The Pitch of Tudor Church Music

Discussions relating to performance, interpretation, score preparation, musica ficta etc.
Gervais O Frykman
Posts: 6
Joined: 19 Oct 2017 21:53

Re: The Pitch of Tudor Church Music

Postby Gervais O Frykman » 19 Oct 2017 22:49

Having embarked on a set of scores of Fayrfax Masses (IMSLP), I am converted to the up a tone school, or a semitone. I find the Cardinalls Musick too dark, even if I applaud them for recording Fayrfax and Ludford. I find that up a tone (having taken account of any transposing clefs) gives alto and tenor parts that never go above G, and can therefore both be sung comfortably by tenors. I believe the counter tenor or falsettist did not exist in England until the later 17th century. Basses do not have to go below G, and crucially the treble and mean parts are both singable by unbroken voices. The problem starts when you move to Tallis and White, for their notated alto parts often go to G, and so to A in transposition, which is far less comfortable a proposition, or to B flat in the minor third transposition, which really rules it out of court, even though I have some glorious recordings of The Sixteen and the Tallis Scholars. The derivation of the alto voice from the Fayrfax tradition is clear. A new voice didn't suddenly arrive with White. Also, as others have noted, the lower notes of the alto parts are impossible for falsettists. I am steered in the direction of high tenors, it being the most natural solution. If people were on average smaller than us, their vocal chords would on average have been shorter than ours. It leaves us with problems. I am now trying as a new user to upload a score of White's Magnificat. I started it in the tone up transposition, but could not visualise it being sung often at that pitch, so I plan to submit it untransposed, and to upload the .sib file too, so that people have a choice. I don't suppose anybody would want an edition in F sharp major. You just sing it a semitone up or down. A long time ago I had an LP of Taverner's Corona Spinea mass done by Schola Cantorum of Oxford. The sleeve note said it should go up a minor third, and rather apologetically said that it had gone up a semitone because modern singers would have found it too taxing to go higher. It sounded superb, with two tenors on the alto and tenor parts, and women on trebles and mean. I feel that they actually got it right by accident.

Gervais O Frykman
Posts: 6
Joined: 19 Oct 2017 21:53

Re: The Pitch of Tudor Church Music

Postby Gervais O Frykman » 23 Oct 2017 19:02

Further to my earlier post on this subject, I have just listened to the old King's College recording of Palestrina's 6 part Missa Ave Maria. Of the extreme beauty of this work there is no doubt, but the experience has left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. The problem is the pitch. Nearly all Palestrina is written in Chiavette or little clefs, treble clef on the top line of the texture and the F clef on the middle line of the staff in the bass. As David Wulstan observes,these are transposing clefs, indicating downward transposition,normally of a 4th. If this transposition is applied to the mass we have alto parts that go up to G and can be sung without falsetto, tenor parts which do not require the singer to hold a top G for bars at a time, but a D, and a bass part that goes down to G and occasionally to F. The top line exactly corresponds with the English Mean. I look forward to some recordings which make use of this knowledge, that is, without falsetto anywhere.


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