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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

TENOR “FAMILIES”

Chapter:
CHAPTER 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Of the three components that went into this brainy little song, the most frequently used was the tenor. The “In seculum” melisma, like several others (including “DO-”[mino] from the same parent gradual, Haec dies), was a great favorite with the university crowd, used over and over again as a motet tenor. This, too, was an aspect of “tour de force culture,” in which emulation or outdoing—doing the same thing but doing it better—was a cardinal aim.

But why the “In seculum” tenor in particular? It might have had something to do with its eccentric tonal scheme. The Gregorian melismas, on which motets (like clausulas before them) were constructed, are groups of notes excerpted more or less at hazard out of larger tonal structures. They do not at all necessarily end on the final of the parent chant’s mode. Indeed, the “In seculum” melisma does not. The Haec dies Gradual is in mode 2 transposed to cadence on A. The “In seculum” melisma ends on F. And even within the melisma the final note is surprising, since it occurs only at the end, after many repercussions (some of them quite convincingly cadential) on C.

When the melisma forms the tenor of a clausula that is then re-inserted into the context of a full performance of the Gradual, the tonal disparity is minimized. When it forms the tenor of a motet that is performed all by itself, the tonal disparity is emphasized and becomes perhaps—or indeed almost certainly, in view of the tenor’s popularity—a source of pleasure in its own right, for it is yet another aspect of discordia concors. (For modern listeners, who are trained to value tonal unity in a composition, it is perhaps a guiltier pleasure than it was for Grocheio and his contemporaries.) Wayward or unpredictable tonal characteristics, deemed a deviation or a defect in more recent music, are normal in medieval motets, and were probably even an allurement.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2018. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007006.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 17 Oct. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007006.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 17 Oct. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007006.xml