Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Miscelaneous Musings, Two

Now that I have made the points I wanted to make concerning the early evolution of consonance and dissonance and the relationship that evolution had with the natural harmonic overtone series and the Pythagorean tuning system, I thought some musical examples would be in order to graphically demonstrate the evolution of early diaphony.

I took these examples directly out of "History of Music Theory", but keep in mind that they are nevertheless generalizations and their relationship with actual practice seems somewhat tenuous. The examples do, however, represent what the ancient theorists seem to be describing in their treatises. In that light, I simply accept them as useful tools to get an idea of the evolution of musical thought represented in standard notation that is easy to visualize.

Note also that the idea of a defined meter with a definite metric pulse had not developed in these early centuries and so the rhythm, such as it is, should be considered to be very elastic and subject to the singers' interpretation. I actually added note values to the final example of discant so that it was easier for me to visualize, but that should in no way mislead you into thinking that the singers performed that kind of music to anything other than the most plastic conception of meter.



In the earliest form of diaphony, called Organum, the chant or Cantus was the upper voice. Initially, the theorists of the 9th century describe a practice wherein the entire chant is "harmonized" at the perfect fourth below by the organal voice. This practice corresponds to the top example above labelled "9th Century".

The next step in the evolution of organum - represented by example 2 above labelled "10th Century" - was for the voices to open and close on a unison. Some examples from this period show a third as the penultimate interval, but others have a major second indicated. In any event, these seem to be the earliest seeds of contrary motion, but I believe it would be premature to consider the closes to be "cadential", except perhaps in the most primitive possible sense.

By the eleventh century at least two advancements seem to have been made more or less simultaneously: 1) The cantus is now written in the lower voice, and 2) The organal voice is now gaining some independence at points other than the opening and the close. The term Organum is still being used to describe this practice, but it is not what most of us probably think of as organum proper, but rather some intermediate stage of evolution toward discant and counterpoint. Notice how all of the perfect intervals are used in this example: Perfect unison, perfect fifth, perfect fourth, and perfect octave, but that there are no imperfect consonances or dissonances. By this time it is possible, perhaps even probable, that these 1:1 ratio compositions were embellished by the singers on the organal voice, but there seems to be no absolute certainty about that.

The final example of twelveth century Discant practice is from a rather didactic treatise and is not a "musical" example, strictly speaking, because the "cantus" is not a real chant. It was the best I could do, however, as I didn't want to get into making up my own examples. Here I was figuring that authenticity was the only way to go, and would be infinitely better than any wild-assed interpretation of discant that I might come up with. Notice that even though the example starts out with an octave, the progression is nothing more than an ornamented progression of parallel perfect fifths. Not only that, but there is also no attempt to hide this progression with contrary motion: The parallel nature of the progression is actually accented. I was also struck by the fact that the neighboring and passing major seventh intervals at the beginning are quite spicy, and there is no attempt to rectify the neighboring augmented fourths at the end.

I decided to skip over the fauxbordon/faberdon/gymel practices of the thirteenth century, even though they employ the imperfect consonances of thirds and sixths, because there were no good examples and the description of the practice seems to be one of an organum-type parallel motion practice in thirds or sixths with octave doublings or transpositions. Asside from the use of imperfect consonances, I didn't really see how much was contributed to the evolution of counterpoint by these schools of composition, and counterpoint's evolution is the thread I want to pick up here.

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