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Riemenschneider key signatures


martin_greenwood

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I've been using Riemenschneider as transposition practice for ARCO next January. I'm puzzled as to many chorales that are clearly in G minor are frequently given a key signature of just Bb, with the Eb's shown as accidentals throughout the chorale.

 

Please could one or you erudite types enlighten me.

 

Thanks

 

Sq.

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I have noticed this on other Bach scores.

 

I think that is because they were conceived in terms of the old modes rather than the modern major/minor scales - but I am sure that more knowledgeable people will correct this idea or explain it more fully.

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I have noticed this on other Bach scores.

 

I think that is because they were conceived in terms of the old modes rather than the modern major/minor scales - but I am sure that more knowledgeable people will correct this idea or explain it more fully.

In my limited experience Bach often wrote a "Dorian mode" key signature for pieces in the minor; ie one fewer flat or one more sharp. I suspect these oddities were edited out in C18-earlyC20 editions and it is only with more modern urtext editions that we are becoming aware of them. A return to baroque practice with regard to accidentals might be interesting too.

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A return to baroque practice with regard to accidentals might be interesting too.

 

Agreed, but "baroque practiceS" would be even more appropriate, as there were several conventions (and lack of them) and it isn't always easy to know what the composer or copyist intended.

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I have noticed this on other Bach scores.

 

I think that is because they were conceived in terms of the old modes rather than the modern major/minor scales - but I am sure that more knowledgeable people will correct this idea or explain it more fully.

I very much doubt that Bach or his contemporaries conceived their music in modes. I'm not even sure that Renaissance composers did (despite theorists insisting on making artificial modal sense of the polyphony they encountered). Isn't it more a case of our modern key signature convention not yet having become firmly established?

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Agreed, but "baroque practiceS" would be even more appropriate, as there were several conventions (and lack of them) and it isn't always easy to know what the composer or copyist intended.

Point taken, davidh. I'd rather have the opportunity to make up my own mind rather than rely on the generally opaque choices of an editor.

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I think the point about modal key signatures is where I'd start on the explanations. Take the Fant/Fugue in Gm, and the note that has the most frequent 'is it flat or not' is the 6th, the E. Perhaps it also saved the engraver time as there were likely to be more naturals that flats in the piece? Only a theory.

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I don't think it can be anything to do with engravers since the BWV 542 wasn't published in Bach's time, but the same consideration would apply to scribes and I would think you are right. If the Es in a G minor piece were predominantly flat, it would save the scribe time, ink and space to put the flat in the staff signature. On the other hand, if the Es were mostly natural, he might well not bother. I suspect it is no more complicated than that.

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Yes, nothing to do with engravers. The concept of modes, or, more frequently, Tones, was still very much in use in the baroque - just look at the great majority of French Livres d'orgue and South German collection of versets on the 8 Tones that were being printed with enthusiasm well into the late 18th century, as well as the Iberian collections of Coelho and Correa in 1620/1626 and subsequent MSS titlings well into the 18th century. Also in evidence in the early 17th century was the compositional use of hexachords, departures from which are specifically indicated in Italian ricercare by Trabaci amongst others. Broadly speaking the first 4 Tones are equivalent to D, G, A and E minor, the next four to C, F, D and G major; key signatures vary from composer to composer but the flat keys have one less than we would expect now. There are also pieces which have one less sharp in the key signature ie A major with 2, but this is much rarer. Pieces in flat keys that do not fit in to the tonal system, such as F minor, are seen with one less flat. A complex subject which can only be glossed over here! I do not know the Bach MSS so cannot comment on individual cases. Hope that this may help and be of interest to stimulate further research by players of the Baroque repertoire.

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Also in evidence in the early 17th century was the compositional use of hexachords, departures from which are specifically indicated in Italian ricercare by Trabaci amongst others.

This is interesting. What form do these indications take, please?

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In the case of Trabaci by the word "inganni" being used in the title - this is the Italian for deception and means that the composer is using acidentals not associated with a specific hexachord at a given moment. The three hexachords in use were those starting on C, F and G. Frescobaldi was criticised in his lifetime as being ignorant of true compositional technique! While there are some articles on this difficult subject, I think that there is still much that needs to be researched before we get close to a true understanding of the structure of many of the 16th and 17th century compositions.

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In the case of Trabaci by the word "inganni" being used in the title - this is the Italian for deception and means that the composer is using acidentals not associated with a specific hexachord at a given moment.

Thank you. That's musica ficta, then.

 

Frescobaldi was criticised in his lifetime as being ignorant of true compositional technique!

This isn't really my field so I've likely got it wrong, but weren't these criticisms effectively because Fescobaldi was a practical musician who wasn't clued up on the writings of the musical theorists and so would have appeared intellectually lacking in any erudite discussion about them? The same was true of the Bach.

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The application of inganni to the hard and soft hexachords is is not entirely the same as musica ficta, which tends towards the player/singer adding "unwritten" accidentals, particularly in cadential figures. Frescobaldi also attracted criticism through his comments on how to play passages in triple time; these comments were based on a subjective tempo such as adagio rather than a proportional application which was the norm. have a look at this website which does much to clarify the matter:

http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/harmony/hex.html Do have a look at Frescobaldi, there is some marvellous music there that deserves to be much better known than it is!

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The application of inganni to the hard and soft hexachords is is not entirely the same as musica ficta, which tends towards the player/singer adding "unwritten" accidentals, particularly in cadential figures

I need to be careful not to project earlier theory anachronistically onto later practice, but I have to say that it does not sound so very different to me. I suspect that you were keeping your explanation purposely simple, but to see musica ficta in terms of accidentals, written or otherwise, seems to me very much a modern editor's viewpoint – understandably since that is how editors have to interpret the topic for modern performers.

 

It was not how Medieval and Renaissance singers and theorists understood it, however. To them, musica ficta was the business of placing hexachords in positions where they did not naturally occur, i.e. outside the b durum / b molle / natura framework. Ugolino said so in the 1430s. Also, slightly earlier, an English theorist (Lbl Add Ms 21455) described how to place a hexachord on d la sol re by mentally substituting an F clef for the written C clef (thereby turning the d la sol re into G ut) and there is a fifteenth-century Italian manuscript (Vercelli, Biblioteca Agnesiana, codice 11) that also describes a D hexachord as musica colorata: Acuta musicha collorata [incipit] in d la sol re acuta et terminatur in b fa b mi. [sorry, can't do a square b!] Singing ut on a D places mi on an F and therefore raises its pitch a semitone. The singer didn't need to see an accidental, though one might be provided, presumably to avoid ambiguity or in "difficult" cases. One upshot of this system is that not all unwritten accidentals are necessarily musica ficta (B flats other than the one nearest gamut are musica recta), while, conversely, some written ones are (A flat, for example). Neither, it might be added, were what we now think of as the symbols for sharps/naturals and flats instructions to raise or lower the pitch to which they were attached (though in most cases this was the result).

 

By the later sixteenth century the concept of musica ficta had certainly evolved along with musical style, not least in the matter of inflecting pitches without mutating the hexachord, but the business of placing hexachords outside the Guidonian hand was certainly still alive and kicking, as Willaert demonstrated in his Quid non ebrietas dissignat? Trabaci's use of the word "deception" for momentary inflections away from the standard hexachords (I assume this is all he meant?) is not a million miles away from the terms falsa and ficta and certainly seems to me resonant of earlier theory.

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Vox Humana, many thanks indeed for your comprehensive and well-written reply. It is fascinating to see and hear how modern scholars still disagree on inflections; when studying Frescobaldi in particular (he, like most of the early Italians, saw his music into print personally, so no MSS for us to wrestle with) with Colin Tilney he would disagree with Gustav Leonhardt's application of accidentals, particularly in a cadence such as F-G-F#-G wherethe first F may, or may not, be sharpened. The new edition by Chris Stembridge incldues many suggested inflections. I do wonder sometimes whether we now spend far too much time on theory rather than on playing this wonderful music, although an in-depth knowledge of performance practice is essential for a good performance today.

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Yes, I find the whole business of sub-semitones a rather thorny one without any clear-cut answers. Probably better not to open that can of worms here! :lol:

 

As regards theory versus practice, I do sometimes feel that there are repertories that are more written about than heard and that is a shame. On the other hand, I am all for scholars beavering away in the background with the documents. Their discoveries are often fascinating, irrespective of whether or not one wants to apply them in practice and if that's what floats their boat, good luck to them.

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