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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite
Richard Taruskin
The “Petronian” MotetThe “Petronian” Motet

ex. 7-8 Transcription of Fig. 7-8

To close our discussion of the thirteenth-century motet we can turn to the pair that opens the seventh fascicle of Mo. On the basis of citations by fourteenth-century writers they are attributed to a shadowy but evidently important composer and theorist named Petrus de Cruce (Pierre de la Croix?) in the treatises. These two motets, and another half dozen with similar characteristics (therefore also conjecturally ascribed to Petrus), are in a very special style that takes the device of rhythmic stratification to the very limit that contemporary notation allowed. Further, in fact, because Petrus modified Franconian notation and its attendant textures so as to exaggerate the layering effect.

The “Petronian” Motet

fig. 7-9 On a parole/A Paris/Frese nouvele (Montpellier, Bibliothèque Inter-Universaire, Section Médecine, H196, fols. 368v-369). The beginning is again indicated by decorative capitals, halfway down the left-hand page.

Aucun/Lonc tans/ANNUN(TIANTES) gives us, in its motetus and triplum, a long and lingering last look at the loftiest class of trouvère chanson, and its tenor is also of a traditional type, borrowed from a Notre Dame organum. Fig. 7-10 shows its first page; Ex. 7-10 is a transcription of the same portion. The texture and prosody here are comparable to those in Ex. 7-8 (El mois de mai/De se debent bigami/KYRIE): the triplum has syllabically texted semibreves, the motetus has semibreves but carries syllables only on longs and breves or their equivalents, and the tenor moves in perfect longs throughout. And yet the sound and style of the piece are very novel indeed, owing to the flexibility with which the triplum part subdivides the basic beat (i.e., the tempus or breve unit).

Petrus marks off the triplum’s breve units or tempora with little dots called puncta divisionis (division points) that function like modern bar lines, turning the tempora into measures. Between puncta there can be anywhere from two to seven semibreves (and according to several theorists, some composers around this time went as far as a ninefold subdivision of the tempus). In the setting of line 7, in which one measure is singled out to receive seven separate syllables, there is more than twice the usual number of semibreves in a tempus. Either they have to go by at more than twice the usual speed, turning a noble love song into a tongue twister, or the tempo of the whole has to be slowed down sufficiently to accommodate a “natural” delivery of the shortest note values.

The “Petronian” MotetThe “Petronian” Motet

ex. 7-9 Transcription of Fig. 7-9

The “Petronian” Motet

fig. 7-10 Petrus de Cruce, Aucun/Lonc tans/ANNUN, beginning (Mo, fol. 273), the first two pages of five.

The “Petronian” MotetThe “Petronian” MotetThe “Petronian” Motet

ex. 7-10 Transcription of Fig. 7-10

The latter, it seems pretty clear, must have been the intention and the practice. The result is that the normal semibreve now becomes comparable in actual duration to the normal breve in earlier motets, giving rise to a tempo at which the “perfect” division of the breve into three semibreves (or into an “altered” pair) is truly meaningful in transcription, like the one in Ex. 7-10. The spread between the longest and the shortest note values has reached a factor of 18 (3 × 3 × 2). As a result, the normal “modal” rhythms underlying the supple declamation of the triplum have now become so slow as virtually to fade from the surface of the music.

Modal rhythm, in short, now loses the patterning and governing properties that were its original reason for being. Not only that, but the exaggerated rhythmic differentiation of the triplum from the supporting voices belies the origin of the motet style in the note-against-note texture of discant composition. Once again a connection that can be traced easily enough through time has been shed at the stylistic level. That is what is meant by stylistic evolution. One can trace it with interest, appreciate its vicissitudes, delight in the new possibilities it creates, and marvel at the ingenuity with which these possibilities are exploited, and yet remain skeptical of the notion that art makes progress.

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. 12 Aug. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007009.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 12 Aug. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007009.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 12 Aug. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007009.xml