Question about transposing Palestrina
  • Hi all,
    I am new, so please forgive anything dumb I say or if this question seems confusing or ignorant. :)
    I'm trying to transpose a Palestrina motet (Caro mea) up a third so it sits better vocally for my choir. I discussed this with an early music friend who was horrified that I'd consider transposing it into F minor, presumably for some modal reason I don't understand. Is there a way I can transpose this thing without using a forbidden key signature that would make Palestrina roll over in his grave?

    Thanks and sorry if this question doesn't belong here etc.
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 143
    I have heard of discussions about different keys actually having different sounds and possibly being able to evoke different emotions and whatnot. I suppose it is similar to how the 8 modes of chant are often (or at least can be) associated with different emotions due to the different sounds characteristic to each. Although in the case of transposing from d minor to f minor, one is not actually switching modes, nonetheless, I suppose some would still say that due to the higher pitches, there is conceivably a difference between singing the same piece in different keys.

    Anyway, personally, I would say that there is no problem with transposing any piece into a different key to fit the voices of your choir, but I'd be interested to see what everyone else thinks.
    Thanked by 1JosquinGetEnough
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,278
    Do what works for you and your choir. Otherwise, your congregation may never hear that nice piece of music. Ignore what the too-tight-panties crowd says. They bitch about anything and everything.
  • If the need arises, I do not hesitate to transpose a piece to fit the needs of my choirs.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    You should feel utterly free to ignore your early music friend's horror.

    As a practical matter, the only real consideration other than general suitability for the ranges of the singers you have on hand and the actual acoustics of the space (that is, how it favors or disfavors certain parts of the human voice register) is if you have veteran singers who learned the piece in a given key and have it hard-wired and find it difficult to adapt (a concern more commonly found with pronunciation of languages).
    Thanked by 1JosquinGetEnough
  • Oh my gosh, thank you all so much for your replies. I feel so much better now. I'm just the lowly choir manager and I was worried that if my director saw my work and my friend was right and this was common knowledge I was ignoring, he'd never let me suggest another piece. ;)
    My church is enormous so higher is almost always better for us, although the altos would probably be delighted to get to sing super low.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    The D minor tenor line is nice for choirs that have baritones pressed into service as tenors, but the effect of transposing Eb -> F# shouldn't be too heavy a lift since it's well prepared and has a drop of a fourth right after it. That said, are you going to provide the singers with a transposed score, or just tell them it's transposed (or not bother to tell them)? There are practical issues with *that* aspect of this choice - for singers who actually know their passaggio points (which singers you might not have any of, but which issue you as director ought to be mindful of), it can be helpful to have a correct score to keep them aware of areas where they might want to be "mindful" of best practices for shifting registers....

    http://www0.cpdl.org/wiki/images/b/b8/Palestrina_Caro_mea.pdf
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • We're all pros, so the bigger worry is people who say their perfect pitch makes them unable to transpose in their heads - which is why I bothered to do the transposition at all. I think if it hadn't been for that I would've just used the CPDL version! Plus I guess going up a whole third is probably tricky for people to "feel" anyway.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    Yes, that's the other problem, but I consider it a tiny part of a Music Director's mission to screw around with choristers who have perfect pitch. Maybe it's because my music theory TA in college transposed sight singing exercises a tritone to handicap the students with PP...
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    Just think of it as original A=523hz.
  • Drake
    Posts: 160
    I once transposed Palestrina's Jesu Rex Admirabilis down a 5th (yes, a 5th!) to sing it with an all male schola. Lowest note in the bass was F and highest in the tenor was F. Barbaric? Perhaps. But I didn't want to sing it falsetto :)
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,911
    I guarantee that Palestrina didn't even hear it sung in the original key all the time. Choirs have routinely transposed music up or down according to their needs, especially when there is no orchestral accompaniment. Choral composers just understand this.

    Maybe it's because my music theory TA in college transposed sight singing exercises a tritone to handicap the students with PP...


    That's so delightfully diabolical!
    Thanked by 1JosquinGetEnough
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    "That's so delightfully diabolical!"

    My oldest college friend, whom I met on the first day of class in first year in this class waaaaay back when, has PP and explained how this practice of our TA made her nauseated. I had taken music theory for all of my senior year in high school, but this class further ramped things up for me (it got species-style counterpoint in my bones), but I being a hornist did not have keyboard skills (let alone my own keyboard)* to become as fluent as I would have wished. Nevertheless, to this day I can nearly always smell a composition/arrangement that has has been imagined from the keyboard rather than the voice (and an organ's voice is *not* a human voice, albeit a wonderful thing of its own).

    * Though by the end of the year we had to be able to play the first movement of Beethoven's first piano sonata in practicum. My professor noticed that I was much more agile/fluid in my left hand rather than my right, though I wrote right-handed. I made him guess my normal instrument, which he didn't guess correctly, but he understood once I told him.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,911
    ...but I being a hornist did not have keyboard skills (let alone my own keyboard)* to become as fluent as I would have wished.


    Hey! I'm a clarinetist. I still play in community groups, but I was not trained as an organist nor vocalist in my undergrad. I've learned quite a bit about the organ since, but I am a long way from mastery, and I'm not sure if that's the path I want to take. I have, however, started vocal training, and that is a path I'm more comfortable with!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,713
    The D minor score is notated at the original pitches in the source (1575, Motettorum liber tertius, 5, 6, 8vv, Venice) in chiavi naturali, i.e. the natural SATB clefs of Palestrina's era, as remarked by the editor of the CPDL score. Hence, a transposition upwards (visualizing chiavette) by a third (perhaps major, rather than minor, since "c" would become "e"), is not out of the question.

    Personally, if I needed to transpose this work up a bit, I would opt for transposing up a whole tone, to E minor, on the principle that one sharp is a heckuva lot easier to negotiate than four flats or three sharps.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • If it is a matter of singing or not singing this wonderful music.... transpose it!
    Palestrina would be (or ought to be) pleased.
    If all he had were the voices that you have, he would have written it where they could sing it.
  • E minor would probably be fine, but as a soprano I prefer singing F over and over to E over and over...rings better in the space too. Maybe I'll do a version in E minor and see which one works better.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Will no one compliment the OP for his wonderful "handle?"
    Thanks to that, I have an earworm of Barry White screwing around in my brain.
  • Charles,

    Some of us post in our own names. It can't remind you of Barry White.
  • I'm a her but thank you :D
    I didn't know when I made it that most people here use their real names so I felt a little bad about it. I promise I'm a real person!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,278
    I didn't know when I made it that most people here use their real names


    That's because we are fearless. ;-)
    Thanked by 2CCooze francis
  • Well, I'm Sara and I sing at the National Shrine in DC. See? Also fearless.
  • Sara,

    Welcome aboard.

    Many people don't use their real names. Charles' point is that your moniker has given him an earworm, not the goodness or Spadaro-ness of using a moniker. I use my own name because I want to be responsible for everything I post.

    Some years back, a man interviewing me for a school post said that he had seen my parodies and that, while they weren't an automatic disqualification for the job, they raised some eyebrows and voices of concern.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,278
    JosquinGetEnough = Just Can't Get Enough. Charles' earworm.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpPQBL7PNhs
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,172
    ...and now I can't get that conductor out of my head.

    Another conductor who is hard to forget (and I don't mean Tom Jones, who feels the need to conduct): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=S87jWwzvwd8
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,278
    I have gotten to the point I tend to ignore conductors. Last one I worked with conducted like a chicken on LSD.
  • I got the earworm reference, don't worry.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,382
    Your handle is clever!
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    CDubya, I think I recognize that conductor---Helmut Rilling, IIRC!

    from: the melo, aka "Left Coast Charlie"
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,575
    conducting can be extremely dangerous. i highly suggest a safe implement such as
    a hot dog or a green onion. please look into conducting insurance if this is your primary source of income.

    "In the 17th century, other devices to indicate the passing of time came into use. Rolled up sheets of paper, smaller sticks and unadorned hands are all shown in pictures from this period. The large staff was responsible for the death of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who injured his foot with one while conducting a Te Deum for the King's recovery from illness. The wound became gangrenous and Lully refused amputation, whereupon the gangrene spread to his leg and he died two months later.[4]"
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,911
    please look into conducting insurance if this is your primary source of income.


    You've got nothing to worry about: I'm a professional.
  • I would pay money to watch someone conduct a whole service with a green onion.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I would pay money to watch someone conduct a whole service with a green onion.

    Shoulda been with me and Leo Nestor back in undergrad years, where he would conduct from the console with crossed leg and cigarette dangling precipitously.....

    https://youtu.be/pdcccPlz_Xo
  • Man I WISH I'd been around in the Leo Nestor days. I've heard so many stories...
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,676
    JosquinGetEnough = Just Can't Get Enough.


    Last time I heard the name "Josquin De Prez", I thought I had overheard some Democrat's advice for what to do to Donald Trump . . .