Modal polyphony
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,054
    A few weeks ago I had the honor of cantoring at a ROTR parish that is doing a fantastic job of integrating worthy hymnody, English propers, English chant responsorial psalms, icel ordinaries--just the kind of thing every Catholic deserves to have as their Mass "sound."

    I was left with the impression of having gone most of the Mass without a discernible tonal key. Of course that is an exaggeration, but the impression was really strong, that the music had all been modal. This was especially so of the unaccompanied English chant Communion proper.

    I started thinking about how standard polyphony (I have a polyphony schola doing Renaissance-era things) would have compromised the modal tenor of the Mass--that sustained engagement with a "different" kind of sound than we ever hear in "the world." Let's take Tallis' "If Ye Love Me," for example. That's I-V-I to begin with, and the fully recognizable chordation goes on throughout. Of course it is brilliantly tecture, but I for one "hear" it vertically.

    I suppose in the old days, before the Renaissance, there must have been a time before tonal considerations became so strong, more of a stepping-stone time between chant and the tonal. This is an era I don't know--and in fact, the theory I'm talking about here is unfamiliar to me.

    So I was just wondering if anyone had any suggestions of things I could listen to in order to understand this better.
    Thanked by 1ZacPB189
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    In the old days, before the Renaissance ... there was polyphony, albeit not all of it sacred. Whether you (or others) would call it modal or non-modal isn't sure. A secular example that comes to mind is the 13th-century 6-part "Sumer is icumen in" – a score of which is found at (of all places) Wikipedia article on "sumer is icumen in":

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumer_Is_Icumen_In#mediaviewer/File:Sumer_is_icumen_in.png

    On the other hand, something like Binchois's 3-part "A solis ortus cardine" (which is early 15th century sacred polyphony) might well be considered "modal", too.

    There are also frequently encountered cadences and other treatments in many (somewhat later) Renaissance polyphonic pieces that clearly give evidence of the piece being, in some sense, modal. As an example, one might cite Palestrina's 6-part "O magnum mysterium".

    So I'm not quite sure what you are getting at. It seems as if you are suggesting that, if a piece ends on a "major" or "minor" chord, it isn't modal ... and, if so, is that because you only hear modality in Gregorian chant?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC6nN4sS_Oc



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1QjkhENZg8


  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,054
    Thank you, these pieces are very helpful!

    In a way, major keys are more or less modes 7 and 8. So it's not that.

    I suppose the distinction is, which predominates, the horizontal or vertical? Comparing this Palestrina piece to the Tallis mentioned above, it sounds much less dominated by a chord progression.

    All this is a little above my pay grade. I'm a words girl. Thank you for the discussion --all suggestions welcome!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    You make a good observation, Kathy. "If ye love me" certainly begins with a quite homophonic phrase (your "vertical" description) before it breaks into freer polyphony (your "horizontal" description) . This isn't at all uncommon, and for a short work like the Tallis, the opening vertical homophonic sound may be what most would remember. It's much the same with Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" which begins with and has several places that sound more homophonic than free polyphonic.

    On the other hand, a piece like Morley's lovely 4-part motet "Agnus Dei" is exemplary of contrapuntal polyphony, and it doesn't begin with any sort of vertical homophony.

    Finally, except for the very short "Gloria Patri" section (which is more vertical), my "In manus tuas, Domine" has a definite horizontal polyphonic texture that also is "modal" in a definite harmonic sense.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFZZMF7SRRo


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCHsiDn6E0U

    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,054
    Maybe the homophony/ polyphony distinction is part of it. It happens in reverse order in Josquin dez Prez' Déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem. The last section is near-homophonic, or rather is thematic and melodic is one voice, with harmonic support below.

    Can you say what you mean by harmonic modalism?
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    The melody of "A solis ortus cardine" is Mode III, which means the root triad on the final note (E) would be a minor chord. But the root triad on the final note (D) of a Mode I chant would also be a minor chord (think "Let all mortal flesh"). Yet these two melodies have to be harmonized differently, as the Mode III melody is Phrygian, while the Mode I melody is Dorian. Mode usually refers to scales employed, but when it comes to harmonizing melodies of different modes, the principles of harmonization are also different. Thus, a Phrygian cadence is quite different from a Dorian cadence (which might well sound like a typical minor mode cadence). Although I've used the term modal harmonization, in the context of polyphony, I could just have well have said modal counterpoint.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,576
    Those 3 part settings I was posting over the last few months were written to be (mostly) modal, with the chant melodies remaining in tact and the other voices creating harmonies surrounding that as they move around in the appropriate mode. Any momentary tonal chord progressions are circumstantial.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,054
    Wonderful.

    Let me ask you this, Chuack and Ryan: why write in this way? What is the effect?

    For me, the best I can come up with is "don't disturb the atmosphere that chant makes." But I am guessing that there is also, "be true to the music you are setting."

    Something like that?
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,516
    Modal harmony is defined by the descant pair (superius and tenor) moving from an imperfect consonance (3rd/6th) to a perfect one (unison, 8ve, 5th in earlier music). The harmonic implication of this motion is ^7 to ^1 (or, with ficta sharp, ^#7-^1), but can be made something else by what other voices do. Usually, it's the bass on ^5 creating a dominant effect. In the "Lassus interrogative", the other voices move to ^4 and ^6, creating (in modern terms) a V-IV progression. Dufay's Se la face ay pale sounds like C major, but the lines are pure Mode III, with the ^6 reciting tone. The point is that modal harmony is not constructed by root motion, though we generally hear it that way now.

    I also note that most of your examples are post-Reformation, prone to homophony, and developing toward the Baroque. Already in Palestrina, you see a tendency to obscure the descant-pair motion (^2/^7 might well move to ^3/^8, as in modern harmony, a point in which he is actually more progressive than Gesualdo!). Modern harmony was already developing here (though it would take another 150 years for theorists like Rameau to explain what composers were doing). If you look at Gombert or Manchicourt or thereabouts, you'll see a lot more clear modalism.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,463
    It would be interesting to compare some cantus firmus settings in different modalities, to see how Josquin's harmonies for a CF in mode III compare to a CF in mode VIII, or for that matter, how Palestrina's mode III CF compares to Josquin's (preferably with the same CF).