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Thread: Choir size in Renaissance Polyphony

  1. #16
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    Prizer discovered a letter by someone called Nicolas Frigio, where he describes the mass as mournful, sad, very exquisite and having three voices. Prizer comments that apart from some moments at the end, the Ockeghem requiem is a three voice mass, so it may be there was a tradition of three voice requiem masses. No-one as far as I know (apart from yours truly) has put together Frigio's letter and Dufay's commemoration mass at Cambrai as reported by Parrott to draw a conclusion about how many people were on a part -- certainly not Parrott.

    However a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I could be saying something very stupid . . . The last time I studied history I was 18. I wouldn't want to give the impression that I know what I'm talking about!
    Last edited by Mandryka; Feb-15-2018 at 10:51.

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    Mandryka writes, "Prizer discovered a letter by someone called Nicolas Frigio, where he describes the mass as mournful, sad, very exquisite"

    That's very interesting. My reaction is that Frigio's description means Dufay's lost Requiem was sung slowly and quietly. The reason I keep mentioning this is because I vaguely recall having read something about that years ago, maybe it was by Kirkman?, that Dufay had left specific instructions of this nature (though I'm not certain that it was for his Requiem). When music is slow and mournful, of course, you can put more voices on a part and not cloud the polyphony.

    It is known that Ockeghem spent time with Dufay at Cambrai, and that they were friends. Ockeghem may have even witnessed the Requiem first sung there. So the idea that he used Dufay's Requiem as a model for his own Requiem is very likely.

    "so it may be there was a tradition of three voice requiem masses"

    There can't have been a tradition of 3 part masses, not yet, since these are the very first two Requiems in music history. Though Dufay & Ockeghem may have created a tradition of 3 part masses (I'll have to look into that).

    Mandryka writes, "No-one as far as I know (apart from yours truly) has put together Frigio's letter and Dufay's commemoration mass at Cambrai as reported by Parrott to draw a conclusion about how many people were on a part -- certainly not Parrott."

    I'm confused. Didn't you say that Parrott has written there were 12 singers used in Dufay's Requiem mass. And, I've found plenty of separate corroboration that it was indeed a 3 part mass. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that Dufay wanted the singers evenly distributed, i.e., four singers on each of the three parts (as I initially assumed), as he may have wanted them more weighted on the top or bottom parts. But Frigio's letter doesn't tell us that either, or does it? (I gather Parrott offers no speculation on this.)

    Have you read Kirkman on these matters?

  4. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Josquin13 View Post
    Mandryka writes, "Prizer discovered a letter by someone called Nicolas Frigio, where he describes the mass as mournful, sad, very exquisite"

    That's very interesting. My reaction is that Frigio's description means Dufay's lost Requiem was sung slowly and quietly. The reason I keep mentioning this is because I vaguely recall having read something about that years ago, maybe it was by Kirkman?, that Dufay had left specific instructions of this nature (though I'm not certain that it was for his Requiem). When music is slow and mournful, of course, you can put more voices on a part and not cloud the polyphony.

    It is known that Ockeghem spent time with Dufay at Cambrai, and that they were friends. Ockeghem may have even witnessed the Requiem first sung there. So the idea that he used Dufay's Requiem as a model for his own Requiem is very likely.

    "so it may be there was a tradition of three voice requiem masses"

    There can't have been a tradition of 3 part masses, not yet, since these are the very first two Requiems in music history. Though Dufay & Ockeghem may have created a tradition of 3 part masses (I'll have to look into that).

    Mandryka writes, "No-one as far as I know (apart from yours truly) has put together Frigio's letter and Dufay's commemoration mass at Cambrai as reported by Parrott to draw a conclusion about how many people were on a part -- certainly not Parrott."

    I'm confused. Didn't you say that Parrott has written there were 12 singers used in Dufay's Requiem mass. And, I've found plenty of separate corroboration that it was indeed a 3 part mass. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that Dufay wanted the singers evenly distributed, i.e., four singers on each of the three parts (as I initially assumed), as he may have wanted them more weighted on the top or bottom parts. But Frigio's letter doesn't tell us that either, or does it? (I gather Parrott offers no speculation on this.)

    Have you read Kirkman on these matters?
    Yes Parrott has some documents to show that the requiem was sung in Cambrai by 12 singers, he does not explicitly say that there were 4 on a part. Maybe Prizer's research is disputed.

    Kirkman's books are too expensive, though what I've read about them -- his discussion of allegory for example, and the consequent porosity between secular music and sacred music -- sounds interesting.

    Dufay's on the back seat right now, maybe when I give him more attention I'll buy one of Kirkman's books. My main time in this area right now is being spent on Obrecht and Ockeghem masses.

    (I'm rather angry with myself because I'd wanted to see Schmelzer sing Machaut in Antwerp this May, but stupidly I've made a commitment to be in Berlin on the day of the concert.)
    Last edited by Mandryka; Feb-15-2018 at 22:13.

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  6. #19
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    It has been my understanding that a Renaissance choir would be 12 at the large end of the specturm (this is the kind of choir Palestrina used at the Papal church.

    For the polyphonic sections, most likely OVPP since it would require trained singers which were often in short supply, and the singers would be reading from a common book with the parts on opposite pages (hard to do the more singers there are). The larger group would sing the chant, in unison, which is accomplished more easily by singers possessing less training.

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    Prizer states that the 2 masses establish a Pre-La Rue tradition of 3 voices in the Requiem Mass. He also mentions the possibility that Ockeghem may have influenced the style of Dufay's Requiem, just as he seems to have influenced the style of Dufay's Missa Ecce ancilla Domini. On the other hand, there are those who claim that perhaps the spirit if not the notes of Dufay’s Requiem can be discerned in Ockeghem’s work, particularly in the first two sections where the harmonic style, frequent use of duets and the straightforward pacing & layout sound characteristic of Dufay.

    From my reading it remains uncertain whether it was Dufay or Ockeghem who composed the first polyphonic requiem, as there are no firmly established composition dates for either of their works. A copyist's record exists indicating a Requiem mass by Dufay was copied during 1470, but no copies of such a work have been identified. The earliest surviving version of Ockeghem's Requiem is found in the Chigi Codex from around 1500, but no date is attributed to it. Some scholars believe it could have appeared for the death of Charles VII in 1461, which would mean it possibly predates Dufay's. Others place it much later for the death of Louis XI in 1483. They may well have been composed around the same time.

    In his will Dufay requested that the Requiem be sung by "twelve or more capable men...on the day following my funeral” which suggests that he was comfortable with more than four singers on a part. Dufay's requiem continued to be sung at Cambrai well into the 16th century, and records of performances from 1517-1521 give a total of 5-6 singers.

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