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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

FARTHER ALONG THE EMULATION CHAIN

Chapter:
CHAPTER 12 Emblems and Dynasties
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Obrecht’s Missa Caput continues the emulatory line begun by Ockeghem and does so in a way that demonstrates with special clarity the composer’s high consciousness of the tradition in which he was participating. He pays tribute to the founder of the dynasty by citing, at the beginning of his Gloria (Ex. 12-9a), the phrase that begins every movement of the original English Caput Mass (compare the beginnings of Ex. 12-9a and Ex. 12-9b). Such phrases, called “headmotives” or “mottos,” were one of the most conspicuous devices through which composers spotlighted the formal unity of their music, a unity that was meant to rub off propitiously on the elite ritual occasions their music adorned.

Farther Along the Emulation Chain

ex. 12-9a Jacobus Obrecht, Missa Caput, Gloria, mm. 1-5

Farther Along the Emulation Chain

ex. 12-9b Original Missa Caput, opening phrase

Obrecht also shows his awareness of Ockeghem’s Mass by carrying farther the special technical maneuver that had distinguished it. That maneuver had been cantus-firmus transposition; but where Ockeghem had been content to make a single transposition of the cantus firmus, bringing it down an octave so that it became the de facto bassus of his Mass, Obrecht transposes it to five different pitch levels (one for each major section of the Mass) and has it migrate through the entire four-part texture. In the Kyrie it is located in the traditional tenor at its original pitch. In the Gloria, as can be seen in Ex. 12-9c, it is transposed up an octave to become the superius. In the Credo it is back in the tenor, but a fifth lower than before, so that it ends on C, the final of the Mass. In the Sanctus it is transposed an octave higher than the Credo pitch and is found in the altus. Finally, in the Agnus Dei, it is pitched an octave below its original pitch and placed in the bassus, so that Obrecht’s Mass ends with a direct nod at Ockeghem’s.

Farther Along the Emulation Chain

ex. 12-9c Jacobus Obrecht, Missa Caput, Gloria, mm. 17-23

Within this highly conscious and deliberate continuity of tradition, however, there is a considerable transformation of style. Obrecht’s preference is for a very active rhythmic texture, full of melodic sequences and syncopations, which contrasts markedly with the stateliness of the cantus firmus and emphasizes its emblematic status. A spectacular example are the bristly strettos that go off like sonic sparklers under the long-held final note of the cantus firmus at the end of the gloria (Ex. 12-9d).

Farther Along the Emulation Chain

ex. 12-9d Jacobus Obrecht, Missa Caput, Gloria, mm. 213-end

There is nothing like this in any earlier polyphonic sacred music, although Ockeghem, too, enjoyed jacking up the level of rhythmic activity as the final close loomed (often dubbed his “drive to the cadence”). Without any real justification Obrecht’s rhythmic athleticism is often cited as evidence of “secularization” and tied in with the overriding myth of the musical “Renaissance.” It is perhaps more simply, and more plausibly, viewed as another instance of virtuosity both in the making and in the performing of an exceedingly elite musical repertory, the highest of the high.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 12 Emblems and Dynasties." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-012009.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 12 Emblems and Dynasties. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 Oct. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-012009.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 12 Emblems and Dynasties." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 Oct. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-012009.xml