Epiphany liquescents
  • In Einsiedeln 121, every word "reges", "regum", "regi" in chant for Epiphany Mass has a liquescent at the end of the first syllable. What was the role of that sign in such strange (for me) place?
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 853
    Sometimes, I've found liquescents on consonants other than the typical m, n, or l. I've heard that it's merely a reminder for the consonant (in this case g) to be prounounced well.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    This is a topic near and dear to me since it involves both manuscript notation and vocal technique.

    Let's take the first word in the the offertory Reges Tharsis. I will not get into the issue of how the the g would have been pronounced. The modern practice is like the j in "just" not the j in the French "je." Whether it was one of these or a third possibility doesn't really matter. The point is that the consonant is voiced on the preceding pitch, not the following. This allows for an absolutely legato transition from vowel to consonant and from pitch to pitch.

    However, I guarantee you most choirs will sing "re-jes" instead of "rej-es." This more often than not is accompanied by an unintentional accent on the second syllable. By accent I mean either a separation from the previous sound or that the beginning of the note is louder than the middle or end. This is often caused by a puff of air originating from a contraction of the abdomen.

    All of this can be avoided if one takes care to shorten the first note to leave time to move smoothly to the j and then connects to the next note with perfect legato. I spend a lot of time in rehearsals to train singers, even professionals, to make this transition seamlessly.
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  • joerg
    Posts: 68
    I have a theory which contradicts everything that's been written about liquescents but which I think explains a lot. It rests on a well known passage from Guido of Arezzo and a little known passage from Bede. Guido says that one can sing liquescents but one can also sing "more fully". This implies that the liquescent shortens the text or the music or both. Bede says that it was customary among those who sing antiphons and responsories in the roman manner to add vowels in those positions where we would expect a liquescent. In light of the passage from Guido this must mean, that the liquescent deletes the added vowel.
    How can we understand addition of this vowel? There is a phenomenon called svarabhakti or anaptyxis. We can still hear it when Italians speak Latin: When a word ends with a consonant like "et" they usually add an e so it sounds more or less like "ete". This phenomenon is well attested in late antiquity and the early middle ages, e,g. in a famous manuscript of the Digests, the so called Codex Florentinus. (which was incidentally written by native speakers of Greek who are more likely to discern those additional vowels than Italians)
    Now the word "liquesco"is a grammatical term which means "to become a liquid letter". For the medieval grammarians a liquid letter was one "which ends in itsself". They didn't have a notion of phoneme so they didn't usually distinguish between a letter and it's latin name. So for them a liquid letter is one whose name ends in the same like f, m, n, s, but unlike b whose name ends in e.
    Now let's have a look at the familiar "ad te levavi" with liquescent on "ad":
    What does it mean that the d of "ad" becomes liquid? It means that the d ends in itsself instead of in an e like Italians usually pronounce it ("ade te levavi") (btw: "ade" is exactly what we find in the Florentinus). Thus the liquescent is basically a warning not to spoil the flow of the melody by adding the svarabhakti vowel.
    Now back to "regis": There is evidence (among others in another passage from Bede) that the g was pronounced as j like in alleluja. Then the j is usually doubled in speech so that the first syllable ends with a liquid and the liquescent shows exactly this.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    This account jibes with with what I said about a true legato and the paleography of the earliest manuscripts. The idea of shortening a note to accomodate the liquescent is supported by the numerous instances in which the liquescent break a normally long ntoe into two short notes when there is a change of pitch. The example that comes to mind is the last syllable of "salvabit" in the communion Dicite pusillanimes. It stands to reason that when the vowel and the liquescent consonant occur on the same pitch, that the former should also be shortened.

    Cardine confuses the issue by referring to a liquescent neume as "augmented" when, for example, a virga becomes a cephalicus, and as "diminished" when the same cephalicus takes the place of a clivis. This distinction is unnecessary in that both figures can be interpreted with a common practice.