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Thread: A few questions regarding "pure" modes in Renaissance polyphony...

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    Member Goddess Yuja Wang's Avatar
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    Default A few questions regarding "pure" modes in Renaissance polyphony...

    Hello.

    I wonder if there's such a thing as "pure" modal writing in the Renaissance?

    I've been obsessively reading about it and looking at scores of the masters. The more I do so, the more I wonder WHY composers seemed to avoid the real colour of the modes by obscuring them with so much Musica Ficta...

    Don't get me wrong. I love this music as it is, but I'm trying to find examples of more modal-sounding music with "Te-Do" cadences, i.e., where the Cantizans is not raised --similar to how it acts in Phrygian--, or examples of what we would call now v - I or v - i (Cantizans kept diatonic as a minor 3rd against the bass, while the Bassizans descends down by a P5th). This gives instant Dorian/Mixolydian/Aeolian flavours, but that's precisely what they seem to be avoiding.

    I haven't heard pure Lydian treatment either (why the insistence of making it molle/soft by lowering the #4, in essence making it Ionian, or why the insistence on raising Mixolydian's 7th degree, in essence turning it into Ionian too?). Why?

    It's almost as if they were trying to avoid these true modal colours like the plague. What am I missing?

    At first I thought it had something to do with the avoidance of harsh lines involving the tritone, but every mode (even Ionian) has the tritone somewhere anyway. If it is involved as part of the reason, it's a bit ironic that the same tritone in Ionian and Aeolian contexts, the one they were trying to avoid in the first place, is what ended up hammering the last nail in the coffin of the modes for the next new era of music anyway, with its dominant-function harmony.

    Or perhaps I just haven't come across any examples yet (with such a vast repertoire)?
    Please let me know if you can direct me in the right direction...
    Yesterday night I listened to des Prez. I think I heard a few subtle instances of this in a few cadences, but it was too subtle and only in a couple of them (I have yet to sit down and analyze them with the score, though).

    Was there a school or a time, or a "rebel" composer who used the modes in their pure form in sophisticated polyphony?


    Or perhaps I'm looking in the wrong era? I 'd like to find examples of more Medieval-sounding choral works, but with the polyphonic sophistication of the Renaissance masters (please listen to the example I include that shows this "pure" modal sound, Mixolydian in this case, that I want).

    Would I have better luck with secular music of the time perhaps?


    If I'm understanding the history correctly, and the modes were originally invented to chant the Psalms and give different moods according to the texts, I wonder why they abandoned this "mood" thinking later on.
    Why not simply write in Ionian when they wanted THAT particular cadential sound instead of forcing the other modes with Musica Ficta into something they were not, and limiting their sound-palette? Then they would still have all the other flavours pure when the occasion warranted...

    You'll make me a very happy person if you explain this to me, or if you can refer me to some daring examples of what I seek.


    Thank you!


    Last edited by Goddess Yuja Wang; Dec-03-2021 at 20:09.

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    Senior Member RICK RIEKERT's Avatar
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    You may find Harold Powers' landmark paper "Tonal Types and Modal Categories in Renaissance Polyphony" helpful. It's lengthy and somewhat technical but not, I think, unnecessarily so.

    https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfi...%201981%29.pdf

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    Member Goddess Yuja Wang's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RICK RIEKERT View Post
    You may find Harold Powers' landmark paper "Tonal Types and Modal Categories in Renaissance Polyphony" helpful. It's lengthy and somewhat technical but not, I think, unnecessarily so.

    https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfi...%201981%29.pdf
    Thank you for that link, Rick. The paper seems really interesting. It, together with the Jeppesen book I'm currently reading, will make for a nice Saturday reading session.

    I see the paper seems to also address some of the confusion/contradictions I've read regarding the reciting tones/dominants and the scale degrees of internal cadences according to the mode (what a mess when authors contradict each other, starting with Zarlino).

    Do you think I would find examples of what I mentioned in the OP in secular music of the time? If so, I'd appreciate it if someone could point me in the right direction and time.

    Anyone please feel free to post an example of the most "out there" vocal Medieval or Renaissance work you can think of. Something that seems ahead (or behind) its time.

    Thank you!

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    Senior Member Ariasexta's Avatar
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    Modal variety is about 12 groups according to Glarean`s "Dodekachordon" treatise, but there had been some biases against certain modes among late Renaissance composers in sacred compositions, most prefer Lydian or Hypolydian modes.
    "In God I Hope, in Music I Trust."

    "I Do Not Want to Be The Master of My Life, But The Magician of My Life."

    Me.

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    Member Goddess Yuja Wang's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ariasexta View Post
    Modal variety is about 12 groups according to Glarean`s "Dodekachordon" treatise, but there had been some biases against certain modes among late Renaissance composers in sacred compositions, most prefer Lydian or Hypolydian modes.
    But that's the thing. And the exact source of my confusion...

    They may have intended to write in Lydian in theory, or in accordance to tradition, but in reality they were writing in Ionian or Hypoionian. Even if they cadenced on the usual Lydian scale degrees, the moment they automatically took its flavour tone and made it flat, and then cadence in an authentic cadences, it still sounds and looks like F or Bb Ionian.

    As far as I can see, this situation seems to know no borders either, and the modes, as originally intended, simply faded out of custom from the beginning until the end of the Renaissance, sadly, without having been really exploited with their flavour-mood degrees untainted.
    Perhaps that sound seemed quite "dated" to them?

    I'd be delighted to find a composer who kept Lydian's Bs natural. Or Mixolydian's Fs flat, etc.

    Tonight I'll try Spain at around early 1400s...
    Last edited by Goddess Yuja Wang; Today at 01:30.

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    Member Goddess Yuja Wang's Avatar
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    This is a perfect example of what I'm looking for (adjusting for time, in its Medieval/Renaissance equivalent, of course).

    Please listen to this. I think you'll like it (it gets very interesting towards the middle).

    Last edited by Goddess Yuja Wang; Today at 01:37.

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    Senior Member Kjetil Heggelund's Avatar
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    Maybe go further back in history? Go medieval Machaut! He survived the Black Death! Late renaissance moved towards major/minor tonality, so earlier music probably suits your ideas better...sorry you said "renaissance"...
    Last edited by Kjetil Heggelund; Today at 02:04.

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