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    Discussion of Homophony pre-1650?

    Greetings all,

    Does anyone know of theoretical treatises that discuss the topic of homophony in Renaissance (or earlier) vocal music? I would be interested in any aspect--construction, affect, etc.

     

    Thanks!

    Devin Chaloux

    Indiana University

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    • 7 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • I recommend the books of madrigals by Monteverdi as excellent artistic musical examples for the time period you are interested in many of which are homophonic.
    • Hi Carson, 

      Thanks for the reply. I'm not looking for examples of homophony however (there are many examples that pre-date Monteverdi) but rather how people discussed this style of composition. From all the theoretical works that I have encountered, most are concerned about composition in the polyphonic style (and the pedagogy of counterpoint to amateurs). 

      I believe that composition in the homophonic style was likely influenced by lute (and other similar instruments) music. I'm interested if musicians talked about this style in relation to vocal music.

      Devin Chaloux

      Indiana University

    • Devin, I don't quite see what you understand by "homophonic music" or, more precisely, what you'd like to find about it. If you are thinking of early chordal writing, there certainly exist some texts on early harmony, to be found e.g. in researches about the rise of tonality. If you are thinking of writing in lute style, there are texts on lute notation, e.g. alfabeto, which is a sort of harmonic shorthand, or early tables of chords to be used in "harmonizing" melodies. On the other hand, early dances (e.g. Attaingnant) written mainly in triads do not seem inspired by the lute. Etc.

      Can you be more specific?

       

       

    • Hi Nicolas,

      It is difficult to get more specific since I would be interested in any writings on the rise of homophony (which for the sake of clarity, I will define as "all sounding voices moving at the same rhythm.") 

      My interest in the subject arises because I have noticed that passages of vocal polyphony will shift into homophony momentarily. Here is an example from Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium ("et admirable"). I'm curious how composers and theorists discussed these moments, because I get the sense that they behaved with a different set of compositional guidelines than say...imitative polyphony. On the other hand, there are entire pieces written in the homophonic style.

       

      I figure someone somewhere has written about it--simply, I was just seeking help from this forum to find if anyone has stumbled across historical discussions of homophony. 

      Thanks!

      Devin Chaloux

      Indiana University

    • Devin, I am certainly not entitled to answer you on this but, awaiting more authorized answers, here are my 5 cents.

      First of all, you'll remember that one of the earliest examples of true homophony within an otherwise more polyphonic piece is on the words ex Maria Virgine of the Credo in Machaut's Mass. This apparently became a model for many later composers, including perhaps Victoria. Such cases may not really compare to that of pieces written in homophonic style throughout.

      I an not aware that 16th theorists (or composers) explicitly wrote about homophony. There are texts, often more about literature than about music, dealing with poems and other texts sung to the accompaniment of a single instrument, lute or guitar, which one may suppose played somehow monophonically. Early homophonic pieces are also found among dances, i. e. folk music.

      The tables of chords, as in Piero Aaron, Toscanello, Book 2, at the end of  Cap. XXX, or the one by Joan Carles Amat which may date from the late 16th century, at least imply a chordal writing, but do not really theorize about it. One most puzzling point is that homophonic consonances, in the 16th century, often are triads in root position, which these tables by no means seem to imply. My feeling is that this resulted from a particular taste for the sonority of root position triads, but that is mere guess.

      In the last years of the century, notation devices began to flourish to shortly notate chords for plucked string instruments, mainly the alfabeto, but there were other systems. But this is already linked with the rise of the continuo. It is strinking however that early theorists about continuo, such as Bianciardi, considered root position triads as the norm, sixths being the exception.

      This probably is a case where contemporary theory was lagging behind practice...

       

       

    • Hi Nicolas,

      Thanks for the response. That's my sense (theory lagging behind practice), but I was curious if anyone stumbled upon anything. I think Peter Schubert has some nice discussions in his textbook--but I didn't see any specific mention of treatises regarding homophonic (I think he uses homorythmic to describe it) composition.

      Perhaps we will find something in the future :)

      Devin Chaloux

      Indiana University

    • I also am interested in this topic right now, and there aren’t many 16th-c discussions of it. There’s a recent paper from Med-Ren by Felix Diergarten (available on academia.edu) that cites an improvisational formula from Gulielmus Monachus. Bonnie Blackburn calls it “the formula,” I call it the “parallel-sixth model” in my textbook, and it’s also called “falsobordone.”  Giuseppe Fiorentino has a book about it (Folía). You can see a brief explanation and singers improvising it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s413ZwUMq_Y The passage at “et admirabile” in the Victoria that you mention is precisely this sort of thing.  The best source for homorhythmic texture is Sancta Maria, and it’s been written up by Miguel Roig-Francolí (“Playing in Consonances: A Spanish Renaissance Technique of Chordal Improvisation.” Early Music (August 1995): 93–103). After that there’s Thomas Campion’s A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counterpoint By a Most Familiar and Infallible Rule, but that’s after 1600.