• All,

    A week ago I had PIP input delivered with some heat - that we are singing de Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium" incorrectly. We increase tempo significantly at the 'alleluia ', and decrease tempo gently to the end, although the ending tempo is faster than it was at measure 1. Whereas (the PIP said), motets of that era were written to be symmetrical - that is, at beginning and ending there must be *same* tempo.

    I went to Spotify and conducted an informal poll of maybe 8-10 well known recordings. I'd say it was about 50/50, as to being sung 'symmetrically' or not.

    I don't know what to call this symmetry principle, if it exists, so I can't look it up; therefore I turn to you, O Musical Magi, to help me understand this. Many thanks
  • davido
    Posts: 121
    I’ve never heard it described as symmetrical, but it is a common understanding in early music that it follows the “tactus,” a steady pulse roughly 60 bpm or the average heart rate (wish mine was 60!). There is to be no ritardandi or rubato in this music - which is why to indicate closure at cadences, they often feature longer note values or elaborations against a sustained tone.

    Personally, I think this is a boring way to sing...
    Thanked by 2madorganist CharlesW
  • Tempo in Renaissance music is akin to dynamics in the same music. No explicit contrasts are usually printed (you won't hit a Largo section that's half the speed of the preceding Allegro), but to rob the music of some degree of natural ebb and flow is simply unmusical.

    Although the speed may change, there is only one fundamental tempo that governs the whole work; any modifications have to exist within that fundamental and not contrast it. (Excepting metric modulation, of course)
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen regissør
  • Madame,

    I would have thought that the question to ask was this: at the Alleluia, is there a pause before singing the 3/2 section, or isn't there. (To put a pause where the piece reverts from 3/2 to 4/4 is silly, so why not go seamlessly into that same 3/2 section?). To say (if I understand the claim that was made to you) that "O Great Mystery" should be sung in an identical manner to "Alleluia" is unfortunate.

    To pick up on Schoenbergian's point, imagine someone making the point that the repeated section in Byrd's Ave Verum had to be sung at exactly the same volume level on the repeat as on the original pass...…, or in Vittoria's Ave Maria, that the repeated sections must be sung identically.
  • This music has its own built in 'tempo' changes. The tactus is constant but the metre changes. By changing the 'tempo' one obscures the built in, inherent contrast between duple and triple metres. The change of metre creates its own drama. This is a common device of this period. Other very well known examples would be L. Viadana's Exsultate iusti, T.L. Victoria's Genitori genitoque, and Peter Phillips' Ascendit Deus. The list would be endless.
  • PIP input delivered with some heat - that we are singing de Victoria's "O Magnum Mysteriumc do not participate in the music"


    There is a certain place for musical experts who sit in the pews who do not participate in the music of the parish but do pontificate.
  • the “tactus,” a steady pulse roughly 60 bpm or the average heart rate (wish mine was 60!).


    However, the tactus must be adjusted for the acoustics of the building.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 725
    I'm sure there are many interesting ways that one goes from the 4/2 to 3/2, and back again.
    Is there already a thread about this? It does seem to me that many people just go ahead and choose whatever tempo they prefer for the 3/2, rather than basing it on something technical.

    If - hypothetically speaking - you were to conduct this "in 4," would your quarters stay constant throughout the entire work?
    If not, do you try to keep the length of the measure the same, from the 4/2 into the 3/2?
    If neither of those, on what basis do you direct your choir to sing the 3/2 section?
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,959
    Traditionally, one tries to make 2 beats of 4/2 take the same length of time as 3 beats of 3/2. Often this signified in score with the notation that shows a whole note = dotted whole note. Put differently, in a tactus of minim (half note) = 60bpm in duple time, this would equate to a triple time tactus of minim = 90bpm.

    In terms of measure lengths, if the time signature is 4/2, then when the time signature changes to 3/2, it is two measures of 3/2 time have a length that equate to the length of one measure of 4/2 time (or one measure of 6/2 time equates to one measure of 4/2 time).

    Another way of summarising is that a semibreve (whole note) in duple time (whether 4/2 or 2/2) gets duration of a dotted semibreve in triple time (whether 6/2 or 3/2). There are also some instances of some composers (or composers in certain areas or eras), eg. Josquin in his Ave Maria ... Virgo Serena, who used 3/1 rather than 3/2 time for triple time, with a 4/2 time signature for duple time (notated as cut common time, C with a vertical slash).
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,222
    You might find this video on tactus and proportions interesting. (Peter Kwasniewski did an interview with Elam Rotem at NLM a few weeks ago.)
    https://youtu.be/otgXoa8QEWg
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CGM
    Posts: 425
    This:
    There is a certain place for musical experts who sit in the pews who do not participate in the music of the parish but do pontificate.

    Having just received a long-winded (many-pixeled?) email from such a person, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one to have such an experience.
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 319
    What I have always done, and what seems most natural to me, is that each measure of "3" is equal to one beat in "2". So the pulse stays steady, but there is a significant speed-up.

    Is that kosher?
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,222
    That seems like a standard Tripla ratio of 3:1, as opposed to the equally standard Sesquialtera of 3:2.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,959
    As a modern, albeit very traditionally composed, example of the Sesquialtera 3:2 proportion, there is my own 6 part Ave verum corpus, newly tweaked for future performance, in which the 6/2 "triple proportion" Section C ("esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine") begins at m.29 (1m52s into the recording). The rest of the composition is in 4/2 "duple proportion". Note the tempo markings are minim=60 in the 4/2 sections and minim=90 in the 6/2 sections.

    As a side note, Section B at m.19 (1m12s into the recording) is a prolongation canon between the highest and lowest voices, with a countermelody in the middle voices ("cuius latus perforatum, unda fluxit sanguine").

  • Charles, though your works may be "very traditionally composed", they always possess an ineffable piece of "Charles H. Giffen" that grants your work a status far surpassing many of today's mere imitators of times past. You add something unmistakably your own to the great polyphonic tradition, and that truly is to be commended.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,959
    Oh, wow! Schönbergian, thank you very much for your kind words. A little aside, however: not all of my works are traditionally composed, but the Ave verum corpus definitely represents my great admiration for Byrd and Tallis, as well as the deep meaning of the text.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,222
    Chuck: Wonderful, as always!

    Schonbergian: I think part of it is the wide rage: a very high Discantus, and a very low Bassus; and the harmonic minor second and harmonic tritone.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • That indeed is how that the polyphonic tradition is a living art whose modern proponents bring an ever-fresh approach to it. Even in the golden age of polyphony there was a great variety of dialect in the repertorial corpus. That is why Victoria is not Palestrina and could not be confused with him. In our day there are many gifted composers who write in the antique style. Yet, their work is recognisably modern. Some have a textural complexity that would rival that of Tallis or Byrd, or even Taverner. Others (e.g. Alan Hovhannes) have a very sparse and clean texture which is unmistakably modern while being representative of its unmistakable pedigree.

    Too, we moderns are not alone in our custodianship of the stile antico. It is a commonplace amongst musicologists and music historians that the English were, well into the XVIIth century, writing music which was 'out of date' and 'old fashioned'. Yet their music could not at all be confused with the polyphony of the previous century.

    Beautiful work, Chuck.
    Keep it coming!
    Your geneology is of the rarest.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,526
    While the early Scottish-born Stuarts may have favored Continental influence in the visual arts, their religious estrangement in England - and then the Civil War and Commonwealth era - ended up delaying the full advent of the stile moderno in church music until the Restoration.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • And we can be thankful that it did. Else we would not have the exquisite work of Weelkes, Tomkins, Gibbons, Jenkins, et al. Most English music, excepting that of Purcell, that followed the Inter-regnum is of little if any consequence: pale and shallow imitations of an evolving, new-born continental art. The English never excelled at the stile moderno.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,222
    John Blow is pretty good. But yes: England basically went from the Stille Antico to the Neo-Stille Antico of Vaughan Williams. Every other 'English' composer was Italian or German.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,959
    To bring this discussion back to symmetry and the question of a different tempo at the end of a Renaissance piece than at the beginning, here is yet another O magnum mysterium, this time by Palestrina, which has a different structure from the Victoria. In particular it has a Prima Pars and a Seconda Pars, each part having the text 'et choros angelorum collaudantes Dominum: Alleluia." The "collaudantes Dominum" is in triple time (Sesquialtera). Incidentally, the animated scrolling score used is from my edition at CPDL.

    width="640" height="360">
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn