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Thread: Functional harmony in Medieval and Renaissance music

  1. #16
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    You are looking at this anachronistically, i.e. looking backwards and applying our tonal system to early music; whereas I am describing how Josquin and other composers during the Medieival and Renaissance periods most likely thought about what they were doing, i.e. weaving the various lines of the polyphony and being aware of the vertical coincidences and the intervals created but mainly concerned with dissonances and how they were resolved.

    This was still modal music, not diatonic tonality which really did not take hold until the Baroque period.
    Yes. And even then it took hold slowly and fitfully. Those early Florentine operas have some strange twists, (what we would call) altered mediant relationships like G minor following E major triads (Peri). Even later, in England, one has Purcell seemingly enjoying experimental transitional language.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    You are looking at this anachronistically, i.e. looking backwards and applying our tonal system to early music; whereas I am describing how Josquin and other composers during the Medieival and Renaissance periods most likely thought about what they were doing, i.e. weaving the various lines of the polyphony and being aware of the vertical coincidences and the intervals created but mainly concerned with dissonances and how they were resolved.

    This was still modal music, not diatonic tonality which really did not take hold until the Baroque period.
    This is all conjecture. In the end, we can never know how and to what extent Renaissance composers were concerned with vertical harmony. The perspective I get from studying canonical theory and from listening to music by Josquin, Palestrina, Purcell, and many others is that their harmonic language is much closer to that of the CPE than is commonly taught. But I acknowledge that it is also likely that my ears are biased to hear a stronger sense of tonality in Renaissance works than the composers had intended.

    Regards.
    Last edited by BrahmsWasAGreatMelodist; May-15-2021 at 20:48.
    Casual composer, pianist, music enthusiast

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    I'll just mention that Josquin was born at least 75 years prior to Palestrina, and over 200 years prior to Purcell - Josqin's music is very different from either Palestrina or Purcell.

    There are contemporary treatises that describe how a composer like Josquin approached composing. The idea of diatonic triads was non-existent. As I said earlier, composers in the early and middle Renaissance were weaving several individual voices into polyphony. Their only vertical concern were intervals, not triads. They would make sure no two voices created dissonances that went unresolved.

    If we from a distance of several hundred years want to force feed a diatonic tonality onto their works, it would be a historical distortion.

    One thing I do not like that some early music ensembles do is how they treat accidentals, "musica ficta." During the Medieval and Renaissance periods manuscripts did not indicate most accidentals but the singers of the time knew how to deal with cadences, raising some notes, with discretion. Some modern ensembles who wish to make the music conform more to diatonic harmony will abuse this discretion unidiomatically.

    So depending up on which recordings you listen to, the music can sound more "tonal" and less modal.
    Last edited by SanAntone; May-15-2021 at 21:01.

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    Senior Member Rapide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Is Consuono right here about the absence of functional harmony in Renaissance music?
    Yes, it was an early primitive means of composing in the Renaissance also in part due to the limitations of musical instruments they had.
    "If a composer is not moving in the right direction, he will be killed, metaphorically speaking." — Pierre Boulez

  6. #20
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    There are contemporary treatises that describe how a composer like Josquin approached composing. The idea of diatonic triads was non-existent. As I said earlier, composers in the early and middle Renaissance were weaving several individual voices into polyphony. Their only vertical concern were intervals, not triads. They would make sure no two voices created dissonances that went unresolved.
    Gioseffo Zarlino's Istitutione Harmoniche (1558), Volume 3, The Art of Counterpoint, codifies middle Renaissance practice with respect to vertical configurations. In Chapter 59, titled "Three-Voice Compositions and What Must Be Observed in Writing Them," he states: "A composition may be called perfect when, in every change of chord … there are heard all those consonances whose components give a variety of sound. … These consonances that offer diversity to the ear are the fifth and third or their compounds. … We must strive with all our might … to have these two consonances or their compounds sound in our compositions as much as possible. True, musicians often write the sixth in place of the fifth, and this is fine [thus including first inversion triads as perfect harmonies].

    Zarlino goes on to state that it is often necessary to exclude one of the consonances in three part writing because of voice-leading considerations. But "to deprive compositions in four-parts of one of these consonances is shameful." ( — I love his moralizing tone, which makes the book more amusing than any counterpoint text has a right to be.) So, although he doesn't have a term for these configurations beyond "perfect harmony," Zarlino is clearly stating that what we call triads in root position and first inversion are the foundation of good harmonic practice and that they should always be used when it is possible to do so.

    As an historical note, Zarlino was a student of Willaert, so there is a generation of remove between him and Josquin.

    Oddly enough, Zarlino's book, including his exercises and cantus firmi, was the text for the first class I took in Renaissance counterpoint — and that's why I have it ready to hand. The professor really liked primary sources.

    Please note that I'm not disagreeing with your position, in fact I agree with it: This is not tonality in any modern sense. Zarlino is talking about modal counterpoint.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; May-16-2021 at 00:29.

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Gioseffo Zarlino's Istitutione Harmoniche (1558), Volume 3, The Art of Counterpoint, codifies middle Renaissance practice with respect to vertical configurations. In Chapter 59, titled "Three-Voice Compositions and What Must Be Observed in Writing Them," he states: "A composition may be called perfect when, in every change of chord … there are heard all those consonances whose components give a variety of sound. … These consonances that offer diversity to the ear are the fifth and third or their compounds. … We must strive with all our might … to have these two consonances or their compounds sound in our compositions as much as possible. True, musicians often write the sixth in place of the fifth, and this is fine [thus including first inversion triads as perfect harmonies].

    Zarlino goes on to state that it is often necessary to exclude one of the consonances in three part writing because of voice-leading considerations. But "to deprive compositions in four-parts of one of these consonances is shameful." ( — I love his moralizing tone, which makes the book more amusing than any counterpoint text has a right to be.) So, although he doesn't have a term for these configurations beyond "perfect harmony," Zarlino is clearly stating that what we call triads in root position and first inversion are the foundation of good harmonic practice and that they should always be used when it is possible to do so.

    As an historical note, Zarlino was a student of Willaert, so there is a generation of remove between him and Josquin.

    Oddly enough, Zarlino's book, including his exercises and cantus firmi, was the text for the first class I took in Renaissance counterpoint.
    I'm not sure if this contradicts anything I wrote in my previous post.

  8. #22
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    I'm not sure if this contradicts anything I wrote in my previous post.
    Perhaps the part about triads? But really, I think it supports your position very well. Obviously Zarlino is acutely aware of triads and their significance to vertical harmony, yet he only discusses them as combinations of intervals and never in any functional sense or in relation to any notion of harmonic progression. Which is pretty much what you were arguing.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    — Basil Valentine

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