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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite
Richard Taruskin

An extraordinary witness to the popularity of the “In seculum” melisma is a little appendix of textless pieces, all based on it, found at the end of the Bamberg manuscript after the hundred motets that make up its main corpus or “body” of works. Although they are without text and written in score, these pieces are not really “clausulae,” because they are written in mensural notation and have nothing to do with the actual Notre Dame repertory. (As far as the composers themselves were in all likelihood concerned, they were borrowing the “In seculum” tenor not from a Gradual but from other motets.) They were “abstract” pattern-pieces, intended for vocalizing or for instrumental performance, and as such count as the earliest written “chamber music.” Fig. 7-6, an “opening” of two facing pages from the Bamberg manuscript, shows three of these pieces and the beginning of a fourth; Ex. 7-6 contains transcriptions of two of the complete pieces.

Color and Talea

fig. 7-6 “Instrumental motets” on In seculum tenor (Ba, fols. 63v-64)

Color and TaleaColor and Talea

ex. 7-6a “Instrumental” (textless) motets, In seculum longum

Color and TaleaColor and Talea

ex. 7-6b In seculum breve

Compare the tenors. They all cut up the “In seculum” melisma into three-note ordines. The first, called In seculum longum (“In seculum by longs”) casts the tune in perfect longs throughout, as in the spondaic “fifth mode.” The second, called In seculum viellatoris (“The fiddle-player’s In seculum”), uses trochaic (“first mode”) LBL patterns as fixed by the mensural ligatures. And the third, called In seculum breve (“In seculum by breves”) reverses the patterns of the second piece into iambic (“second mode”) BLB

patterns, also fixed by the mensural ligatures.

All three tenors put the “In seculum” melisma through a double cursus. The melisma contains 34 notes, which when divided into three-note ordines leaves a remainder of one after the eleventh ordo. So in all three pieces, the twelfth ordo consists of the last note of the first cursus and the first two notes of the second cursus. As a result, the melody and the rhythmic “foot-unit” seem to go out of phase with one another in the second cursus, producing a new set of three-note ordines on which to base the polyphonic texture. In other words, the two aspects or dimensions of the tenor—the melody or pitch-succession, and the rhythmic ordo—have been conceptually separated.

This method of constructing tenors, in which a predetermined, repeated pitch-succession borrowed from a chant was coordinated with a predetermined, repeated succession of durations, opened up vast new possibilities for intellectual tours de force that were mined intensively during the fourteenth century, when the motet underwent a spectacular growth. The abstractly conceived pitch-succession was called the color by fourteenth-century theorists, and the abstractly conceived rhythmic pattern, especially when it went beyond the simple modal ordines found in these early examples, was called the talea. (This word, which literally means “measuring rod” in Latin, is obviously related etymologically to the Sanskrit word tala, by which Indian musicians refer to the fixed, cyclically repeated beat-pattern underlying the complex improvised surface rhythms in a musical performance.)

“The fiddle-player’s In seculum” jibes well with the passage in Grocheio where the theorist praises fiddle players (viellatores) as the most versatile instrumentalists of the day. “A good performer on the vielle,” he writes, “normally uses every kind of song and every musical form.” It seems likely, then, that this piece was intended as an instrumental trio. The two pieces transcribed in Ex. 7-6 may also be instrumental trios, or at least performable that way, but there is no reason to rule out vocalized performance, especially since they are hockets, “cut-up songs,” as Grocheio describes them, “composed in two or more voices.” He lists hockets among the vocal genres, following organum and conductus, and comments that “this kind of song is pleasing to the hot-tempered and to young men because of its mobility and speed.”

The pair of hockets in Ex. 7-6 certainly demonstrate that mobility and speed. They are in fact a single piece in two versions, longum and breve, of which the second goes exactly in “double time.” Where the first is written in perfect longs, imperfect longs, and breves, the second has imperfect longs, breves, and (for the first time among the pieces selected for examination here) semibreves. Assuming that the “perfection” or beat-unit remains constant when the two pieces are performed in sequence, the second hocket goes at a really breakneck speed, especially considering the split-second timing that hocket-exchanges require. This is virtuoso music, demanding a tour de force from performers and composer alike. One or both of these pieces may be the famous Hoquetus In seculum attributed in Anonymus IV to “a certain Spaniard.” They are found in a number of sources, and in one of them yet another voice—a texted quadruplum containing a trouvère-style love poem—is superimposed on the whole complex for a real combinatorial orgy.

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. 20 Oct. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007007.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 20 Oct. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007007.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 20 Oct. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007007.xml