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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

CANTILENA

Chapter:
CHAPTER 9 Machaut and His Progeny
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

The new style of song-melody, composed with polyphonic accompaniment in mind, was called cantilena. By itself the melody was sufficient, making correct (subsemitonium) cadences and fitting the words. With the addition of a tenor, a self-sufficient two-part discant texture was achieved, in which cadences (to octaves or, more rarely, to unisons in contrary motion) were still correct according to the rules of discant. With the addition of a third voice, whether a texted triplum in the range of the cantus or an untexted contratenor in the range of the tenor, the two-part structure was sonorously enhanced and the harmonies made “sweet.”

The most usual way of sweetening the harmony was to amplify the imperfect consonances into full triads; and the most characteristic place to observe this is, again, at cadences. A typical three-voice cadence in cantilena style has the cantus and the tenor describing their characteristic progression from sixth to octave, with a contratenor (or, less often, a triplum) doubling the cantus at the lower fourth (if a contratenor) or upper fifth (if a triplum), thus creating what we have already learned to identify as the “double leading-tone” cadence.

This full harmonic texture began to influence the composition of motets, as we saw in the previous chapter, when contratenors were added to the vocal complement. Although we now associate the contratenor-enriched texture primarily with Machaut, it may actually have been yet another innovation of Philippe de Vitry. Several of his extant motets do have contratenors; and, although they do not survive, Vitry is known to have written ballades, probably in the 1320s (when the polyphonic ballade is described as a popular novelty by Jacques de Liège), some twenty years before Machaut’s earliest three-part cantilenas began appearing, at first in the Remède de Fortune.

One of the manuscripts containing the virelai En mon cuer, which we have considered in one part and in two, contains some extra ruled lines reserved for a triplum Machaut never got around to writing. That would have created three interchangeable versions of the song—or rather, three performance possibilities: cantus alone, cantus plus tenor, cantus plus triplum and tenor. Any of these possibilities is harmonically/contrapuntally correct; none of them can claim to be, in any exclusive sense, the “real thing.” Again we are reminded that the line between creation and performance was still a blurry, permeable one. Machaut corroborates this in an odd way when he asks Péronelle, in one of the Voir Dit letters, to receive a special song from him and have it played by her minstrels “just as it is, without adding or taking away.” For the sake of their special relationship, in other words, he was asking for something exceptional.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny." 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-div1-009004.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny. 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-div1-009004.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Machaut and His Progeny." 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-div1-009004.xml