Harmonic adjustment

On top of the harmonic element of cadential progressions, harmonic adjustments work in much the same way as melodic ones, but in the realm of the vertical interaction between the voices rather than horizontal logic. Here too it is helpful to remember the medieval habit of notation in parts rather than in score. It is clear that some degree of forward planning and pre-preparation was important for any performance just as it still is today, and that this resulted in each performer having a good idea of what is about to happen next at any given point. Still, this notational characteristic has implications on the way music is learned and memorized, and suggests a culture in which the reaction to what has just been heard within the ensemble is more common than adaptations to what may or may not happen in another voice in the future.

As with the melodic corrections, some adjustments are straightforward.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In this extract, the triplum has ample time to realize the contratenor is holding a protracted F-sharp to make sure its passing note chimes with its surroundings, even though there is no melodic reason for the addition. At other times, the immediate preceding information should be ignored in favor of a larger picture, or indeed, the melodic pattern.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In this extract, a sensitive tenorista may notice the contratenor’s B-natural in bar 45 – which suggests a progression towards C – and would be tempted to keep his or her following B at the beginning of bar 46 natural as well. This, though, will clash with both cantus and triplum, create a tritone leap (or snowballing ficta), and a rather less likely plagal cadence at the end of the piece. Flattening the B solves all these problems, and is melodically more satisfactory. As explained when previously looking at this section, it can also be seen as implied by the preceding E-flat.

Judging whether to follow audio cues or ignore them can be a delicate task. When no obvious correction is required or an internal logic can be found for the reading adopted, I would recommend privileging individuality and melodic considerations over score-based adaptations. Again, this can be seen part of the medieval musical set-up. As the materials available to a performer were more likely to be linear than horizontal (be that in each performer’s memory or on the page), melodic consideration seem likely to carry more weight than harmonic ones. In many cases, following a sufficiently strong and clearly oriented melodic ficta logic leads also to satisfactory harmonic results, with any resulting clashes resolving themselves in an understandable manner. 

Such an example can be seen in the extract from B41 already discussed for its dissonant nature.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The clear cadential progression to C in all voices would guide the ear through the strong dissonances of bar 22. These include the simultaneous transition from E-natural to F-sharp in the triplum and from F-natural to E-flat in the tenor, as well as the rather long tritones between the C-natural of the cantus and the F-sharp of the contratenor and triplum. Similar progressions can include direct augmented unisons or octaves between the descending tenor and the voice or voices ascending towards the fifth. In this instance, such a clash is only avoided by the unusually long leading tone of the triplum. A more regular approach (three dotted quarter-notes using the same pitches) would also have been acceptable here, resulting in a protracted E-flat/E-natural clash with the tenor.

A sub-set of adjustments which depend on reactions to harmonic context involve the choice between different setting-sizes or voice-identities for a single work. It is clear that as audio queues are newly given, changed or omitted, the behavior of the stable voices can also be altered. Specific examples are discussed also in the section dedicated to these changes, as well as in relation to motivic addition of ficta, and voice function and cadential progressions.  


Uri Smilansky


***********************STOP PRESS!!!!!!!!************************

The Complete Poetry and Music of Guillaume de Machaut Volume 1 is out now!!!!

Volume 1: The Debate Poems is now available in print.

You can also enjoy the entire volume online via the Middle English Texts Website.

Edited and translated by R. Barton Palmer, with art historical commentary by Domenic Leo, and musical commentary by Uri Smilansky, the volume contains  Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaigne, Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre, and Le Lay de Plour.




The Ferrell-Vogüé Machaut Manuscript

Full colour facsimile with introductory study by Lawrence Earp, Domenic Leo and Carla Shapreau. Preface by Christopher de Hamel

"It is a vast manuscript of royal luxury, 390 leaves of parchment, 314 mm. by 220 mm., illustrated with 118 enchanting miniatures by a workshop of court illuminators led by the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy.They include pictures of gothic chivalry and romance, with mythology and natural history. Music is included on 235 pages of the manuscript, with almost the entire corpus of the ballades, lais and motets of Machaut, as well as his great polyphonic setting of the Mass, the four-part Messe de Nostre-Dame.The manuscript has never before been photographed in its entirety or reproduced in colour."

"Vol. 1 introductory study (225 pages colour/mono), vol. 2 facsimile (789 full colour pages) on 150gsm matt art paper. Full size reproduction, hard bound in buckram, presented in hard slipcover."

Available now from DIAMM Publications.

The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut by Yolanda Plumley

Available now from Oxford University Press

"Presents the first detailed exploration of citational practices in the song-writing tradition of fourteenth-century France. The first monograph-length study on the Ars nova chanson with new evidence about the emergence of the new polyphonic chanson. Provides new evidence about the circle of poets and composers who engaged with Machaut and created a new style of poetry and song. Explores little studied collections of lyrics and songs of the period and provides fresh insights and perspectives on Machaut's works."