Editing principles in general, and Byrd's Memento Salutis Auctor in particular
  • Immediate cause of this post:

    I have in front of me a copy (from CPDL) of Byrd's Memento Salutis Auctor.

    In one bar, the bass part has G-F#-G-D, with the F# added as an accidental. In the same measure, the Alto part has Bb-A-Bb-F. According to the rules of modern notation, the f# should carry over to the alto part, I think, but Bb-F# violates all sorts of rules, and makes an awkward melody line and a clash with the next bar across parts.

    Can I be sure (aside from musical common sense) that the questionable F-natural is not questionable?

    That raises another question, about editing in general. In the work which Corinne Cooze has so ably done with the opus of Heinrich Isaac, anything not marked with an accidental shouldn't be sung with one, but is this universally applicable in transcriptions of the era?
  • MarkS
    Posts: 189
    In general practice the accidental in the bass part would not affect other voice parts. In the example you cited, the f in the alto is definitely an f natural. A 'courtesy' f natural may have been offered by some editors for clarity, but by basic rules of notation it is not necessary.
  • Mark,

    In modern renderings of music, a sharp carries in all parts, for the duration of the bar, but you mean that it isn't necessary in the older music?
  • MarkS
    Posts: 189
    No, I mean that in standard modern practice an accidental refers only to that particular pitch, and does not automatically affect pitches of the same class at other octaves, or parts that are clearly differentiated.. Examples abound in piano music and orchestral scores. But: thought experiment—presuming the Byrd would have been sung by part-books, how would the altos even know that there was a notated f sharp in the bass that they needed to honor?
  • Mark,

    The thought experiment clarifies much. Thank you for that. It leaves only one question: does the F# seem logical in the Byrd, in the alto part?

    My choir sings several pieces (I sing, not direct) from which editorial sharps and naturals have been removed by some later person, from whom we received the copies. How to tell (short of having the originals, or older editions than the photocopy in front of me) whether the "accidental" should be there or not? We ran into a place in the Victoria Ave Maria where it seems that there should be a g# in the tenor, but none is indicated in the edition we use.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,650
    The comments by MarkS are spot on.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,650
    CGZ asks just above if the (an) F# seems logical in the alto part of the Byrd (in the 6th measure from the end). The answer is "no," because of the B-flat in the bass part at the very end of that measure.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 189
    There is a long-standing practice regarding 'Musica ficta' i. e. the logical placing of sharps/flats where none might be present in the score—this is particularly an issue in this sort of literature. My rule is 'go with what makes sense to your ears'! I'm sure you will make the intuitive choice,
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,650
    The editor of the Byrd, David Fraser, is an acknowledged Byrd scholar, who has edited all of Byrd's choral works and made them available, gratis, at CPDL. It is not surprising, therefore, that on Fraser's editor page, there are comprehensive notes on his editing criteria and procedures, including the interpretation of accidentals in his editions of Byrd's works. As far as I know, David Fraser did not have available the ability to place musica ficta above notes (perhaps because Sibelius, at least at the time of his editing, did not have a convenient way to do this). Hence, a reading of David Fraser's comments is something I heartily recommend. Here is the section on Accidentals in Byrd's works, copied from his editor page at CPDL.


    The interpretation of accidentals poses few problems in Byrd's printed sources. The following editorial practice has been adopted:

    Accidentals in the source are indicated by normal-sized symbols. These are not repeated within the bar in which they occur. Unless clearly erroneous (and so noted in the editorial commentary), all the printer's accidentals are included, either in the music or in editorial notes.

    Editorial accidentals are indicated by small symbols before the note, repeated as necessary within a single bar. These are provided to correct (what seem to the editor) obvious omissions, to avoid severe and uncharacteristic harmonic clashes and to indicate preferred readings from manuscript sources. They are also used in editions from Byrd's earlier publications (1575-91) for notes in octaves other than those affected by the key-signature, where no accidentals occur in the source, since it appears that, in the 16th century, key-signatures applied only to the pitches at which they were placed. Later publications (1605-11) appear generally to adopt the modern practice, so these editorial accidentals are not employed here.

    Cautionary accidentals are indicated by full-sized bracketed symbols. These are used:

    For what is hoped will be the convenience of performers, where a different accidental has been recently employed;

    Where, in accordance with 16th-17th century practice, a previous accidental would not apply, such as where repeated notes are separated by a rest or line-break.

    Editorial or cautionary accidentals are not employed where the practice of the time seems to assume the persistence of a previous accidental: for repeated notes where there is no harmonic change and in cadential figures.

    A particular textual problem needs specific mention: the D sharps leading to "augmented 6th" harmonies in the motets Tristitia et anxietas (II.102.1), Ne irascaris Domine (I.96.1) and Domine exaudi orationem meam (III.34.1, I.94.1). Modern critical opinion is against the acceptance of these D sharps, despite their appearance in the printed sources, on the grounds that they are stylistically inconsistent and do not appear in manuscript sources. However, the following points could equally be made in favour of their acceptance:

    Incorrect accidentals are extremely rare in the two books of Cantiones sacrae, and tend elsewhere simply to be misplaced from adjacent notes;

    The printed editions are otherwise incomparably more reliable than manuscript sources;

    The printed editions incorporate numerous corrections and improvements to earlier manuscript versions;

    The argument from stylistic consistency seems to deny Byrd the opportunity to make any harmonic experiments whatever.

    Performers are of course at liberty to retain or omit these accidentals. An admirably balanced and informed discussion may be found in Watkins Shaw's article A Textual Problem in Byrd: A Purely Accidental Matter (Musical Times, Vol.102, No.1418 (Apr, 1961), pp.230-232), in which the writer's conclusion is against their acceptance.

    Evidently, the F# in the bass part in the 6th measure from the end is not "cautionary" or an example of musica ficta, and hence it is to be observed if Byrd's intentions are to be observed.

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