Music Theory

Music Theory: Problems and Practices in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

lloyd ultan
Copyright Date: 1977
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttts9gx
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Music Theory
    Book Description:

    Music Theory was first published in 1977. This is a textbook for the study of music theory, using a historical approach which enables the student to learn about compositional devices as they appeared and evolved in early Western music. The textbook and its accompanying workbook provide for the study of basic analytical and compositional techniques through the use of selected literature and original compositional techniques through the use of selected literature and original compositional assignments. With these teaching materials techniques which have been employed periodically throughout history, even into the most advanced of contemporary composition, may be mastered and absorbed as an integral part of the student’s understanding of the aesthetic principles of art. Such compositional techniques as canon, cadential patterns, isorhythm, cantus firmus, initiation, and invertible counterpoint are among the many which are presented for study. A unique feature of the text is the introduction and employment of early notations. Including this dimension helps the student to understand the limitations imposed by the graphic tools of the composer upon his compositional decisions. This approach also enables the student to develop flexibility in the interpretation of notation. The book has been used in a preliminary form by hundreds of students and many different types of teachers. The students were typical college freshmen and sophomores, and none of the faculty had special training in the music of the periods studied, since any teacher with conventional theoretical training can easily master and present the material. The workbook contains 68 musical examples, and specific assignments for students are correlated with the textbook material.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5549-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    L. U
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Part One The Middle Ages
    • Chapter 1 Notation
      (pp. 3-22)

      When considering the problems and practices of musical composition in the Middle Ages, it is essential to begin with notation. The extent to which composers’ expressive possibilities were limited by the inadequacies of their graphic tools is approximated in but one other historical period — the present. It is possible to trace in the Middle Ages an evolution from ambiguity to increasing clarity in the development and use of symbols. The reverse can be shown to be true in the notational problems and experiments throughout the twentieth century.

      The difficulties encountered in studying the music of the medieval period are enormous....

    • Chapter 2 Plainsong
      (pp. 23-35)

      Plainsong is a monophonic form of music embodying a vast literature, much of which reflects a refined and sophisticated concept of melody. Large collections of secular and sacred monophonic music exist that date from the Middle Ages and have a number of unifying characteristics.

      The linear concept of this literature is strongly conjunct, i.e., many seconds and thirds, fewer fourths and fifths, very few sixths and octaves, practically no sevenths, and no intervals larger than an octave. Its range normally remains within the comfortable span of the human (male) voice — approximately a tenth. Only one chromatic alteration (Bb) is used...

    • Chapter 3 Monophonic Forms
      (pp. 36-51)

      Monophonic music of the Middle Ages derives its broad organizaitional logic from phrases, sections, and larger structures or forms which fall into several general categories. In many of the forms, the music is through-composed (i.e., there is no reference in the latter part of a piece to the musical materials presented in the earlier portion — a continuous unfolding of new ideas).

      Sacred plainsong was composed to serve two principal services of the Catholic Church — the Mass and the Offices. Each of these consists of several different sections which have a clear service function. Some sections of the text vary with...

    • Chapter 4 Early Polyphony: Organum
      (pp. 52-60)

      The development of the precise notational system described in Chapter 1 provided the essential component for the creation and evolution of a multivoiced form of music. This achievement, probably more than any other, provided the basic tool that was necessary to establish subsequently the uniqueness of Occidental music. The gradual development of varying sophisticated styles of counterpoint and harmony, the refinement of chamber ensembles, and the evolution of the orchestra (a precision instrument for artistic musical performance often consisting of as many as one hundred or more members) reflect the magnitude and impact of this innovation on the musical art...

    • Chapter 5 Ars Nova Notation
      (pp. 61-74)

      The fourteenth century in music history is characterized as theArs Nova(new art). The name was taken from the title of a treatise by the composertheorist Phillipe de Vitri (c. 1290-1361). It was used by theorists of the day to distinguish from the preceding period (theArs Antiqua) this time of vigorous activity, significant development, and considerable refinement in both the notational system and compositional practice.

      As we have seen, each stage in the evolution of notation is a further refinement of the devices and symbols used in preceding periods, with the addition of relatively few new ones. Although...

    • Chapter 6 Early Contrapuntal Concepts and Devices
      (pp. 75-87)

      The gradual sophistication of notational practices during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which we have considered in several of the preceding chapters, enabled composers to express their compositional intentions with considerable accuracy. This allowed for increasingly refined evaluation of vertical relationships between parts, permitted greater exploration of the independence of the voices, and opened up the possibility of new compositional techniques which could not have evolved to the extent they did (in some cases not at all) within the limitations of earlier notational systems. These developments occur gradually throughout the periods of notational evolution and must be understood in that...

    • Chapter 7 Late Contrapuntal Concepts and Devices
      (pp. 88-102)

      The division of the contrapuntal portion of the Middle Ages into early and late must to a certain extent be arbitrary. However, it is a convenient reference which is, in large part, accurate. The contrapuntal practices that resist such designation at least permit enough flexibility of historical placement so as not to be blatantly incorrect. The evolution of technique in many areas of human endeavor may be obscured by anonymity, but any reasonable delineation within the confines of the knowledge available for the purpose of elucidating the nature and relationships of those techniques is justified.

      In the last chapter we...

    • Chapter 8 Sacred Polyphonic Forms
      (pp. 103-119)

      Musical forms during the Middle Ages were largely dependent upon the structure of the text. Repetitions of portions of a given text resulted in parallel musical repetitions, but a free unfolding of textual material was not often paralleled by through-composed musical treatment. This was especially apparent in secular music in which musical treatment of the poetic forms simply adopted the name of the particular form and the varying textual phrases were usually set to two distinctive musical ideas. In the sacred literature the textual forms were not as clearly defined and a more melismatic and through-composed style resulted.

      Three principal...

    • Chapter 9 Secular Polyphonic Forms
      (pp. 120-129)

      The secular monophonic forms that characterized the literature of the poetmusicians from the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries were adopted by the composers of polyphonic music during the late thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries. These forms included the lai, the rondeau, the ballade, and the virelai. The virelai was calledchanson balladéesby Machaut andballataby the Italians.

      Several new forms emerged during the fourteenth century. The most important of these were the canonic forms ofchaceandcaccia, the madrigal, and the secular motet. The secular motet differed from its sacred counterpart only in that the tenor was...

    • Chapter 10 The Late Fourteenth Century
      (pp. 130-140)

      The end of the Middle Ages has been defined by some as the turn of the fifteenth century and by others as late as the middle of the sixteenth. A substantial number of arguments can be offered to support both of these points of view, but it is not our purpose to enter into such debate. One can, however, sympathize with the statement, “If there were such a thing as polyphony in prose, it would obviously be a godsend to the writer of history, whatever it might be to the reader.”¹

      By ending Part I with a discussion of the...

  5. Part Two The Renaissance
    • Chapter 11 Transition
      (pp. 143-149)

      The designation of a change of historical period should not imply a sudden change in style. The evolutionary continuum is not interrupted by convenient reference dates selected long after the fact. There is much difference of opinion about when one might securely date the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The styles of the earlier period gradually evolved into those of the later period. However, some of the practices of the late Middle Ages clearly provoked a strong reaction at the beginning of the Renaissance.

      The early fifteenth century is the most widely recognized reference...

    • Chapter 12 Early Fifteenth Century — Dufay
      (pp. 150-170)

      A sharp reaction to the extremely complicated music of the late fourteenth century was apparent in the works of such composers as John Dunstable (c. 1370–1453), Gilles Binchois (c. 1400–1467), and Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400–1474). Although the stylistic changes are most obvious in the treatment of rhythm, a greater sense of restraint and clarity is revealed in a variety of other compositional practices.

      Because there are many works from this period and the already large number of composers whose works are known and available is increasing, we cannot and will not attempt to survey the literature comprehensively....

    • Chapter 13 Middle and Late Fifteenth Century — Johannes Ockeghem
      (pp. 171-181)

      Increasingly larger numbers of accomplished composers can be identified as the fifteenth century continued to unfold. Such men as Antoine Busnois (d. 1492), Jacob Obrecht (1430–1505), Loyset Compere (d. 1518), and Johannes Ockeghem (1430–1495) can be mentioned as some of the principal figures of the period. Ockeghem will serve as our subject for studying the continuing evolution of compositional technique through this period.

      Styles of composition are very personal phenomena and therefore generalizations are dangerous. However, we are not attempting to discuss the stylistic characteristics representative of the period in general or even of the subject composer in...

    • Chapter 14 Late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries — Josquin des Pres
      (pp. 182-194)

      One composer clearly stands out in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries—Josquin des Pres (1450–1521). His many works, reflecting a mastery of technique, are an important force in the continuing evolution of the art. He used extensively paired imitation, sequential passages, a variety of canons, literal repetitions, mixed meters, and numerous other devices, all of which characterized his personal style and significantly influenced those who followed him.

      Josquin’sMissa Pange Linguais a paraphrase Mass for which the source material was derived from the hymnPange Lingua.¹ The paraphrase technique antedates Josquin and is simply the elaboration...

    • Chapter 15 Sixteenth-Century Secular Forms
      (pp. 195-207)

      In the discussion of Renaissance music we confined our study almost exclusively to the sacred literature — selected works of a few representative composers. However, a secular literature flourished during this entire period. Examples could be cited in the work of those composers whose sacred music we considered in preceding chapters.

      In the sixteenth century, secular music gained an added impetus from the growth of a new wealthy bourgeoisie which followed the example of royalty in their encouragement of the arts.¹ Although a variety of secular forms were used, two clearly attracted the finest composers and were produced in large numbers...

    • Chapter 16 Palestrina: Part One
      (pp. 208-217)

      Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c. 1524–1594), a composer of sacred music, was one of two major figures at the end of the Renaissance (the other was Orlando de Lassus). His work has gained greater notoriety than most other composers of this period largely as the result of the work of the late Baroque theorist Johann J. Fux. Almost 150 years after Palestrina flourished, Fux retrospectively delineated a set of rules for Palestrina’s style which defined one of the most restrictive and sophisticated compositional practices of all time (including even the total serialists of the mid-twentieth century).

      The Fux approach to...

    • Chapter 17 Palestrina: Part Two
      (pp. 218-227)

      Palestrina’s polyphonic style is subject to the same principles delineated in the last chapter as primary considerations in the design of line, the use of rhythm, and the setting of texts. Lines must be combined to produce the smoothest possible effect. Unclear, abrupt, awkward, or overly dramatic effects must be avoided. The rhythmic effect of the total motion of the lines must be as carefully wrought as the rhythm of any single moment in any individual line.

      Placing two or more parts together requires a clear understanding of consonance and dissonance. This is not new to our study but because...

    • Chapter 18 Summary, Conclusions, and New Directions
      (pp. 228-234)

      In this final chapter I am concerned with pulling together the diverse elements of the evolutionary forces of the approximately six hundred years encompassed by our study. However specific and detailed it may have seemed, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that we have barely skimmed the surface of a vast and complicated subject. Although the study has provided insights into the evolution of our musical heritage and assistance to the aspiring musician who is acquiring rudimentary analytical and compositional technique, it can have provided only a point of departure for the achievement of a comprehensive understanding of the historical...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 237-239)
  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 240-244)
  8. Appendix
    (pp. 245-260)
  9. Index
    (pp. 261-268)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-269)