From the Singer's Point of View: A Case Study in Hexachordal Solmization as a Guide to Musica Recta and Musica Ficta in Fifteenth-Century Vocal Music

Zager, Daniel

During the Renaissance presuppositions concerning modal purity together with certain ambiguities of unspecified accidentals in a Lamentation setting by the Spanish composer Juan Escribano combined to provide musical performers with some difficulties in the matter of the pitches to be, sung. In his discussion of this episode, Lewis Lockwood observes that "many performers of the
time must have found the problem as difficult as we do today."! Our difficulties in such questions of pitch, and in the concomitant consideration of editorial accidentals, derive from at least two considerations. First, modern editors have not always made a consistent conceptual distinction between musica ficta and musica recta. The term musica ficta has frequently been used incorrectly to embrace all of the editorial accidentals added to modern scores of Renaissance music. These edits may be explained and should be understood in terms of the standard system of musica recta as delineated in the gamut, the theoretical framework by which the fifteenth-century composer and singer defined musical space. Musica ficta, on the other hand, refers only to pitches outside of the gamut. Thus, all editorial accidentals are not equal, and it is critical that the modern editor make a conceptual distinction between editorial accidentals representing musica ficta pitches and those representing musica recta pitches. Second, editors and performers too rarely approach these difficult problems of pitch from the point of view of the individual Renaissance singer. Hexachordal solmization, originally conceived for monophonic chant, had to be extended from the twelfth century on in order to deal with the wider pitch demands of polyphony. This article discusses the necessity to occupy the frame of mind of the Renaissance singer in order to accurately represent the scores through the appropriate musical lens through a more careful consideration of Musica ficta and Musica recta as well as the use of Hexachordal solmization.



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Columbia University
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March 26, 2015