Josquin 'Ave Verum' a3, pitch question
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,146
    I have a question regarding Josquin's "Ave Verum" a3:

    My choir sang the prima pars this morning, as found in Marier's "Pius X Hymnal", except that I transposed it down from E-flat to C, to make it more comfortable for the Basses. This got me wondering what the pitch was: The Original pitch, according to the transcribed editions on CPDL, as F with the B-flat in the signature, which is somewhat high. Then I was thinking, this piece has to be in High Clefs (Chiavetta), so I followed some links on CPDL to the originals, Petrucci's 1503 Motetti de Passione de Cruce, and Glarean's Dodechachordon: They were, in fact, in High Clefs, which confirms my suspicions that the piece should be taken down a fourth, and lose the flat, confirmed by Glarean's voicing of Cantus, Tenor, and Bassus for this motet, though retaining the High Clefs.

    But, there is one catch: In the Petrucci print, at the "Esto nobis", the cantus part changes from G2 clef to C1 clef, and there is no flat (ficta, I presume, would be added to fix any bad intervals). (Glarean only prints the Prima Pars)

    So, my question: Do you think that this piece should be sung transposed down a fourth, since it's in High Clefs, and the sudden change to normal clef in the Cantus only is just for the printer to avoid ledger-lines running into the text (it goes down to "middle C"); or is that a clue that the piece should not be transposed, if doing so would make the cantus to low?

    Links to Glarean (pp. 308 & 309 of the PDF) and Petrucci (Page scans: K1d2_18.jpg & K1d2_19.jpg)
  • We’re pitches even fixed at his time? I suspect they were hardly held in stone. I believe music making was much more fluid in days of yore. Beyond this supposition, I don’t see any reason why not to transpose works to comfortable ranges for singers. I do it all the time and the end result is much better singing.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,021
    It seems pretty clear that the piece is written in high clefs (chiavette), even though Cantus part in the "Esto nobis..." section employs the C1 clef (to avoid ledger lines) rather than the usual G2 clef (in the other sections). Keeping the piece at notated pitch makes it clear that it is for SAT voices, while taking the downward transposition by a perfect fourth renders the piece suitable for ATB voices.
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,146
    Serviam: I don't think that pitches were universally standardized, as today, but there had to have been some kind of standard, at least locally, or consorts of instruments wouldn't have been viable, considering the limited or non-existent keywork on wind instruments, it would be a challenge to have to transpose into strange keys like d-flat, because your dulcian was pitched a semitone lower than the cornetto, who couldn't transpose down to b, because his lowest note is c.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,610
    I've sung Byrd a 3 down a minor 6th and minor 7th as well as down a tone and 'at pitch' and have only started to question freely floating pitch as I look at alternatim repertoire for the Office, where it seems a comfy reciting tenor might preclude singing high clef pieces with mixed voices. I can't, for example, imagine reciting on d' for Victoria's Mag. i toni impares, though an ATBB performance seems perfectly plausible, and the wiggle room for Dufay's Iste confessor is less than what the bass's range suggests.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,695
    Sounds like a transposition etude for horn. (/s)
  • Such standards as there were, were instituted by instrument makers. The Nuremberg sackbut makers and the Bassano woodwind were around 465. Transposition by 2nd and 4th/5th were easy enough; by minor third a bit tougher, but doable.
  • Of course the notation has nothing (much) to do with sung pitch. By the same token, I wonder if the clefs are particularly relevant. As I understand it, notation for early polyphony was derived from chant notation, specifically whatever cantus firmus was being decorated (one can almost hear the opening of the chant in this). Like chant, the parts were written to stay on the staff (with minimal accidentals), and the sung pitch would be chosen relatively, depending on the voices available, with no distinction between high or low (certainly not male or female) voices. Being church music, it was likely sung by men exclusively. In that case, it would most likely be transposed down an octave, but adjusted up a step or so from (what we consider) written pitch, which puts it well in the range of modern TTB.
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