Josquin: a musica ficta question
[cantus] cantus tenor [tenor]
MIDI - all voices
from the beginning

listen to the B flat
listen to the B natural
tout MIDI - all voices
inside the boxes

listen to the B flat
listen to the B natural
MIDI - all voices
the whole piece

listen to it
MIDI - cantus+altus
inside the boxes

listen to the B natural
have a look at the comments
under this table
MIDI - tenor+bassus
inside the boxes

[altus] altus bassus [bassus]


What are we talking about?

Since I had transcribed this Kyrie from the facsimile, I got used to the version made available above, that one with the B flat. I was therefore surprised when listening to a record on which this note was changed to a natural B. Thus I asked about this point in the group, and this initiated a talk between the "flat fans" and those supporting the opposite view - with, amongst the latter ones, the author of the transcription used on the record!

Since I don't know much about this question, and since so many contributions were posted, I'm quite unwilling to make a reliable and nominative report. Rather, I admit quite frankly that I'm arguing here in favor of my own point of view - which is to keep the flat. However I can report, honestly, that persons experienced in these questions didn't agree completely with anyone of these two points of view.
However, I've just read a book dealing thoroughly with this subject, and it doesn't seem to speak in favor of the natural B in our case; reference and comments on the page dedicated to bibiography.

I've reduced the pictures to make them lighter, thus here are some hints:


What are we not talking about?

We're not naively flaming a change in the original text! On the contrary, in these times, it was not only allowed, but often mandatory, to make such changes in some cases. This was called musica ficta, to mean one was escaping for a while the logics of these former scales called hexachords.

I'm quite aware that this very quick survey might suggest an erroneous understanding; for, let's not confuse musica ficta with unwritten accidents: we are working on a modern transcription, but former usage of armatures and notes spelling was quite different from the modern ones.

In mandatory cases - causae necessitatis - one had to avoid vertical consonnances of diminished fifth and octave, and also melodic tritons whenever possible, that is when application of this second rule didn't violate the first one, which had precedence, in principle.

In the other cases - causae pulchritudinis, one tried to insist on the attraction toward pure consonnances, by stretching or reducing the interval leading to them: the sixth before an octave, or the third before a fifth, were changed to be major ; conversely, the third before a unison will become minor, etc. The cadence we're talking about here, D-C in the altus and B-C in the cantus, is just an instance of this case ; and, indeed, this change seems convincing if we listen to these two voices alone. As for the lower voices, they fulfill this rule already as written, since one hears a minor third going toward a unison.


But then, what's the problem?

In principle, the mandatory changes had precedence over those made for beauty, in case they would conflict with each other. In principle only... as a matter of fact, the hierarchy of the various principles in case of a conflict was rather flexible ; in particular, this cadential major sixth seems to have been sung quite often, and thus nearly became a mandatory mutation.

That's probably the reason of those supporting the natural B - with this other strong argument, I admit: you have to breathe somewhere! That's true indeed, especially if you consider the length of what must be sung by the soprano after the passage we're talking about... And this would lead to something like that.

But, despite it seems to work at first sight, this breathing is exactly the reason why I can't like this solution! In other words, my arguments are melodic ones, much more than dealing with the clash occuring because of the B flat in the tenor (in such a case, one is often suspected to be trapped in a post-classical hearing). Well, according to me, one too often puts a breathing by only taking in account what comes before it, forgetting about what will be left after it. Then, if I agree with this seeming quite natural, I can't see the meaning of this continuation which sounds unbalanced to me... even if it's a little less obvious when listening to all the voices - I'm trying to be fair :-)


Facing up to one's responsabilities...

Well, I'm neither a musicologist, nor a choir conductor, but here are the ideas I'd take in account if I had now to play this Kyrie on a quartet of recorders, for example.
It seems to me that some passages are answers to each other, melodically, and, even more, rhythmically. For instance, remembering the beginning, I prefer to hear this than that, specially if paying attention to the altus answering like this, and then like that - a wonderful passage, by the way!

All things considered, it seems to me that these few notes in the cantus are ambiguous, beeing simultaniously an end and a new departure - I'd have some fun to call that a rythmical pivot - and therefore I'd wish no breathing here!
Thus, we have to find a place for a breathing before this passage - after it, there's no problem at all. Starting from measure 6, I suggest this breathing in measure 9 of the cantus ; looking closer at it, we hear that, or, even closer, that. By the way, I've also put this breathing after the passage and changed accordingly some articulations in the other voices, so that the whole beginning sounds like this, which I don't find too bad.


Concluding with a question...

Aren't appearences deceptive sometimes? Is a passage looking like a cadence necessarly a cadence? Indeed, rhythm and melody in other voices, or inacceptable clashes, may prevent that... thus, let's imagine a borderline case: two voices alone going from a sixth to an octave, like, for instance... what we can listen to in measure 6! All theoretical conditions exist here to raise the F in the cantus. But, well, I let you guess what they sing on the record... :-)

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