Part 3: How to play “divers ways upon the Plainsong Miserere”

This is the third of a multi-part post. (Please see previous post below for earlier instalments.)

Example 4a is a Sanctus by Avery Burton (c.1470-c.1543, of the Chapel Royal). It has eight notes to one of the plainsong, and, like the 12:1 Miserere (Ex. 3f), includes many groups of four stepwise quavers. But though the dissonances in the Miserere are the same as those already discussed: passing-tones and neighbors, which move stepwise, Burton’s verset includes an example of what Morley describes as “two discords together” (in this case parallel 11ths or 4ths at plainsong notes 4-5). Morley condemns this practice, although he acknowledges that “harsh allowances” of dissonance “was the fault of the [earlier] time” (Introduction, pp. 118-19). Ex. 4a also includes appoggiaturas, which are forbidden in ‘textbook’ 16th-century counterpoint because they involve a leap to a dissonance before resolving down by step. In Ex. 4a, the first appoggiatura consists of a leap to an E-flat, which is a 7th above F in the plainsong; it resolves down to D, which is a consonant 6th. 

Example 4a Avery Burton, Sanctus (Te Deum, 29996, fol. 23), 8:1, pts, ln, un, and appoggiaturas:

Example 4a

Burton’s verset demonstrates that a descant can consist of a repetition of a group of four (or more) stepwise descending notes each of which ends with a consonance against a note of the plainsong. Furthermore, any group of descending notes can begin on a dissonance, because it will resolve down by step.

The beginning of Ex. 4b, Christe rememptor omnium by Blitheman, can be used as a model of how to practice this technique, because all of the descending scales lead to a consonance (many of them a 10th). If the first note of a scale happens to be a dissonance, this is not a problem, because it resolves stepwise downwards as an appoggiatura (as we saw in Ex. 4a).

Example 4b  Blitheman, Christe rememptor omnium (30513, fols 103v-104v):

Example 4b

In Ex. 4c I demonstrate a rudimentary way of practicing this technique by playing a descant that comprises groups of three stepwise descending notes. Ex. 4c has a contrapunctus primarily of parallel 10ths against the plainsong, and therefore by playing a group of three notes starting a 12th above the next note of plainsong I play a 10th at the same time as the note of plainsong. It does not matter whether the first note of the group is consonant or dissonant, because any that are dissonant will either be upper neighbors or appoggiaturas. In Ex. 4c, for variety when there are repeated notes in the plainsong the consonance sounding at the same time as the note is a 12th rather than a 10th, and this can be sighted as a 13th.

Example 4c Parallel 10ths above Miserere, each preceded by two stepwise descending crotchets (12ths for repeated notes in the plainsong):

Example 4c

In order to play groups of four notes, you can practice sighting a 6th (or 13th) above each upcoming note of the plainsong, and therefore play 10ths above them. This is a little more difficult than playing groups of three notes only because you have less time to look ahead in the plainsong as you are playing. For variety you can introduce other consonances and begin at the appropriate interval above the upcoming note of plainsong: descanters tried to develop what Morley described as a “quick sight” of descant (Introduction, p. 120). In Ex. 4d I demonstrate this technique using 6ths and 8ves as consonances, and in addition, begin after a rest, as in Burton’s Sanctus (Ex. 4a). This creates a syncopated effect that Morley describes as “a driving waie … odded by a rest” (Introduction, p. 89), and it also means that the consonances do not sound at the same time as the next note of the plainsong, but a note afterwards. Of course, this is not a problem because the notes are still descending stepwise to a consonance. There are four places in which there are parallel 4ths, i.e. “two discords together” (see Ex. 4a).

Example 4d Jane Flynn, Miserere 2: Sighting consonances of 6th and 8ve above Miserere, and playing 4:1 in descending crotchets, odded by a minim rest:

Example 4d

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