progression of the type: d-c-d, g-f-g or a-g-a, although the notation suggests a melodic interval of a whole tone, it should be sung as a half-tone, thus raising the middle note (especially at a cadence):
Another, less commonly mentioned rule, requires that the last interval in a conjunct ascending scale be made a half-tone, even if the notation suggests a whole tone:
2. The harmonic formulation
When the penultimate note of a cadence is a sixth, resolving to the octave by contrary motion of both voices, the sixth must be major, if necessary by the application of an accidental inflection:
The same holds for the third expanding to the fifth, or the tenth to the twelfth:
On the other hand, the minor sixth has to resolve to the fifth, by oblique (downward) motion of the upper voice alone:
As for the the minor third, it resolves to the unison, and the minor tenth to the octave:
These are the rules that will most often be found in late Medieval and Renaissance treatises. But their wordings are not necessarily complete and unambiguous, and many theoreticians do not approach the subject at all. Some of them even go so far as to contradict explicitly the so-called "classical" rules. There follows an outline of the whole process, century by century.
The earliest passage appropriate to our subject occurs in a late thirteenth-century treatise, once attributed to Johannes de Garlandia, De musica mensurabili positio. The author resorts to quite an original terminology, which often proves difficult to understand for present-day researchers. He provides the earliest known melodic formulation, including the rule of the auxiliary note (g-f-g) as well as the rule of the conjunct ascending scale (c-d-e-f-g). In addition, he distinctly states that these rules mainly apply to plainsong, and can be restricted in the case of polyphony, in order to comply with the consonances (unfortunately, he does not elucidate this point).
[See COUSSEMAKER, E. de, Scriptorum de musica medii aevi novam seriem a gerbertina alteram..., Paris, Durand, 1864-76, vol. 1, p. 97-117. REIMER, Erich, Johannes de Garlandia: De mensurabili musica, kritische Edition mit Kommentar und Interpretation der Notationslehre, Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner, 1972 (=Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, Bd. X), Teil I: Quellenuntersuchungen und Edition, p. 91-97.]
Two of the most famous authors of this period, Walter Odington and Philippe de Vitry, do not approach musica ficta from the standpoint of attraction accidentals. The same applies to Jehan des Murs -- at least for those texts which are most likely to be by him. The well-known treatise "Ad sciendum artem discantus" (CS III, p. 68) -- which contains one of the most complete formulations of the attraction principle ever found in early theory -- can no longer be ascribed to him; according to Ulrich Michels (1970) and Klaus-Jürgen Sachs (1974), it would seem more probably to date back to the fifteenth century.
[See SACHS, Klaus-Jürgen, Der Contrapunctus im 14. und 15. Jahrhundert, Untersuchungen zum Terminus, zur Lehre und zu den Quellen, Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1974 (=Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, Bd. XIII), p. 179-180. MICHELS, Ulrich, Die Musiktraktate des Johannes de Muris, Wiesbaden, 1970.]
Another treatise, however, "Quilibet affectans" (CS III, p. 59-60a), may have been authored by Jehan des Murs, and includes a brief harmonic formulation of the attraction principle, albeit allowing for exceptions.
But the three most interesting fourteenth-century authors for our subject are: Marchetto da Padova, Pseudo-Tunstede (Quatuor principalia) and the anonymous author of the Paris treatise (now at Berkeley, California).
Marchetto da Padova
Marchetto's Lucidarium (between 1309 and 1318) is the first treatise to give a clear harmonic formulation, admittedly in a rather unclassical way. For he considers true chromaticism (c-c sharp), and states that the c sharp-d step does not consist of more than one fifth of a tone -- which remains the most surprising point in the doctrine he sets forth:
ex.: Marchetto da Padova, Lucidarium II (between 1309 and 1318), cap. VI
[See GERBERT, Martin, Scriptores ecclesiastici de musica sacra potissimum, St. Blasien, 1784, vol. 3 (=GS III), p. 64-121; p. 73b]
The ideas of the anonymous author of "Quatuor principalia" (a treatise once ascribed to a Franciscan friar called Tunstede, but without sufficient reason) are most striking. This is in fact a compilation of four independent treatises, each one reflecting a somewhat different doctrine. Only the third and fourth parts take up the attraction question, and their respective positions are not altogether compatible.
Thus the fourth part contains a harmonic formulation which is not really complete -- and of no great interest (CS IV; p. 284-290). The third part, on the other hand, is highly original. Clearly dealing with plainsong, it alludes to the melodic formulation of the attraction principle, but only to reject it:
Capitulum LVI. Quod intervalla vocum perfecte pronuntientur.This author not only resists the introduction of attraction accidentals (following both melodic formulations, i.e. the auxiliary note and the ascending scale rules), but also provides highly interesting information on the musical practice of his time and country: To the chapels of the nobility (magnati), obviously under the influence of continental art-practice, he contrasts the native English tradition, which remains quite close to thirteenth-century ideals. In the proper English fourteenth-century repertory (as we have seen in the previous section), explicit attraction accidentals are not common practice.
Intervalla etiam vocum perfecte pronuntientur, ut semitonium pro tono pleno non fiat, et e contrario. In hoc autem multi modernis temporibus sunt vitiosi, quoniam cum de re, per fa, in sol ascendunt, vix inter fa et sol, semitonium ponunt. Insuper cum sol, fa, sol, aut re, ut, re, pronuntiant, semitonium pro tono mittunt, et sic genus diatonicum confundunt, ac planum cantum falsifiant [sic; falsificant ?]. Interrogati quidem qua ratione sit [ut] semitonium pro tono pronuntiant; pro auctoritate enim atque ratione, cantores de magnatorum capellis allegant. Dicunt etenim eos non sic cantasse sine ratione, cum optimi sint cantores, sicque aliorum vestigiis decepti, et unus post alium omnes sequuntur errores. (CS IV, p. 250.)
"Chapter the 56th, [where it is stated] that one should sing exactly the intervals [corresponding] to the [solmization] syllables.
"Besides, the intervals [corresponding] to the [solmization] syllables shall be sung accurately, so that there does not appear a semitone instead of a whole tone, and conversely. In that respect, however, many people in this day and age are mistaken, for when from re they go up to sol, passing through fa, they hardly put a semitone between fa and sol. Moreover, when they sing sol fa sol, or re ut re, they put a semitone instead of a tone, and so they mix up the diatonic genus, and corrupt the plainsong. When you ask them why it is that they sing a semitone instead of a whole tone, indeed, by way of authority and reason, they refer to the singers of the chapels of people in high places. They further say that these [singers] cannot sing so without reason, for they are excellent singers, and so, misled by the footprints of others, one after the other they all follow these errors."
[One should pay particular attention here to the word "pronuntiare", since it is a deceptive cognate. In the musical terminology of that time, it means so much as "to sing" or "to perform", and does not take in the modern sense of the verb "to pronounce". See ARLETTAZ, Vincent, Musica ficta, une histoire des sensibles..., Mardaga, Sprimont, 2000, p. 144 ff., 164 f.]
Both observations tend towards the same conclusions. They suggest the existence, in fourteenth-century England, of a conservative trend, which still rejects attraction accidentals.
Paris (Berkeley) treatise
As for the anonymous Paris treatise (now in Berkeley, California), it seems to be the first to document the existence of implied attraction accidentals (as Margaret Bent has already demonstrated). But the date of the corresponding passage remains unclear; all one can venture to say is that it probably goes back to the late fourteenth century.
[See ELLSWORTH, Olivier B. (ed.), The Berkeley Manuscript, University of California, Music Library, MS. 744 (olim Phillipps 4450), A new critical text and translation..., Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press, , p. 240-242. This treatise is in five sections ("books"). The explicit of the third book bears the date 1375, but the last two books reflect a somewhat different doctrine; although they have been copied by the same hand as the first three ones, they do not appear in the index given at the beginning of the work. Thus they probably represent a later addition, the dating of which remains unclear.]
Continued: (III) The theorists' statements (second part) >>>
© Vincent Arlettaz
- last update: 27 December 2002 -
Vincent Arlettaz's homepage