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The "All Things Renaissance Polyphony and Chant" thread

Every so often there's a serious discussion of the arts of polyphony from the High Renaissance even in the NAAFI, in this case Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus. I thought it would be worth having that discussion in the right place rathe than drag threads about boobs off-track or have a decent discussion about music derailed with comments abut willies.

So the opener for 10. Allegri:

Some idiot placed the alternating plainsong on the Lydian mode having transcribed the codex from re to BbMaj, when in fact the Phrygian dominant is more accurate modulation of the Falsobordone in the root of the triad. A more accurate reditioning has the ornamentation in Eb.

I really can't tell whether this is choir-speak or bullshit.
Either way I'm going to use it impress people.

Easy way to work this out., and you only have to listen to about the first min and a half of each.

This version by Kings College uses the version most people are familiar with and is in the Lydian mode. Modes are straight scales of 7 notes with no sharps or flats, and in this case starting on the note F, and it is the mode that the chant is sung in, whereas the "choiry" bit is in the key of B Flat Major which involves sticking a couple of notes on the end of the chant to put it back in the right place so it doesn't sound odd:


Now listen to the fist min or so of this version.


The chant is different - it is in the Phrygian mode. The "choiry" bit has been shifted into a different key - G Major. This is the technical bit, they are singing the same notes as it has been arranged so the intervals (or gaps in pitch) are the same, but it joins up properly between the chant and the choiry bits without having to put in additional notes to bridge the gap in the keys (called modulation).

Then try this:

I also mentioned something called the "Codex". The codex was the core musical manuscript, but it would have passages in it where the singer would improvise and what was actually heard when the piece was first written rather than the one that is attributed to Mozart hearing it and writing it down later.

 

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Every so often there's a serious discussion of the arts of polyphony from the High Renaissance even in the NAAFI, in this case Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus. I thought it would be worth having that discussion in the right place rathe than drag threads about boobs off-track or have a decent discussion about music derailed with comments abut willies.

So the opener for 10. Allegri:

Some idiot placed the alternating plainsong on the Lydian mode having transcribed the codex from re to BbMaj, when in fact the Phrygian dominant is more accurate modulation of the Falsobordone in the root of the triad. A more accurate reditioning has the ornamentation in Eb.



Easy way to work this out., and you only have to listen to about the first min and a half of each.

This version by Kings College uses the version most people are familiar with and is in the Lydian mode. Modes are straight scales of 7 notes with no sharps or flats, and in this case starting on the note F, and it is the mode that the chant is sung in, whereas the "choiry" bit is in the key of B Flat Major which involves sticking a couple of notes on the end of the chant to put it back in the right place so it doesn't sound odd:


Now listen to the fist min or so of this version.


The chant is different - it is in the Phrygian mode. The "choiry" bit has been shifted into a different key - G Major. This is the technical bit, they are singing the same notes as it has been arranged so the intervals (or gaps in pitch) are the same, but it joins up properly between the chant and the choiry bits without having to put in additional notes to bridge the gap in the keys (called modulation).

Then try this:

I also mentioned something called the "Codex". The codex was the core musical manuscript, but it would have passages in it where the singer would improvise and what was actually heard when the piece was first written rather than the one that is attributed to Mozart hearing it and writing it down later.

Thank you @woopert.

When explained, the differences are clear. I didn't realise that there was quite so much technical stuff in choral music.
I won't try to bullshit my kids choir mistress; I shall stick to belting out Carols. I will miss real Carol services this year.
 
Thank you @woopert.

When explained, the differences are clear. I didn't realise that there was quite so much technical stuff in choral music.
I won't try to bullshit my kids choir mistress; I shall stick to belting out Carols. I will miss real Carol services this year.
There’s also a load of technical/physical stuff involved in the art of singing: breathing and breath control, for instance.
In the Miserere, those two are key. In addition, I think I mentioned in the thread drift that, ideally, the soloist should have a range that goes a couple of notes above the High C, for security.
In any voice, when you have a high note, you learn to come down on it, in your head, from above. Coming at it from below, reaching up to it, results in a strained voice and a harsh note.
 
... I also mentioned something called the "Codex". The codex was the core musical manuscript, but it would have passages in it where the singer would improvise and what was actually heard when the piece was first written rather than the one that is attributed to Mozart hearing it and writing it down later.
Which Mozart allegedly kept under his hat.
 
Thank you @woopert.

When explained, the differences are clear. I didn't realise that there was quite so much technical stuff in choral music.
I won't try to bullshit my kids choir mistress; I shall stick to belting out Carols. I will miss real Carol services this year.

It's the same technical stuff that comes in any form of composition really.

The main (Catholic) repertoire up until about 50 years ago (when the RCC had a big shindig called the Second Vatican Council where they upended 2000 years of tradition of the mass being said in Latin using either Gothic or Romanesque art and architecture in the design of churches and vestments where the focus was along the church to the altar, which faced East, and the priest saying the mass with his back to the people facing the altar to big round spaceships where Fr Hugalot suddenly wore tie-die hessian sacks and we all cum-by-yah-rowing-our-boat-along to a gueeetar with bad pastiches of "folk" music) was based around 2 main services, Mass and Vespers. In both the structure was one of two forms:

Folsobordone: that is where you alternate between Gregorian chant in one verse and polyphony (inter-twining harmonies) on the other and

Polyphony: none of the chant, but using the text of varying depth of complexity.

You get other styles such as Organum which is the layering of the chant with sustained triad chords underneath (a triad is a chord made up the root, 3rd, and fifth - so for a Chord of C this would be C, E, and G which you can augument by adding a sharp at the top or diminish by flattening it) which was common in the middle ages from the 10th to 12th Centuries and sound like this:


When you start composing you use a tool called "The Circle of Fifths" and that lets you work out which chords work in what keys, and importantly, which notes you can use to construct chords in that key. If you then find you have a note that doesn't work (it would cause a clash you didn't want and is the musical equivalent of scratching your fingernails down a blackboard, or a car crashing) then you have to change the key to accommodate the note that the music revolves around. If you did it suddenly you would hear it.

A good example is Britney, and who doesn't love a bit of bubblegum pop? You can hear the key shift about 2m 45s in when the key shifts up one:


All well and good when you do it the once, but when you have verses alternating around chant and polyphony it would stand out like a bishop in a nunnery (oo err) if you didn't line up the mode of the chant and the key of the polyphony. Here's the problem, with the exception of C Major/AMinor every key has one or more sharps or flats while a mode doesn't (because it is 7 straight notes from root to octave which a scale isn't as it is built on intervals, or gaps/spaces between notes like a whole step, whole, half-step whole, whole, whole, half, octave for a major scale). To get around that you use a pivot note that is common to both the mode that the chant is in (such as in Mode 1, which is built on the note D, you can throw in a flat on the note B) which lines it up with the key (D Minor - and as you don't use the note B much in that modal scale because the melody or tune revolves around the notes A, C, and E and tends to start and finish on D), and when you do, you can use it to pivot nicely into the corresponding key and the ear doesn't pick it up (you can also use it to stress a change in the melody of the chant as well).

So this was the point with the Allegri. Because the music was under a strict sort of copywrite in the papal archive (the urban myth that performing it would lead to excommunication is just that, a myth) only snippets of it were in broad circulation based on Mozart cribbing it when he heard it in the Sistine Chapel. When Victorian composers started to write editions of it, they fell back into starting with the key they thought the polyphony should be in and tried to chop and change the chant to chromatically fit rather than doing it the other way around, plus they had a thing for flighty chant in the Lydian mode (interestingly, the theme tune to The Simpsons is in the Lydian mode) rather than the "darker" Prygian and Ionian modes. To fix the problem they "bent" the chant and shifted the starting and ending notes up and down (by adding extra note-steps, or passing notes) which is what you hear right at the end of each chanted verse in the Kings College version (it seems to naturally finish then there's another random note added that adds an extra semi-tone to step it to BbMaj).

It sounds a lot more complex than it is really.....
 
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I would define a great deal of that, simplistically, as ‘musical logic’.
When going through a work for the first time, as a singer, you instinctively know what the next note or notes should ‘logically’ be.
If that ‘logic’ is defied, then it’s a pencil mark to remind you to pay attention.
 
I would define a great deal of that, simplistically, as ‘musical logic’.
When going through a work for the first time, as a singer, you instinctively know what the next note or notes should ‘logically’ be.
If that ‘logic’ is defied, then it’s a pencil mark to remind you to pay attention.
There's also knowing your repertoire.

I tend to do a lot of Byrd and Tallis (the former being a student of the latter) and so structurally they share a lot in common, plus they have their signatures (Byrd's passing notes in Amen for example). After a while you get a sense of what they are about to do and where (musically) they are about to go which makes sight reading a bit easier.

Plus in saying that I get to use this video, which is just sheer Byrd perfection (Agnus Dei, Mass for 4 Voices) of Grace Davidson and Chris Royall (both no longer recording with the group), Mark Dobell and Eamon Duggan

 
There's also knowing your repertoire.


Plus in saying that I get to use this video, which is just sheer Byrd perfection (Agnus Dei, Mass for 4 Voices) of Grace Davidson and Chris Royall (both no longer recording with the group), Mark Dobell and Eamon Duggan


Tallis I love, Byrd I am not that familiar with, though the above was (if you will pardon the pun) divine.
I think I am going to enjoy this thread.
 
Tallis I love, Byrd I am not that familiar with, though the above was (if you will pardon the pun) divine.
I think I am going to enjoy this thread.
Byrd was an interesting character.

He was a Lay Clerk in the Chapel Royal and sung for Elizabeth, but never abandoned his Catholicism. He "got away with it" because, along with Tallis, he had the sense to play the political long game and published his Catione Sacrae (book of sacred music) and dedicated it to Queen Elizabeth. At the time, though there was a theological shift, a lot of the new CofE liturgy was still in Latin so his music was equally applicable.

The really interesting stuff is the music he wrote for the Catholic Church. Most of his music was designed to be sung 1 per part by musicians in the (still) Catholic houses of England. the Duke of Norfolk was his main financial patron and so his music is intricate, refined, and delicate. As a singer and conductor you can really get your hands dirty with it - take the Mass for 4 voices you can make 2 renditions sound totally different just simply by what you do with the dynamics of the parts. He also had hidden messages in his music. Super Flumina Babylonis (by the rivers of Babylon where we sat and wept) became a motet to bolster the morale of the Catholics under the repression in England, and Vigilate a warning to keep a watchful eye out for traitors in the midst.

He didn't just write religious music though. He wrote prolifically commercial music too for organ and madrigal.

Vigilate (I thought you might like the score)


And although I didn't mention it, my favourite Byrd piece, Ave Verum Corpus

 
I certainly hope so, otherwise we would still be bashing sticks on rocks!
Neolithic man had a fine sense of acoustics and sound waves - even if he may not have fully appreciated it.
At the Hal Saflieni Neolithic Hypogeum in Malta, which was carved out of living rock, 10m or so underground, one of the chambers is the Oracle room, with a channel carved into the wall right around the room at about head height.
Apparently, a supplicant would ask the priest a question. The priest would then place his head just at the entrance to a hole in the wall, and whisper the response. This was then amplified around the room - truly heap big ju-ju.
One part of the trick was this only works with an adult male voice: females and children, no.
My primary school class in Malta in 1963 had this demonstrated to us by our class teacher. A couple of us kids had a go - nothing. A female teacher had a go - nothing. Our class teacher, a chap, had a go, and his voice boomed around the room.
 
@woopert.

I was aware of the story of the genesis of MPM, that was what drove me to seek it out in the first place.

@everyone

I kind of grew up with liturgical music, I was lucky enough, or unlucky enough depending on your point of view, to be a choirboy at a very traditional catholic school. Every pope since Paul XXIII, was obviously a heretic. The second Vatican council was merely advisory. Every Sunday was a full Tridentine high mass, credo III anyone?


The school hymnal was written in naume notation as well. I can still sing that credo, in my own small way, from memory a good 30+ years since I left school.

For goodness sake don’t ask what we did for feast days, we had our own bishop resident in the school. The smell of insense has never really left my nostrils. Even after my own small road to Damascus moment at 16 (this religion thing, it’s utter ******* bollocks isn’t it?).

What I do remember very well was the sheer joy and satisfaction of harmony singing.
I really enjoyed the music though and I got to the cannon of chant and eventually to Hildergard Von Bingham (who I still enjoy, in a darkened room, with a comfy chair and a glass of really good red wine). Thus to Palestrina and Allegri. Though there I stopped for some years, I got into Thomas Tallis via the the Tallis scholars through their recordings of the Miserere, and their other stuff. Though for the polyphonic stuff I’m really casting about blindly.

Then I missed a bit, Faure‘s requiem at Westminster Cathedral, performed in the kind of space that it was written to be performed in, was the last concert I managed to get to. I took my wife to that concert She was a bit nonplussed at about how blissed out I was about some female voices singing high notes. Now I keep the motion going and I try to scare her as often as I can with the confutatis from Mozart’s requiem.

I’m an utter amateur and would look to you guys who are demonstrably much more knowledgeable , and I have really enjoyed the stuff that you have posted so far. Victoria seems to be someone I need to look into, as the stuff that woopert posted today was ace, and today was the first time that I have even heard of them. As well as Byrd.

I would be grateful for a few pointers of who were the movers and shakers of the high Renaissance and anything I should be looking out for?

Ta, if you guys have the time.
 
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What an amazingly fascinating thread. I loved the link to the recordings and the explanations.
I attended a US Catholic boarding school run by Benedictine monks. The monks would chant the Hours as a group in the chapel (minus a few monks required on duty to keep the boys from running amok unsupervised). When I arrived at the school and the monks discovered that I had been an altar boy I was often called upon to serve when monks who were priests said their daily Mass. I actually liked the music and would often get up even earlier than required to listen to the monks chant Matins and Lauds. Prime, None, Terce, Sex were during class hours but sometimes I would go to Vespers and Complin (when 5th and 6th form students had a bit more evening freedom)

Oddly, I can still remember the Confiteor, Pater Noster and Ave Maria and could attempt the Salve Regina in chant (but probably off key)and can recall all the words.

Great Thread!!!
 
@woopert.

I was aware of the story of the genesis of MPM, that was what drove me to seek it out in the first place.

@everyone

I kind of grew up with liturgical music, I was lucky enough, or unlucky enough depending on your point of view, to be a choirboy at a very traditional catholic school. Every pope since Paul XXIII, was obviously a heretic. The second Vatican council was merely advisory. Every Sunday was a full Tridentine high mass, credo III anyone?

{/quote]

Well actually, as we are in Advent the correct usage is Credo 1, which I actually prefer anyway:



I would be grateful for a few pointers of who were the movers and shakers of the high Renaissance and anything I should be looking out for?

Ta, if you guys have the time.
I could say a lot about the music for Advent, which I will, but Lent, and Holy Week in particular are the absolute height of musical output.

I would highly recommend Victoria's Responsories for the Tenebrae (the best version is Westminster Cathedral Choir, but the recording done by David Hill which is slightly older then the re-recorded one by James O'Donnell as the Hill version is more guttural and raw and in places the tempo is barely restrained, it's like a horse chomping at the bit).

The Tenebrae, or literally "darkness" is the office of morning readings which in a monastic setting would begine before first light, the chapel lit by candles which are gradually extinguished with each reading and Lamentation until everyone leaves in total darkness and silence.

The readings are followed by a Lamentation of Jeremiah. Note how the chant uses fifths intervals in the same way as the Exultet which announces the Risen Christ:

There is then a reading and antiphon and the response. The 18 Responsories follow a sequence of 6 each for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Saturday.

This is what you have to understand before listening to them. Victoria was a priest, originally Spanish and trained and worked in Rome as a composer to the Papal Court. The responsories are the embodiment of eveything he fundamentally lived, breathed, and believed in music expressing the most tumultuous part of the story of redemption. This is Victoria pouring out his very soul!

Written in D Minor it is a very simple key (one flat on the B for the bass line) and this is the bit about restraining the tempo, some of the parts relate the clamour of the crowds, the sorrow of the disciples, and to do it properly you need both discipline of tempo and at points you just have to let it go.

Responsorie 1Amicus Meus


Responsory 8 Tenebrae Factae Sunt (sung ATBarB as it should be, I'd rip the arm off anyone trying to do this SATB and beat them with the soggy end)


I mentioned the Wstminster Cathedral Choir/David Hill recording. listen out to Nick Keay absolutely belting out the "ut me dereliquisti" line which is so evocative it makes me shiver.
 
Responsory 10 Tradiderunt Me - the clamour


Responsory 12 Caligaverunt Me. I love singing the bass part in the trio at 3min 12 (O vos Omnes)


FResponsory 17 Aestimatus Sum, again, ATBarB

 
Great thread. Just listened to Polyphonies Oubliees by Gilles Binchois. Do you have any views?
Responsory 10 Tradiderunt Me - the clamour


Responsory 12 Caligaverunt Me. I love singing the bass part in the trio at 3min 12 (O vos Omnes)


FResponsory 17 Aestimatus Sum, again, ATBarB

 
Responsory 10 Tradiderunt Me - the clamour


Responsory 12 Caligaverunt Me. I love singing the bass part in the trio at 3min 12 (O vos Omnes)


FResponsory 17 Aestimatus Sum, again, ATBarB

One of those contraltos would definitely get it, hang on, sorry we are not the MILF thread anymore are we.

awesome @woopert, keep it coming.
 
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Great thread. Just listened to Polyphonies Oubliees by Gilles Binchois. Do you have any views?
To begin with, I didn't as he isn't a composer I've come across before, so I had to look him up and found he was composing around the time of others I had heard of, like John Dunstable and Dufay. It appears he's part of what is often referred to as the "Flemish School" that includes Ockeghem (who was a bit later in time but used a lot of the melodies of Binchois in his own composition, something common in what are called "parody forms", which I can get to later)

His style is melodic - the melodies (or tunes) are quite in depth but the harmonic structure isn't. In fact, the piece you referred to is written in Faux Bourdon, or false bass (literally false drone). If you've never come across that term before, it was a device used in the medieval composition and became quite a common structural style in France around the turn of the 18th C and involves pieces written in the first or second inversion. Basically what you do here is take the chord structure around the melody and write it so that the root is "inverted". Easy way to describe this is the chord of C Major. In a tri-chord (3 notes harmonising with each other in the pitch of C) you would have the notes C, E & G. To move it into first inversion you play the same 3 notes but move it up so that you play/sing E, G, and then C an octave higher (second inversion would be the same chord as G, C, E but shifting - or transposing - down in the octave). You get the same chord in the same relative pitch, but the quality of the chord changes in that it produces a lighter tonal quality in the first inversion (called an over-tone).

In the first inversion you will often find that the bass is singing notes that are pitched higher than the tenor, but an octave below (so the bass may have a D above Middle C while the tenor is singing an A on the tenor clef, or even a middle C and be actually lower in pitch than the bass rather than just relatively lower in pitch).

On an organ there is a coupled-stop called a Faux Bordon which automatically plays the first inversion of the note played on the pedal board to create just this effect.

It's certainly interesting and I see it was a technique he used when writing Chansons (poems set to music, so the pop of the day, though somehow I don't see Brtiney or Swifty rushing to the recording studio to belt out Ye Sacred Muses, but who knows, Sting did a whole album of songs by John Dowland which were written in the 16thC , and he did a really good job of it too!)

Certainly something to listen to further, thanks for the pointer.
 
One of those contraltos would definitely get it, hang on, sorry we are not the MILF thread anymore are we.

awesome @woopert, keep it coming.
They both look like they could drink a docker under the table and have me in a fight, so I'd pass.
 

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