Aural Images of Lost Tradition: Sharps and Flats in the by Robert Toft

By Robert Toft

The oral traditions surrounding the appliance of sharps and apartments to sixteenth century vocal tune are documented relating to theoretical literature, vocal resources, and intabulations of vocal song. specific reference is made to the motets of Josquin Desprez, Clemens non Papa, and Alexander Agricola.

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Los quales hazen que las consonancias suenen rezias y sostenidas' / 'Compositions usually end on an octave or a fifteenth, the harmony of which must always be sharped. For this reason, it is necessary that one or the other of the middle voices, that is, tenor or contraltus, be a sharped note, which makes the harmony sound strong and sharped' (Sancta Maria ATF i 26, f 89v). In addition to the practices discussed above, the unnotated subsemitone was also commonly supplied in noncadential passages.

Permutation means that B could be sung as/# (Bj,) or as mi (Bl|), and the availability of this choice was especially important when one needed to avoid the tritone with F. B[, is, thus, part of the system, and this presents the performer with the possibility of a B|,-A motion at cadences on A. 12 To be fair, the theoretical discussions of approaches to clausulae often represent simplified versions of the situations performing musicians encountered. Theorists simply could not discuss every possible ramification of their precepts.

18 Thus, Ramis' example supports Bermudo's claim made some seventy-three years later that all perfect consonances should be approached from the closest imperfect interval. However, Bermudo (1555) also suggested two ways in which the vertical dissonance discussed by Tinctoris and Ramis could be avoided. A simple solution to those passages where the upper voice of a minor sixth could not be performed as mi was to perform the lower voice as fa, thus producing a suprasemitonal, rather than a subsemitonal, approach to the octave: Quando hizieremos octava, ahora sea en clausula o de huyda, viniendo de sexta: sera hecha con sexta mayor la qual es dicha 21 22 Aural Images perfecta, y es mas cercana de la octava, que la sexta menor.

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