Part 7: How to play “divers ways upon the Plainsong Miserere”

This is the seventh of a multi-part post. (Please see previous posts below for earlier installments.)

To conclude my first series of blogs demonstrating a few ways of improvising Tudor-style organ versets, I’ll briefly discuss 8 organ versets (Exx. 8-15) in the next few posts, pointing out the use of the same rudimentary ‘ways’ (techniques) featured in previous posts. Many of these are in three parts, and in a future series of posts, I’ll discuss how to improvise in three parts on plainsong.

Ex. 8 is Blitheman’s Fiat misericordia from his Te Deum. The plainsong is in semibreves in the middle part; some of the many repeated notes are replaced by breves. The descant above is an example of 4:1 or Quadrupla (see Morley, Introduction, p. 90), with note-against-note (1:1) between the plainsong and the descant below (which enters on the third note of the plainsong in imitation at the 5th below (for four notes).

See Part 1 of this blog for Blitheman’s Dignare and Tu rex (from the same Te Deum) which are 3:1 or Tripla (Exx. 1 and 2a); see Part 2 for Redford’s and anon. (Mulliner’s?) Misereres, which are 6:1 and 12: 1 respectively (Exx. 3a and 3f); and Part 3 for Burton’s Sanctus, 8:1, and Blitheman’s Christe redemptor omnium, which includes sections in 8:1 and 6:1 (Exx. 4a and 4b).

Also see Parts 1 and 2 of this blog for a discussion of how a 1:1 contrapunctus (entirely consonant) is the basis of Tudor descant. In Fiat misericordia approximately a third of the 1:1 consonances are octaves (i.e. the lowest-sounding note is the same as the plainsong). About another third of the consonances are 6ths below the plainsong, and are effectively substitutes for the octave. The remaining consonances are 5ths, and the three 3rds effectively substitute for them.

In Fiat misericordia the descant above the plainsong is 4:1, the opening five-note figure being used frequently: a-g-a-bflat-c (above F), consisting of a consonance, a lower neighbour, a return to the same consonance, an ascending passing-tone, and another ascending step that is a consonance. There are a few leaps of 3rd, usually to a consonance, though there are also a few appoggiaturas and an escape tone. These dissonances are, of course, reckoned from the lowest-sounding notes (i.e. from the descant below the plainsong).

Example 8 Blitheman’s Fiat misericordia (Te Deum, 30513, fold 76r-v):

Example 8

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