Bad news, or not? Thoughts on Renaissance performance practice.
I started work on my master's degree in fall 1982; my undergraduate courses in music had been hurriedly packed into the previous year: this makes me, I suppose, one of the very first musicologists to grow up with no clear memory of life before the New Grove. Brown's article is thus an artifact from almost the exact moment when I came in--a moment that becomes increasingly dim as the years accumulate. Hence my reliance on old aphorisms, which seem to be among the few clear recollections that stuck. But what did I mean by `bad news'? Well, admittedly the early 1980s were a tough time for the young sackbuttist, as cherished repertories were being eroded one by one like dunes in a flood tide, so perhaps I can forgive my young self a moment of self-interested whining. Yet I'd like to believe there was more to it than that: the deeper truth, I suspect, is that in times of musical revolution, nothing quite registers as an advance unless it seems to violate our existing musical instincts. And I do think that those were revolutionary times--at least within the community of scholars and performers who have made early music a specialty.
The basic outlines of the revolution are fairly simple, The polyphonic music of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance almost never specifies its forces, and for a long time we thought that this implied a considerable flexibility in fact-that the Masses, motets, and songs of the age were written without any particular instrumentation in mind, and that a wide variety of vocal and instrumental combinations might confidently be used to perform any of them. The apotheosis of this approach may have been David Munrow's 1974 recording of Dufay's Missa Se la face ay pale, which combined voices with cornetts, sackbuts, organ and Viols, but played them so tastefully as to be almost irresistible even twentysome years later.(2)
But then, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing for the next decade or so, the searchlights were brought in to illuminate this issue from every possible angle. With every increase of wattage the use of voices and instruments together turned out to be less likely, and voices alone more so, for every repertory examined. The research was read eagerly by the chorally trained musicians of the British Isles and found its voice, or rather its voices, in ensembles like the Taverner Choir, the Hilliard Ensemble, the Tallis Scholars and, perhaps most conspicuously, Gothic Voices, whose director, Christopher Page, was and is also one of the leading exponents of the new ideas in the printed page. For some repertories (Josquin Masses, say) the new manner of performance was no shock, and nobody had any trouble adjusting; for others, particularly the French songs of the 14th and 15th centuries, it led to some controversy and, as the idea--and the performances it produced--gradually became accepted, a nearly complete reconception of what the music sounded Re and was all about. This was `the English a cappella heresy', a term coined (sort of) by Howard Brown in 1987 in a review of a Gothic Voices recording and taken up in turn by the heretics as a very satisfactory name for themselves.(3)
A lot has been written about the a cappella heresy,(4) but I don't think anyone has ever said the following. The most important event in the whole process was the publication in 1983 of a paper entitled `Specific information on the ensembles for composed polyphony, 1400-1474', by David Fallows.(5) Fallows's article was not the first to attack the prevailing voices-and-instruments philosophy--it was preceded at least by a couple of short papers by Page and Craig Wright, and by a longer study of the iconography of the medieval and Renaissance Mass by James McKinnon(6)--but I think it was what put a great many of us over the top at last. It was the longest treatment of the matter to date; it took on a huge and obviously central repertory; and it was written in the kind of clear and vigorous English prose that makes you read on instead of skipping to the abstract.
But beyond the article's scope and style, Fallows took some important steps of method. He worked mostly from literary and documentary sources, as we all do, but disciplined himself to begin with only those few references that clearly and unambiguously indicate composed polyphony. He then drew on a vast lumberyard of other documents and commonsensical detective work on the music to build out from this secure foundation. He worked hard to establish not merely a set of prohibitions, but a positive reconstruction of actual performing situations back then (including, most important of all, work on how many singers, and what kind, might take a particular line). And he kept his focus firmly on, in his words, I `the highest aspirations of the time'. `The social historian', Fallows went on, `may be interested in all kinds of music making, but the student of the music that happens to survive needs to know what was thought to be the ideal performance, the one that is worth emulating in an attempt to revive the music today.'(7)
None of these procedures (except maybe the last) was particularly original in itself, but in combination they were lethal, for they provided a badly needed means of distinguishing the most immediately useful bits of information among the huge welter available. The ambiguity clause cut out, for example, pictures of singers and lutenists who might have been improvising or performing monophony; the realsituations clause made us ask, when faced with one of the hundreds of surviving lists of choir members, how many of those guys were demonstrably singing at the same time; and the search for ideal conditions called into question all those performances, sometimes lushly and temptingly documented, that seem to represent compromises under pressure or extraordinary events with forces far beyond the normal. What was left after Fallows's merciless machetework was a surprise to many of us, but it was hard to deny: he found no acceptable evidence of instruments besides the organ participating in polyphony with the singers in church; and among clear references to secular composed polyphony he found no clear account of voices and instruments together. He expressed his conclusions with suitable caution, saying of the polyphonic songs, for example, that `the evidence for all-vocal performance ... is far greater than has been supposed'.(8) But the general observation, for most of us, was simpler and balder: the written music of Dufay's time was meant, meant, for voices alone.
In the past months of reading up on the literature since then, I have seen nothing to contradict this basic image and much that confirms and extends it. Fallows himself brought his arguments forward (with some modification) to the sacred music of Josquin's time;(9) Stephen Keyl and Tess Knighton carried it outward (and more or less intact) to the secular songs of Germany and Spain;(10) I looked as hard as I could at the pioneering church bands of Spain and found, once again, very limited evidence of instruments actually accompanying voices;(11) and on and on. Even the richest collection of research on this topic, the recently published proceedings of the Tours conference of 1991, seems to feature more exceptions than, to my eye at least, genuine challenges to the a cappella ideal.(12) And every one of us, I contend, wrote from a more or less conscious desire to do for our repertories what Fallows had done for Dufay.
It is now possible, for practically any piece of mainstream Renaissance music, to imagine the forces for an `ideal' performance within the habits of its time and place. And in fact there is a remarkable consistency to these ideals as we now seem to understand them. For sacred polyphony through 1600 or so, a cappella choral singing was almost surely the norm, usually with adult falsettists on the treble-, soprano-, or mezzo-clef lines (more about this in a moment). Choir size varied over the decades and from church to church, and voice distribution seems to have evolved from the soloist ensembles of the Middle Ages,(13) to top-heavy-seeming choirs like the 6/2/3/3 ordered for the Burgundian court chapel in 1469,(14) to the more even distributions noted in the papal choir by the 1530s;(15) but one-to-a-part singing remained common even in the largest choirs and may have been practically mandatory in polychoral pieces and Mass sections with reduced forces.(16) Secular music we might expect to enjoy a little more licence, and certainly it did; the number of lute and keyboard intabulations of existing songs, and the number of, for example, Italian manuscripts and prints presenting Josquin-era chansons without text, evidently for use by instrumentalists,(17) show how permeable the boundaries were. But still, tablatures and the like aside, wherever you go, Machaut through Marenzio, the ideal performance for conventional songs seems to have been again unaccompanied voices, but one on a part and often with, women, girls, or boys on the top line(s).(18)
All of which brings me back to my own task of revising Howard Mayer Brown's New Grove article. Brown was a major player in the a cappella debate; in fact, as I may have suggested above, he led the opposition, at least with respect to French songs of the 15th century. During the mid-to-late 1980s my friends and I drove all over the east coast of the United States to conferences hoping for a big public showdown, but it never came, and now it never will--Howard Brown died before publishing his objections at length. I am sadly aware that, with a few cigarettes less, he might well be revising this entry himself, and I wonder what he would have changed.
A few things are clear: Brown was at the 1981 meeting at which `Specific information' was first read, which would have given him ample time to incorporate its findings when the New Grove entry reappeared in The New Grove dictionary of musical instruments; yet the changes between the 1980 and 1984 versions are trivial and irrelevant to us here.(19) In 1989, however, he greatly expanded the entry to make a chapter in the Norton/Grove handbook on Performance practice. music before 1600; here there is a grudging and negative acknowledgement of the heresy,(20) but then, perhaps in the interests of a healthy dialectic, he and his co-editor Stanley Sadie gave the chapter on `Secular polyphony in the 15th century' to Fallows and the one on `Polyphony before 1400' to Page.(21) I, however, have to deal with the question head-on, and in the end, as you will see if you take the trouble to compare (and if the editors don't go crazy on me), my changes are fairly minor. Everything Brown said in 1980 is still basically true, and almost all of it has stayed, though I tweaked a few statements here and there and added a couple of new paragraphs of my own. I believe I gave a fair account of the current state of the voices-and-instruments argument. He would recognize his article for sure, and I hope he would mostly approve.
But the whole process has made me see how much of our energy in the last 20 years has been devoted to this issue, and how many other fundamental questions, alongside and farther away from it, remain unanswered. We authors of dictionary entries are tacitly discouraged from using them to predict the future or call the militia to arms, but Early music is a bully pulpit too, and its readers are likely to be responsible for the next revolutions. I have a few suggestions.
Facing the ambiguity
I believe, as I hope I have made dear, that the new scholarly rigour has been a good thing, that it has led us in a generally right direction. But I also wonder if it may be time for a new layer of caution and scepticism on top of it--a frank admission that our most hard-headed efforts may have led us to some wrong, or premature, answers. Is it possible that our reliance on `unambiguous' evidence may add up merely to an insidious stacking of the deck: that conceivably, for example, voices and instruments performed together a lot, but that the conventional means of describing or depicting those performances were such as to get their documents or pictures thrown out of consideration?
Howard Brown's biggest contribution to the instruments discussion was an article entitled `Instruments and voices in the fifteenth-century chanson which was published in 1976 (some years before the debate really got under way) and outside the usual journals.(22) It may have been overlooked in more recent years, but when I make students read it, even the most ardent Fallovians are, as I remember I was, impressed. Brown does mention unaccompanied voices as one possibility for this repertory, it is true; but he also raises a number of other options whose likelihood he defends via pictures and documents that almost meet the Fallows standard but not quite. I don't know whether Brown was right; but it is very hard to read the article, even now, without reflecting that even imperfect testimony contains some truth, and that it's up to us to extract it.
Teasing information from ambiguous (or maddeningly cryptic) sources is hard work. It takes patience and guts, and a kind of linguistic, literary and/or artistic background that too few musicians possess. Here we may all be led by Chris Page, who has just the qualities we have been needing: he has immersed himself in medieval non-musical literature to a depth that few of us are willing to hazard (and has found some of his best stuff there);(23) his sensitivity to the meanings and resonances of vocabulary, especially non-musical vocabulary, lets him consistently find more than we had ever suspected even in familiar texts.(24) We need more of this; it may not reverse our present convictions, but it is an essential next step toward understanding music the way they did.
The effort to identify their ideals and live by them has been an unreservedly good influence and it must continue. But here again it may be time to add a layer on top: non-ideal situations provide useful information too, and they also need to be evaluated systematically and sympathetically. Those that spring to my mind, at least, seem to fall into a rough hierarchy, from pieces written or arranged for the publishing market and probably without a particular instrumentation in mind (say, the dance prints of Attaingnant, Susato and Praetorius), to genuine contemporary alternatives (Attaingnant's chanson prints with all parts texted, but with suggestions of pieces suitable for recorders, transverse flutes, or both),(25) to universal practices involving routine changes to the score (intabulations of songs, Mass movements etc.), to apparently acceptable compromises of the ideal (the hiring of some instrumentalists for Granada Cathedral in 1557 to cover a dearth of singers),(26) to scorings that, however practical they may seem and beautiful they may sound to us, were apparently all but unheard of (viols in church, voice with trombones in a 15th-century chanson).
Such a hierarchy can be refined and extended, and it would be foolish to think we could ever finish it. But there is already a good deal of material to put in, and we need to start thinking that way. In the practical sense, it would be good to be able to model our compromises on theirs just as we now try to model our ideals on theirs. But it may also be that the compromise is where history happens--that trying to understand their musical reality by concentrating on their ideals is like studying my driving only when there's a state trooper behind me.
But to return to the 15th-century chanson and its relatives: one of the traditional sticking points in the a cappella heresy has been the question of what to do about the lower lines, which are very often textless in the sources. To the modern singer, singing without text (except as an exercise or special effect) is all but unthinkable, and this prejudice doubtless contributed to the long appeal of the instruments theory. But if any version of the heresy is right, even Brown's, then these wordless lines must have been sung at least sometimes, and we need to figure out how.
Fallows took the problem on in `Specific information', suggesting that singers may have texted their lines on their own or vocalized them without words (or with a few consonants for articulation).(27) He seemed a little unhappy with both of these solutions, however, and moved quickly on to less speculative ground, and there things stood for almost ten years. Then in 1991, in a pair of articles back-to-back in this journal, Dennis Slavin and Lawrence Earp showed (a) that there are more texted lower lines in the manuscripts than we may think from just looking at the modern editions; (b) that there are many cases of a lower line untexted in one manuscript and texted in another, showing that addition of text was indeed partly a matter of scribal and performing initiative; (c) that even so, there are a number of lower lines that are virtually impossible to attach the given text to; and (d) that the several pieces in which lower voices are partially texted (a famous example is Dufay's `Resvellies vous', whose lower voices have words only under the homophonic `Char-le gen-til') give a vivid and plausible impression of their singers vocalizing for most of the song, then bursting into text at key moments.(28)
So adding text to untexted lower lines is probably okay if you can do it, but often you can't, and you don't have to in any case: once there is a good solid precedent for vocalization, the need to add text disappears. But again, how to do it? The phrase `wordless vocalization' may button the matter up neatly for us musicologists, but singers need at least a vowel to get started, and here the contemporary sources seem to be no help at all. The most fascinating answer to date came in 1992 from Christopher Page, whose experiments with Gothic Voices led to a suggestion of vocalizing on the phonetic [y] sound--the French u as in tu.(29) Recordings of Gothic Voices have borne out the musical potential of the idea, and my own experience also attests to the dual ability of [y] to be unobtrusive in the musical texture and unfatiguing to the singers.
But is there any good reason to believe that [y] is right or even close? Page's experimental method, a short step away from trial and error, is not the sort of evidence we usually seek; at the moment, with so little conventional historical evidence to go on, this all seems to be something of an untestable hypothesis. It will be interesting to see how performers and scholars feel about [y] after we have lived with it a while. My experience, as I say, has been generally positive, even with repertories that gave me initial doubts. I was sceptical, for instance, about the large number of Dufay-era songs with long textless preludes, interludes and/or postludes (like Resvellies vous, or Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys). I expected my people to sound, and feel, like Swingle Singers; but actually the effect is glorious and not the least bit goofy (though I wouldn't give Resvellies vous to the remedial class). But I've had troubling moments too: is it just a Palestrinian prejudice that makes vocalization less comfortable for sacred music? And what about songs in German, where [y] is much less common than in French, or Spanish, where it is unknown?(30)
Vocalization without words seems to have been an essential part of the ideal for a lot of music that we love, and we won't soon come to know for sure how to accomplish it. Meanwhile, there is probably nothing to do but join Page and try. If we don't continue to experiment with vocalization, we shall be forced either wilfully to misrepresent the 14th and 15th centuries, or to let them dry up.
Separating the men from the boys
Most sacred music was written with a particular occasion, and thus a particular choir, in mind. As a result, biographical and archival studies can be helpful in reconstructing the intended forces for a piece: even if we don't know its exact occasion, if we know its approximate date we may be able to pin it on to a choir whose membership was recorded. The job is not done there, of course: again, the list of a choir's personnel may be a very imperfect indication of the number singing at any given moment(31) And the issue is further confounded by the role of choirboys.
We know that many large churches maintained choir schools in which talented boys from the area were given a liberal-arts and musical education. We know that many eminent composers taught in these schools in adulthood and most had learned their craft there as children.(32) Especially important for the present purpose, we know these boys were taught to sing polyphony and often did so in the church service. They were a prominent part of the polyphonic world of their time; but that does not mean we can automatically assume their participation in all the music we see.
The documentation surrounding these choir schools is large; what I have seen, however, tends to focus on the administrative and educational details rather than the musical: we learn much more about how the boys were dressed and fed, and how they were taught, than what they sang in public. But again, Fallows points the way in `Specific information'. He observes first that the 1469 Burgundian choir--adult falsettists, tenors and basses distributed 6/2/3/3--was well situated to sing its identifiable repertory and, indeed, most of the four-voice polyphony of the time without the assistance of boys. He goes on to point out that, in the few con temporary accounts that specify boys, they are singing separate from the main choir and accompanied by their master together with just one or two other adult singers.(33) Subsequent studies Of 15th-century Continental institutions have so far borne this out: there appears to be much more evidence for choirboys singing by themselves (or with a little help) than for their joining the regular choir.(34) In other words, in many places the choirboys and the adult choir may have had largely separate performing lives: if they did ever all perform together, it may have been only on the most spectacular special occasions and then largely as a gesture of mere conspicuous consumption.
The practical implications of all this may appear to be trivial: as Fallows showed in his Josquin paper Of 1985, the musical capabilities of boys and falsettists seem to have been identical, and most polyphony would work equally well with either kind of groups.(35) Most of us (especially in the United States) have neither reliable boys nor presentable falsettists to work with anyway. But if Fallows is right, and if the apparent distinction between men's and boys' ensembles persisted into the 16th century for many choirs, it points up the dimensions of an old problem: the documents always tell us more about institutions than about actual performing ensembles, and we shouldn't get the two confused.
In short, the ideal forces for a piece may not have been quite what we think they were. Even if we know the institution for which a motet was written, it is well to remember that several effectively distinct ensembles may have existed within it--full adult-male choir, adult soloists, boys-plus-master (s), cast-of-thousands and various combinations of the preceding. Of course, any ensemble using both falsettists and boys would have a very different distribution of ranges and textures from one that used falsettists only. This complicates things immensely: there was probably no general rule governing which ensemble got which kind of music, and the local practice in a given place may and up being impossible to reconstruct in any kind of useful detail. Yet the last few years' work on the Papal Chapel and its Roman neighbours(36) may give cause for hope--it is amazing what smart, sensitive scholarship can turn up, and maybe a great many institutions will yield up their secrets before long.
Renaissance pitch is a perpetual debate, and I shall not much prolong it here. I have already gone on record as opposing a whimsically flexible pitch standard for vocal music;(37) I am not sure the article convinced anyone, but I continue to agree with myself In practice, most choirs today hew fairly close to a'=440, and a few transpose up or down for their own purposes: probably this more or less mirrors the situation in the Renaissance. As for instruments, it will be interesting to see if we ever adopt a convention of `Renaissance pitch' to parallel the Baroque's a'=415. At the moment, it is too soon to place bets (though I suppose I recently did by buying a cornett at a'=466). At the risk of triggering a fusillade of angry mail, however, let me declare that a half-step one way or the other is not going to make much difference to me. My more immediate worry is over chiavette.
Briefly, the issue is this.(38) The sacred polyphony of Palestrina and his contemporaries was mostly written in two stereotyped combinations of clefs, called chiavi naturali or `normal' clefs, typically soprano-alto-tenor-bass, and chiavette or high clefs, typically treble-mezzo-alto-baritone (there are certain minor variations too). Because of the disinclination to use ledger lines, the original clefs tend to be a fairly precise indication of range: a part originally in treble clef can be expected to go up to G regularly, one in soprano clef to E, and so forth. This means that the four voices in chiavette are all about a 3rd higher than their counterparts in normal clefs; and since music in both clef combinations exists side-by-side in the repertory of the same choir, the disparity of range creates practical problems that beg for some kind of explanation. The traditional interpretation was that music in chiavette might have been routinely performed transposed down a 3rd or so (or more accurately, for a cappella choirs, intoned a 3rd or so lower).
The chiavette theory lay dormant for a long time, but in recent years it has been gaining scholarly attention and acceptance. A number of refinements have been proposed;(39) we may not all agree on all of them, but it is probably safe to say that most of the musicological community now believes that some sort of effective downward transposition was at work. The problem is that this information has not been transmitted effectively to the choral community. Pieces in chiavette have a seductive attraction for the modern mixed choir, chiefly because mezzoclef alto parts are much more comfortable than altoclef parts for female altos; the high notes in the other voices hold no terror for trained singers today, and off they go. But a 3rd is a long way, and it counts. At worst, over the course of a long piece in chiavette, the sopranos tend to become shrill, the tenors heroic, the basses garroted; at best, as we have been privileged to hear in recordings, the sound is strong, brilliant, gorgeous, compelling--and maybe quite unlike anything ever conceived back then.
As Jeffrey Kurtzman has recently calculated, something more than two-thirds of Palestrina's output is written in some form of cheviot.(40) That, not to mention Lassus, Victoria, Monteverdi et al., is a lot of music, and it includes some of our favourites. How many of us, it is troubling to reflect, were first drawn to the Renaissance by the sheer glorious sound of the Missa Papae Marcelli (treble-mezzo-alto-alto-tenor-tenor) in recordings that may amount to a lie?
In the next few years musicology can probably promise a good deal of profitable work on pitch standards and clef codes. We must do our best to communicate our results plainly to performers--and to ask that they, in programme and liner notes, come clean and tell us what they are doing about pitch.
Here is what we know about instrumental ensembles. We know that they were everywhere, and that many of them not only improvised, but read polyphony from notation. We know that trumpeters, for all their ubiquity and skill, were effectively excluded from the mainstream of polyphony by the physics of their instrument. We know that the medieval division between loud and soft (haut and bas) ensembles softened somewhat over the course of the Renaissance, but did not disappear. We know that the instrumentation of the loud band evolved from shawms only, to shawms-plus-slide-trumpet, to shawms-trombones-and-bombard, to cornetts-trombones-and-dulcian, in the 15th and 16th centuries, but that at any given time and place its instrumentation tended to be more or less rigidly stereotyped. And we know that soft bands admitted a wide variety of plucked strings, bowed strings, woodwinds, portative organs and so forth, and that before the rise of the homogeneous consort ideal of the mid-16th century, no one instrumentation clearly predominated.(41)
And there is the trouble. Proprietors of loud bands today have a reasonably good idea of where they stand for most repertories they undertake; soft ensembles have a lot less to go on. The stimulating old days of my first Renaissance band (`How about gar klein recorder, alto crumhorn, sackbut and rackett?') are over, or should be, but they have never been replaced with anything very coherent. This is in part a reflection of the historical reality: most professional soft minstrels were multi-instrumentalists and thus, as a basic part of their craft, could switch instrumentations at will in the course of a single performance.(42) Yet surely musicology owes today's soft-band industry (where many of us got our start) more help than that, and surely the materials are at hand if we keep alert for them. Is it possible to establish some combinations of soft instruments as more likely, again in a given time and place, than others?
It may be possible, but it will never be easy. The evidence is thin on the ground; it comes not the way we would like to find it but in tiny bits, widely scattered, that we run across while looking for something else: my own survey of the Barcelona city archives from 1450 to 1500, for example, turned up exactly one document that lists the instruments in something like a soft band.(43) References like this seldom add up to anything publishable in themselves and are often hard to interpret in such isolation. Occasionally, however, good material arrives in a clump (there comes to mind Howard Brown's 1975 article on the ensembles described in a 16th-century cookbook),(44) and sheer diligence has also been known to pay off. Keith Polk's tables of likely instrumentations for two- and three-part polyphony as played by the soft minstrels of 15th-century Germany are a most encouraging recent step, taken only after many years of patient sifting.(45) And iconography, with all its pitfalls well understood, may yet offer useful ideas of how familiar a particular instrument was to the picture-viewing public--information that cannot be completely irrelevant to the music.(46)
So maybe there is hope, if there is patience. Soft bands do not promise to become a hot topic in the immediate future: the difficulty of studying them in depth and the lack of a very exciting repertory have conspired to move them down on the priority list for most of us. Yet it is well to remember that these were very important and visible ensembles in their day, and that there are a lot of these ensembles around today waiting for our advice, if we can come up with any. Perhaps someone with better Internet skills than mine will set up a central electronic clearinghouse for useful information, and gradually a distinct image will start to form? In the meantime, how ever, it wouldn't be a bad start for all of us archivalists, wherever we are working, simply to recognize that any explicit description of a soft band is rare and precious, and to pledge that whenever we find one, we will share it with someone who might want it.
BAD news, or not? if my answer is not obvious from the above, two observations from my immediate surroundings may make it even clearer.
Observation the First, As I write these pages in the mornings, I am teaching our graduate Renaissance survey in summer school two hours a day in the afternoons. Without wishing to bore you with too much of my syllabus, I will record that last week's bill of fare included the tail end of Josquin (Munrow 1976, Hilliard Ensemble 1984, Tallis Scholars 1988, Taverner Choir 1993); Brumel (Tallis Scholars 1992); Compere (Orlando Consort 1993); La Rue (Ensemble Clement Janequin 1989); Cornysh (Tallis Scholars 1988); some frottole (Circa 1500 1984); Isaac and Senfl (Munrow 1973, Medieval Ensemble of London 1984, Tallis Scholars 1991); Spanish songs (Circa 1500 1989, Hilliard Ensemble 1992); Penalosa (Pro Cantione Antiqua 1992, Gothic Voices 1993, Westminster Cathedral Choir 1993); Clemens (Tallis Scholars 1987); Gombert (Huelgas Ensemble 1992); and Verdelot (Tallis Scholars 1986). Not a bad week, in retrospect: 20 recordings, of which only five are more than a decade old and only two--David Munrow's mysteriously ageless Art of the Netherlands and his ageing but mysteriously unreplaced Triumphs of Maximilian--preceded the publication of `Specific information'. Apart from some secular music recorded by Munrow, the Medieval Ensemble of London, and Circa 1500, and a very inconspicuous organ accompaniment on a La Rue Mass, all are a cappella. Apart from the Ensemble Clement Janequin and the Huelgas Ensemble, all the performing groups are English. If heresy is still a crime, I guess burn me now.
Observation the Second. A couple of weeks ago the progress of this paper was interrupted for a while by the first college course I have taken since finishing the doctorate--a week-long workshop in Advanced Choral Conducting. Choral conducting? Advanced? This is about the last thing I would have expected when I started graduate school, or even when I finished; looking back, I am still not sure exactly what happened. Somehow, by imperceptible stages, my collegium changed from a band to a choir, and then started to sing better than my ability to lead them. My office still bristles with crumhorns and things, but I notice that the collection has become more a lending library for my students than an arsenal for my own use. I wish I could say this was all part of a crusade--that I read the scholarly literature and made a conscious decision to change my musical life. But the truth is, I was led here by my ears: this seems to be what I want to do.
The performance of Renaissance music has come a long way since the New Grove and I were young, and the difference has been the work partly of scholars, partly of performers and partly of the marketplace. The sheer number of recordings available today, even of relatively obscure composers and of lesser-known works of famous composers, would make David Munrow or Noah Greenberg very happy--and somebody out there is evidently paying for them. Here in the States, the musical establishment is beginning to perceive a threat: in 1994 the American Academy of Teachers of Singing even felt the need to issue a public `pronouncement' on the dangers posed to the tender young voice by excessive collegium singing.(n47) We can all take a measure of naughty satisfaction in that, and perhaps a more wholesome pleasure in contemplating the prospect for the future. There can be little doubt that the performance of Renaissance music, and its profile in the public imagination, will continue to grow in the next 15 years as it has in the last; whatever revolution it will endure, with any luck at all it will continue to improve.
(1) H. M. Brown, `Performing practice', [Section]4: `15th- and 16th-century music', The New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, ed. S. Sadie (London, 1980), xiv, pp.377-83, strictly speaking, I am revising the virtually identical version in The New Grove dictionary of musical instruments, ed. S. Sadie (London, 1984), iii, pp.42-8.
(2) Early Music Consort of London, dir. David Munrow, Music of Guillaume Dufay, Seraphim s-60267 (1974).
(3) H. M. Brown, review of Gothic Voices, The Castle of Fair Welcome, Early music, xv (1987), pp.277-9; it is worth mentioning that Brown's actual term, `new secular a cappella heresy', has been altered in the popular parlance, and its usage popularly (present article included) expanded far beyond the 15th-century chansons he disputes.
(4) For three recent examples, see C. Page, `The English a cappella heresy', Companion to Medieval and Renaissance music, ed. T. Knighton and D. Fallows (London, 1992), pp.23-9; C. Page, `The English a cappella Renaissance', Early music, xxi (1993), pp.452-71; and D. Greig, `Sight-readings: notes on a cappella performance practice', Early music, xxiii (1995), pp.124-48.
(5) D. Fallows, `Specific information on the ensembles for composed polyphony, 1400-1474', Studies in the performance of late mediaeval music, ed. S, Boorman (Cambridge, 1983), pp.109-59.
(6) C. Page, `Machaut's "pupil" Deschamps on the performance of music: voices or instruments in the fourteenth-century chanson?', Early music, v (1977), pp.484-91; C. Page, `The performance of songs in late medieval France', Early music, x (1982), pp.441-50; C. Wright, `Voices and instruments in the art music of northern France during the 15th century: a conspectus', International Musicological Society congress report, Berkeley, 1977, ed. D. Heartz and B. Wade (Kassel, 1981), pp.643- 49; J. W. McKinnon, `Representations of the Mass in Medieval and Renaissance art', Journal of the American Musicological Society, xxxi (1978), pp.21-52.
(7) Fallows, `Specific information', p.109.
(8) Fallows, `Specific information', p.144.
(9) D. Fallows, `The performing ensembles in Josquin's sacred music', Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, xxxv (1985), pp.32-64.
(10) S. Keyl, `Tenorlied, Discantlied, polyphonic lied: voices and instruments in German secular polyphony of the Renaissance', Early music, xx (1992), pp.434-45; T. Knighton, `The a cappella heresy in Spain: an inquisition into the performance of the cancionero repertory', Early music, xx (1992), pp.560-81.
(11) K. Kreitner, `Minstrels in Spanish churches, 1400-1600', Early music, xx (1992), pp.532-46.
(12) Le concert des voix et des instruments a la Renaissance: Actes du [XXXIV.sup.e] Colloque International d'Etudes Humanistes: Tours, Centre d'Etudes Superieures de la Renaissance, 1-11 juillet 1991, ed. J.-M. Vaccaro (Paris, 1995).
(13) See for instance C. Reynolds, `Sacred polyphony', Performance practice: music before 1600, ed, H. M. Brown and S. Sadie (London, 1989), pp.185-200, esp. p.187.
(14) Fallows, `Specific information', pp.110-17; Fallows calls this 6/3/2/3, apparently implying the order STAB; for clarity I revert to the usual (and less violent) SATB. See also Fallows, `The performing ensembles', pp.38-43, for a wider-ranging discussion of this phenomenon in other European choirs of the late 15th century. Remember, too, that the term alto here may be misleading: the high contratenor part at this point typically had a range identical to the tenor's.
(15) R. Sherr, `Performance practice in the Papal Chapel during the 16th century', Early music, xv (1987), pp.452-62.
(16) Sherr, `Performance practice in the Papal Chapel'.
(17) The classic formulations of this idea are L. Litterick, `Performing Franco-Netherlandish secular music of the late 15th century: texted and untexted parts in the sources', Early music, viii (1980), pp.474-85, and W. Edwards, `Songs without words by Josquin and his contemporaries', Music in medieval and early modern Europe, ed. I. Fenlon (Cambridge, 1981), pp.79-92. But see also L. Litterick, `Vocal or instrumental? A methodology for ambiguous cases', Concert des voix et des instruments, ed. Vaccaro, pp.157-78, for an extension of the theory and a review of the bibliography since then.
(18) The only important exception I can think of is the frottola and its relatives; W. F. Prizer, `Performance practices in the frottola', Early music, iii (1975), pp.227-35, showed that even though frottole were normally printed in the manner of conventional polyphony, with separate texted voices, a wide range of performance options was possible, with instruments on the lower lines probably more common than voices; recent support for this view, if support be needed, can be found in F. A. D'Accone, `Instrumental resonances in a Sienese vocal print of 1515', Concert des voix et des instruments, ed. Vaccaro, pp.333-59.
(19) See n.1 above. The only differences between the articles I have been able to find have been in cross-references etc.; even one apparent typographical error is carried over from the New Grove (p.380) to the New Grove instruments (p.44)--a sentence beginning `How ??, O, ??, and ??...' that should read `How C, O, ...'
(20) H. M. Brown, `Introduction, Performance practice: music before 1600, ed. Brown and Sadie, pp.147-66, esp. pp.152-3:' The recent view that challenges the participation of instruments to accompany secular polyphony in the 15th century derives partly from a rigorous, literal reading of selected bits of difficult, ambiguous evidence' etc.
(21) Brown, `Introduction', Performance practice. music before 1600, ed. Brown and Sadie, pp.201-21, 79-104.
(22) H. M. Brown, `Instruments and voices in the fifteenth-century chanson', Current thought in musicology, ed. J. W. Grubbs (Austin, TX, 1976), pp.112-40.
(23) For a famous example, see Page, `The performance of songs', which gets much fascinating musical detail from the 15th-century prose romance Cleriadus et Meliadice.
(24) For three conspicuous examples: C. Page, Voices and instruments of the Middle Ages: instrumental practice and songs in France, 1100-1300 (Berkeley, 1986); C. Page, Discarding images: reflections on music and culture in medieval France (Oxford, 1993); and C. Page, `Reading and reminiscence: Tinctoris on the beauty of music', Journal of the American Musicological Society, xlix (1996), pp.1-31.
(25) See H. M. Brown, `Notes (and transposing notes) on the transverse flute in the early sixteenth century', Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, xii (1986), pp.5-39.
(26) Kreitner, `Minstrels in Spanish churches', p.540.
(27) Fallows, `Specific information', pp.126-33.
(28) D. Slavin, `In support of "heresy": manuscript evidence for the a cappella performance of early 15th-century songs', Early music, xix (1991), pp.178-90; L. Earp, `Texting in 15th-century French chansons: a look ahead from the 14th century, Early music, xix (1991), pp.194-210.
(29) C. Page, `Going beyond the limits: experiments with vocalization in the French chanson, 1340-1440', Early music, xx (1992), pp.446-59.
(30) Gothic Voices' own Spanish album, The voice in the garden, Hyperion CDA66653 (1993), supplies texts to all voices, which works but, I submit, cannot be a universal solution for this repertory any more than for the French chanson.
(31) See also R. Sherr, `Competence and incompetence in the papal choir in the age of Palestrina', Early music, xxii (1994), pp.606-29.
(32) For fascinating examples of each, see the account of the checkered career of Guerrero as master of the choirboys in Jaen and Seville in R. Stevenson, Spanish cathedral music in the Golden Age (Berkeley, 1961), pp.137-76 and the study of Basiron's early education in P. Higgins, `Tracing the careers of late medieval composers: the case of Philippe Basiron of Bourges', Acta musicologica, lxii (1990), pp.1-28. Two recent more comprehensive studies of the choir schools are C. Wright, Music and ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris, 500-1550 (Cambridge, 1989), pp.165-95, and J. Flynn, `The education of choristers in England during the sixteenth century', English choral practice, 1400-1650, ed. J. Morehen (Cambridge, 1995), pp.180-99.
(33) Fallows, `Specific information', pp.110-17, 120-26.
(34) See, for example, Wright, Music and ceremony, p. 185-90, and R. Strohm, Music in late medieval Bruges (Oxford, 1985), pp.13-15, 22-3, 38-40, 44-6, et passim. England, it should be added, appears to be a notable exception: R. Bowers, `To chorus from quartet: the performing resource for English church polyphony, c-1390-1559', English choral practice, ed. Morehen, pp.1-47, shows that English choirs in the early 15th century tended to resemble their Continental neighbours, with ensembles of adult tenors and basses separate from those of boys plus master, but that beginning in the early 1450s, boys were added to the main choir in increasing numbers and were intended to sing most of the top parts in the Eton Choirbook.
(35) Fallows, `The Performing ensembles', pp.43-6 et passim.
(36) See, for example, Sherr, `Performance practice' and `Competence and incompetence'; J. Lionnet, `Performance practices in the Papal Chapel during the 17th century', Early music, xv (1983), pp.4-15; C. Reynolds, `Rome: a city of rich contrast', The Renaissance, ed. I. Fenlon (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1989), pp.63-101; N. O'Regan, Sacred polychoral music in Rome, 1575-1621 (PhD diss., Oxford U., 1988); G. Dixon, `The performance of Palestrina: some questions, but fewer answers', Early Music, xxiii (1994), pp.666-75.
(37) K. Kreitner, `Renaissance pitch', Companion to Medieval and Renaissance music, ed. Knighton and Fallows, pp.275-83.
(38) For more detail, see Kreitner, `Renaissance pitch', pp.279-81, and its bibliography, The classic discussion of the topic is in S. Hermelink, Dispositiones modorum: die Tonarten in der Musik Palestrinas und seiner Zeitgenossen (Tutzing, 1960); but see the following note also. These observations, it should be added, are derived from the study of Continental music, and quite a different situation seems to have prevailed in England, see, for example, S. Ravens, "A sweet shrill voice": the countertenor and vocal scoring in Tudor England, Early music, xxvi (1998), pp.122-34.
(39) See, for example, A. Smith, `Uber Modus und Transposition um 1600', Basler Jahrbuch fur historische Musikpraxis, vi (1982), pp.9-43; A. Parrott, `Transposition in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610: an "aberration" defended', Early music, xii (1984), pp.490-516; C. Monson, `Elena Malvezzi's keyboard manuscript: a new sixteenth-century source', Early music history, ix (1989), pp.73-128; P. Barbieri, `Chiavette and modal transposition in Italian practice (c.1500-1837)', Recercare, iii (1991), pp.5-79; and J. G. Kurtzman, `Tones, modes, clefs and pitch in Roman cyclic Magnificats of the 16th century', Early music, xxii (1994), pp.641-64.
(40) Kurtzman, `Tones, modes, clefs and pitch', p.642.
(41) The most recent and far-ranging look at such instrumental ensembles is K. Polk, German instrumental music of the late Middle Ages: players, patrons and performance practice (Cambridge, 1992).
(42) For example, see Polk, German instrumental music of the late Middle Ages, pp.14-15.
(43) K. R. Kreitner, Music and civic ceremony in late-fifteenth-century Barcelona (PhD diss., Duke U., 1990), pp.201-2a document which shows a `pandero' and a `rebenet' (tambourine and rebec?) playing in the window of Barcelona town hall for three days during the celebrations over the fall of Granada in January 1492.
(44) H. M. Brown, `A cook's tour of Ferrara in 1529', Rivista italiana di musicologia, x (1975), pp.216-41.
(45) Polk, German instrumental music, pp.42-4.
(46) For my own essay in this genre, see K. Kreitner, `Music in the Corpus Christi procession of fifteenth-century Barcelona', Early music history, xiv (1995), pp.153-204, esp. 187-91, 197-204.
(47) `A pronouncement of the American Academy of Teachers of Singing: healthy vocal technique and the performance of early music', NATS journal, li/2 (Nov-Dec 1994), pp.21-2. I am grateful to Randal and Jemmilou Rushing for drawing this remarkable document to my attention.
Kenneth Kreitner is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Memphis.
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