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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

MODE AS A GUIDE TO COMPOSITION

Chapter:
CHAPTER 3 Retheorizing Music
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

What a difference we will observe when we look at melodies written after the Frankish chant theory had been formulated! For that theory, modest in its intention, was huge in its effect. While it may have begun as a way of improving the efficiency with which a body of ancient music was mastered and memorized, it quickly metamorphosed into a guide to new composition, achieving a significance its early exponents may never have envisioned for it. >From a description of existing music it became a prescription for the music of the future.

The first composer whom the chant theory “influenced” may have been Hucbald himself, its chief early exponent. His surviving compositions include a set of antiphons for the Office of St. Peter, as well as the famous set of laudes or Gloria tropes. They are all modally systematic in a way that earlier chant had never been. The Office antiphons, for example, are arranged in a cycle progressing through the whole array of church modes in numerical order—Hucbald’s own numerical order! The trope, Quem vere pia laus, does not employ the common melodic formulae of the existing Gloria chants—in other words, it eschews the old concept of mode as a formula-family—but instead exemplifies the more abstract features of scalar construction.

In Ex. 3-4, Hucbald’s set of laudes is embedded in a Gloria that shares its mode (the sixth, or Hypolydian) and seems, on the basis of its sources as well as its style, to date from within, or shortly after, Hucbald’s lifetime. In both, the tonal focus is sharp, with the final, F, located in the middle of the melody’s range, providing a clear line of demarcation between the modal pentachord and the plagal tetrachord below. Hucbald uses three pitches to end the constituent (and, remember, nonconsecutive) phrases of his laudes. Only the last ends, as might be expected, on the final. A plurality, five, end on the reciting tone, namely A. The other four, which end on G, seem to have picked up the influence of some secular genres, especially dance songs, which, as we will see in the next chapter, frequently use the “supertonic” degree to create half (or “open”) cadences, to be fully closed by the final at the end of the next phrase of the original chant. That is what happens in Hucbald’s second, third, and fourth phrases, all of which end on G. The second phrase is answered and “closed” by the full cadence on “Benedicimus te”; the fourth by the close on “Glorificamus te.” The one in between (Qui dominator…) is answered strategically by “Adoramus te” with a cadence on D, so that a tonally closed ABA pattern sets off the three parallel acclamations from the rest of the Gloria. This kind of tonally articulated formal structure was the great Frankish innovation.

Mode as a Guide to CompositionMode as a Guide to Composition

ex. 3-4 Gloria in mode 6, with laudes by Hucbald of St. Amand (texted in italics)

The same regular features can be discerned in many of the trope melodies discussed in chapter 2. That is because the authors of tropes had to be music analysts as well as poets and composers. They had to determine and reproduce the mode of the chant to which they were setting their prefaces and interpolations, whether or not they actually intended to imitate the style of the earlier chant. (In practice, it seems, some did so intend and some evidently preferred their new melodies to stand out from the old; all, however, understood the requirement of modal conformity.) Consider the preface to the Easter Introit in Ex. 2-8a. The mode of the Introit antiphon itself is given as the fourth (Deuterus plagalis or Hypophrygian), and one can immediately see why: it begins with D, a note in the lower tetrachord (and the first phrase, “Resurrexi,” actually cadences there); the range will later touch bottom on the C below that. The highest note in the melody is A, which means that the full modal pentachord above E is never expressed at all. Only the final cadence on E (something that could hardly be predicted at the outset) justifies the assignment of the melody to the Phrygian tribe. The gap between the reality of the chant and the utopia of mode theory yawns.

“Psallite regi,” the little prefatory trope shown in Ex. 2-8a, resolutely closes the gap. It begins on E, precisely so that the beginning of the newly augmented antiphon will conform to the end (and so that the end, so to speak, can now fulfill the implications of the beginning). It sounds the B above the final so that the full modal pentachord of mode 4 is represented. It expressly avoids a modal cadence at the end, of course, so that it will flow imperceptibly into the antiphon it is introducing. But it has very perceptibly enhanced the conformity of the actual Gregorian antiphon with the Frankish definition of its mode.

Although it is the shorter and the simpler of the introit tropes for Easter shown in chapter 2, “Psallite regi” is by far the most radical in its transformation of the melody to which it is appended. Ex. 2-8b is more obviously an imitation of the Gregorian antiphon. Its prefacing phrase begins, like the antiphon, with a feint toward D, and ends, again like the antiphon, with a cadence on the final. It even mimics the Introit’s ambitus (C up to A) instead of, like Ex. 2-8a, completing the modal pentachord with a B.

The Quem quaeritis trope (Ex. 2-9) is modally whimsical. It actually takes the initial feint to D at its word, so to speak, and prepares it with an actual melody in mode 2 (Hypodorian). It is the descent to the bottom of the lower tetrachord at the very beginning of the “Interrogatio” that establishes the melody as plagal, even though the “Responsorium,” as befits the heavenly voice that sings it, ascends into the upper tetrachord (though not all the way to the top of it). Melodies that encompass more than two primary scale segments (or that have ranges of more than an octave) exemplify what medieval theorists called commixtio, or modus commixtus. The term is often “translated” into a nonexistent English cognate: “commixture” or “commixed mode.” In any case, it needs to be distinguished from the modus mixtus defined above. “Mixed mode” denotes a mixture of different octave species. “Commixture” refers to the extension of a melody so as to encompass both authentic and plagal scales.

The hymn melodies in Ex. 2-7 were chosen, among other reasons, to exemplify “modern” Frankish melodies in various modes. Ave maris stella (Ex. 2-7a) is a wonderfully clear example of post-Gregorian Dorian melody. Its composer most assuredly knew all about abstract modal syntax, and about the relationship between antiphon modes and psalm tones as laid out in the tonaries. Note how the first phrase leaps up from the final to the upper tetrachord, which it fully describes, meanwhile emphasizing the note dividing the pentachord and tetrachord (the tuba, so to speak) with a turn figure. The second phrase completely describes the pentachord. The third phrase cadences on the “note added on below,” introducing it with a veritable flourish. And the fourth phrase returns to the uncluttered pentachord for the final cadence. This kind of clearly delineated structure can hardly be found in the original corpus of Gregorian chant. It is the product of “theory,” and of a single composer’s shaping hand. For the first time, it seems, we are looking at a piece not merely maintained but composed within the literate tradition—composed, that is, in the sense we usually have in mind when we use the word.

Pange lingua (Ex. 2-7b), in the third mode (authentic Phrygian), also gives its “modernity” away, this time by giving cadential emphasis to the note C, high above the final. (Third mode melodies in the original Gregorian corpus often emphasize this C, but not as a cadence.) By the time Pange lingua was composed, theoretical rationalization had made such emphasis common. The same point may be made, even more emphatically, about Veni creator spiritus (Ex. 2-7c). It is assigned to the eighth mode (rather than the seventh), but not for any reason having to do with its ambitus or final. The final, G, is common to all tetrardus melodies. The range could be described as the modal pentachord with a “note added on” either above or below, again suggesting that the authentic and the plagal scales have an equal claim on the tune’s allegiance. What clinches things for the plagal is the cadential emphasis on C, the tuba of the corresponding psalm tone. (The authentic tuba, D, also gets a cadence, but C gets two.)

Thus these hymn melodies graphically illustrate the synthesis of Roman and Byzantine elements that made up Frankish mode theory and its perhaps unforeseen compositional influence. (The regularity of structure in the hymns may of course also reflect the influence of popular genres that have left no written trace and are consequently beyond our historical ken.) The style and the effect of these tunes is altogether different from those of the true Gregorian corpus. Where the older melodies were discursive, elusive, and ecstatic, these are dynamic, strongly etched, and therefore highly memorable (as congregational songs need to be). The influence of “theory” on them was in no way an inhibition. Quite the contrary; it seems to have been an enormous spur to the Frankish musical imagination, leading to a great burst of indigenous musical composition in the north of Europe, contributing a new (and lasting) kind of musical beauty.

To savor this new Frankish style at its best and most characteristic, let us have a look at a melody composed around 1100, after mode theory had a century or more in which to establish itself in singers’ consciousness: Kyrie IX, which bears the subtitle Cum jubilo (“with a shout”) after its perhaps original texted form (Ex. 3-5). Never yet have we seen a melody that, by so clearly parsing itself into the “principal parts” of its mode, advertises the fact that the mode, as a concept, preceded and conditioned the composition of the melody.

Mode as a Guide to Composition

ex. 3-5 Kyrie IX, Cum jubilo

Consider first the opening threefold acclamation. The first eight notes of the opening “Kyrie” exactly stake out the modal pentachord. The rest of the phrase decorates the final with the characteristic “Dorian” lower neighbor. The second acclamation begins by staking out the lower tetrachord just as the first had staked out the pentachord. It then proceeds like the first. The third is a full repetition of the first. Summing up the pattern of repetitions, we find that the opening threefold litany mirrors in melodic microcosm the shape of the entire ninefold text: a melodic ABA or “sandwich” form nested within a textual ABA (threefold Kyrie/threefold Christe/threefold Kyrie). At the same time, the melisma on “-e,” plus the “eleison” (into which the melisma flows smoothly by vowel elision), are the same every time, reflecting the old practice of choral refrains. Hence, the overall shape of the opening threefold acclamation could be represented as A(x) B(x) A(x). So far the melody conforms closely to the principal parts of mode 2, the Hypodorian (with the refrain dwelling significantly on F, the tuba).

The first “Christe,” consisting for the most part of turn figures around A, substitutes the tuba of the authentic Dorian for that of the plagal and similarly emphasizes it; this gives us an inkling that the chant is going to encompass a commixed mode. As to overall shape, the threefold Christe is also cast, like the previous threefold acclamation, in an ABA design that mirrors in melodic microcosm the overall form of the text. But note one playful detail: what fills the Christe sandwich is a variant of what was the “bread” in the Kyrie sandwich.

The concluding threefold acclamation begins by confirming the impression that this will be a modus commixtus chant. Compare the new intonation on “Kyrie” with the “filling” of the first Kyrie sandwich. It is the same motive an octave higher, now staking out the upper tetrachord and completing the authentic Dorian scale. (Because of the many repetitions this motive will receive in the higher octave, the complete melody is classified as a mode 1 chant.) And now notice that the continuation on “eleison” is a variant of the continuations of the first and last “Christe” phrases. This brings about another playful switch of functions between “filling” and “bread,” and it also means that the “eleison” phrases following the first and last “Christe” phrases were another detachable refrain, alternating with the first. Wheels within wheels!

The last threefold acclamation, like the others, is a sandwich; its filling is the same as that of the second sandwich (namely a variant of the bread in the first). The final acclamation is augmented by an internal melisma that repeats the melody of the entire first Kyrie; but then, in order to end on the final rather than the tuba, the second Kyrie is recapitulated, too, so that the last word is sung to the original “eleison” refrain. The entire subtly interwoven and integrated formal scheme looks like Table 3-2.

Thus a sort of “rondo” scheme (AbAcAcdAdA) crosscuts the trio of sandwiches, and a single dynamic pitch trajectory, from the bottom of the Hypodorian tetrachord

TABLE 3-2 Structure of Kyrie IX

A.

Kyrie eleison

A(x)

Kyrie eleison

B(x)

Kyrie eleison

A(x)

B.

Christe eleison

C(y)

=

A

Christe eleison

A′(x)

B

Christe eleison

C(y)

A

A.

Kyrie eleison

D(y′)

=

A

Kyrie eleison

A′(x)

B

Kyrie eleison

D(y′) - D(y′) - A′(x)

A

to the top of the authentic Dorian tetrachord, seems to describe a progression from darkness to light (or, in terms of mood, from abjection to rejoicing) that accords with the implied (or hoped-for) answer to the prayer, the more so as the peak of the melodic range coincides with the peak of melismatic “jubilation.” Finally, the melody’s tonal regularity, with its alternation of cadences on final and tuba a fifth apart, was a permanent “Western” acquisition. It would outlast the modal system that gave rise to it.

For a final indication of the Frankish passion for formal rounding and regularity, compare the concluding item in the Ordinary formulary initiated by Kyrie IX, the dismissal formula (Ex. 3-6). It is set to the same melody as the opening “Kyrie eleison” in Ex. 3-5, the phrase designated “A(x)” in Table 3-2, which recurred throughout the litany and came back out of retirement to conclude it. The whole Mass service is thus effectively rounded off the same way the Kyrie was, with a significant melodic refrain. The Frankish ambition to use music as a shaping and a unifying force is exercised here at the highest possible level.

Mode as a Guide to Composition

ex. 3-6 Ite/deo gratias from Mass IX

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 3 Retheorizing Music." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-003005.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 3 Retheorizing Music. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 19 Aug. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-003005.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 3 Retheorizing Music." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 19 Aug. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-003005.xml