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Studio D • Thursday afternoon, 2:00–5:00

Notation and Performance: Influence, Intersection, and Interpretation

Karen Cook (University of Hartford), Chair

Solomon Guhl-Miller (Temple University)

The Early History of Modal Rhythm: What Theory Tells us about Practice

Heather J. Holmquest (Buena Vista University)

Choosing Musica Ficta: The Modern Tradition of Historically Informed Performance Practice

Carolann Buff (Indiana University)

In Search of the Ars Magis Subtiliter

Adam Knight Gilbert (University of Southern California)

Juxta artem conficiendi: Notating and Performing Polyphony in Solmization

Megan Kaes Long (Oberlin College Conservatory)

The Mensural Ambivalence of Repeat Signs

Respondents

Abstracts

As the primary physical evidence for pre-tonal musical sound, notation has been an essential element in the study and performance of early music. But how fixed is the information we receive from notation? The last several decades have increasingly explored notation not as one single teleologically determined phenomenon but as fluid sets of conventionalized symbols, dependent on such contexts as time, place, genre, composer or scribe, and performative purpose for meaning. Pre-1600 conventions regarding parameters of pitch, rhythm, time, and space therefore vary dramatically, in stark contrast to the “lingua franca” achieved by later notational practices. What is notated, how it is notated, and what is left un-notated all have important implications for how early music was conceived and performed. And as “historically informed” performers increasingly consult music theory in order to make modern performative decisions, hermeneutic debates on notational meaning have a stronger impact on our understanding of both historical and modern performance.

In this regard, this panel, which spans well over three hundred years of notational and theoretical materials, offers several new insights into the intersections of notation, theory, and performance. Seeking not necessarily, or not only, to add to the body of prescriptive knowledge about “historically informed performance,” these five papers instead take a more postmodern approach to early notation. Plumbing the depths of extant theoretical material, each presenter locates clues that such sources leave us with regard to the relationships between notation and performance and questions received wisdom about the development of early notation itself.

The Early History of Modal Rhythm: What Theory Tells us about Practice

Solomon Guhl-Miller (Temple University)

One of the first questions a student of Ars Antiqua polyphony asks upon attempting to decipher the notation of a piece of music is “What mode is this in?” It is a tricky question with layers of assumptions behind it. Yet as anyone who transcribes this material, particularly that written down before about 1280, can attest, there are frequently multiple modes that a given piece can be “in” as well as multiple rhythmic interpretations of ligatures within a given single mode. Rather than assuming that when there are multiple possibilities it is because of a weakness in the notation, this study assumes that the notation offers these possibilities because it is not meant to present a single interpretation, but several possible interpretations, one of which may be selected at a given moment by the mutual will of the performers.  Drawing on theoretical traditions from Boethius to Anonymous of St. Emmeram, this paper will argue that the theorists expected the musicians to use their instincts when applying meter to song; making choices together as a group through the act of performance rather than relying solely on their reason and the notation. The study will conclude with a proposal for a new electronic edition of Ars Antiqua polyphony which would include numerous measured interpretations of a given work and give performers the chance to choose the one(s) they preferred to perform, along with a practical demonstration of what this would entail through a live performance of multiple interpretations of a motet.

Choosing Musica Ficta: The Modern Tradition of Historically Informed Performance Practice

Heather J. Holmquest (Buena Vista University)

A performer of medieval music makes performance choices based on existing notation and many extra-notational factors. When performers investigate a manuscript page to ascertain correct pitches, rhythms, and musica ficta practices, they are trying to recreate a historical soundscape. For this presentation, I will focus on the choices of musica ficta as they alter a “historical soundscape.” I focus on fourteenth-century Italian monophonic songs because the considerations for musica ficta are purely melodic unless a performer chooses to add a contrapuntal line. Sources of Italian monophony also include ample ficta signs that are ambiguous in their application and duration. Using contrasting recordings of these songs, I will discuss the impact of musica ficta choices on the resulting sound world created by interpreting the work. In certain recordings, added contrapuntal voices complicate and inform musica ficta choices (and vice-versa). I will select songs from the Rossi Codex and Squarcialupi Codex, including “Lucente Stella” from the Rossi Codex, “De’ poni amor” by Gherardello da Firenze, and “Sento d’amor la fiamma” by Lorenzo da Firenze. I will provide theoretical substantiation for the inclusion of unwritten ficta by engaging with Marchetto da Padova’s treatise, Lucidarium in arte musice plane. Ultimately, I will consider the impact of recording technology as a form of “early music notation.” The idea of choosing ficta to perform or not perform is a product of modern recording technology that may lead modern performers and listeners to a more rigid understanding of ficta than was historically required.

In Search of the Ars Magis Subtiliter

Carolann Buff (Indiana University)

Ursula Günther originally invented the neologism ars subtilior in order to identify a style of highly mannered music from the late 14th century, but more recently it has become a wholesale description for all music of the era, ignoring geography, notation, genre, or style. By reexamining the origin of the phrase—not Günther’s ars subtilior, but instead the ars magis subtiliter—in the prologue to the treatise Tractatus figurarum, one can see that a key feature of the style is the use of a variety of rhythmic elements that override the reigning tempus of the motet. It is also notable that the lower voices are rhythmically active and the harmonic rhythm moves significantly faster than earlier motets. The notation of these works is not overtly complex, leaving subtle shifts of mensuration and meter in the hands of the performers, who in turn weave their texts and rhythms betwixt and between each other.

In this paper, I revisit the concept of the ars magis subtiliter by considering this style within the context of the works that the Tractaus uses as musical examples—the anonymous motet Apta caro – Flos virginum, and two motets that are described in the treatise as the “grosso modo,” Vitry’s Quoniam – Tribum que and Rex Karole Leticie pacis. Through careful analysis of both the notation and aural landscape of these works, I conclude that this style is not only created through musical notation and mensural complexity, but is also something that, as the theorist describes it, is subtler.

Juxta artem conficiendi: Notating and Performing Polyphony in Solmization

Adam Knight Gilbert (University of Southern California)

Sometime in the first two decades of the 16th century, an anonymous German musician copied a little counterpoint treatise onto paper. Juxta artem conficiendi stands out for four examples of three-voice counterpoint preserved not on staff lines, but notated entirely in solmization syllables. These passages reveal the extent to which a teacher and student could communicate and preserve entire polyphonic constructs in terms of solmization, and they provide valuable information beyond the pitches of the voices. They reveal the musical tone of each passage, give a detailed account of the possible musical range for each example within the musical hand. In one example, all three voices outline the three proprieties (soft, medium, and hard), reflecting contemporary notation in two or three different key signatures.

These examples provide insight into the performance of contemporary works, including Ockeghem’s Missa Quinti toni, whose head motifs would be sung with in identical solmization to the most extensive example in Juxta artem conficiendi. Applying this type of solmization to Missa Quinti toni further reveals hidden passages of imitation and palindromic play. Applying the same principles in performance of dance music ca. 1500 offers a richer understanding on the development, performance, and perception of the early passamezzo dance patterns. Using solmization to understand the melodic vocabulary of polyphonic music offers more nuanced and precise methods for communicating melodic patterns. The implications for the modern performance of composed and improvised polyphony are profound.

The Mensural Ambivalence of Repeat Signs

Megan Kaes Long (Oberlin College Conservatory)

Repetition is both a formal parameter and an aspect of performance practice. Sixteenth-century notation provides an incomplete picture of how formal repetition was understood in practice. Often, when repeat signs are taken literally they displace the repeated section by a minim relative to the semibreve tactus (yielding a two-beat displacement dissonance relative to the four-beat grouping). Such displacement suggests that either regularity on the semibreve level was not important to composers, or singers were expected to correct the irregularity in performance. 

Ruth DeFord identifies what I have called the minim-displacement phenomenon in the mid-sixteenth century villanella and argues that offset indicates that the minim is the most important governing mensural level in light songs (rather than larger levels typical of more serious styles). Indeed, DeFord treats the limited mensural hierarchy as a defining aspect of these light genres. By contrast, balletti and canzonette (ca. 1585–1610)—direct descendants of the villanella—demonstrate a greater concern for regularity on the semibreve level. The rarity of minim offset in written-out repeats suggests that offset is a deliberate intervention against mensural norms. Thomas Morley indicates that performers could extend the final note before a repeat to maintain mensural alignment; the repertoire of balletti and canzonette bears out this assertion.

The different evidence for minim displacement in the midcentury villanella and the late sixteenth-century balletto and canzonetta reflects changing mensural priorities. Repeat signs suggest that composers and performers increasingly prioritized a larger mensural grid, a practice that we associate with later metrical styles.