Musica Ficta and

Musica Ficta and Jacobus Gallus
Musica ficta (musica falsa) – the term
used loosely to describe accidentals
added to sources of early music.
Modality or tonality?
Tonality arises in: 14. century (A. Machabey), 15. century (H. Besseler), 16. century (E. E. Lowinsky),
17. century (M. Bukofzer).
It is true that much of Monteverdi’s music, particularly in his later Venetian style, can readily be
analysed in terms of major-minor tonality (even though this music never uses the resources of
tonal modulation in any developed way). On the other hand, the anachronism implicit in such
analysis, not least in the light of Artusi’s interest in Monteverdi’s modal practice, has led to 20thcentury attempts to interpret the music in terms of modes. Bernhard Meier (see L. Finscher, D1986)
is an extreme example of a writer interpreting the music in terms of a supposedly thorough-going,
unified modal system, with all divergences from supposed norms interpreted in terms of rhetorical
Dahlhaus: Teiltonarten (‘partial’ keys) that permits cadencing on any note of the prevailing
But changes in the understanding of the late Renaissance modes during the last three decades have
brought into question many of the assumptions on which much of this work was based, including
the assumptions that 16th-century music was uniformly modal; that Monteverdi’s tonal language
represents a transitional stage between ‘modality’ and ‘tonality’; that the establishment of modern
tonality involves an increase in structural complexity; or indeed that tonality depends primarily
upon chordal, vertical relationships at all. It is sufficient here to note that many of Monteverdi’s
works exploit novel techniques of tonal integration, not necessarily invented by the composer, and
that these later became part of the basic equipment of all composers writing in major-minor
tonality (see §7 below). Their use contributes to some of the most profoundly satisfying artistic
effects in Monteverdi’s music, although they are in part specific to certain sections of his output.
Kantionalsatz – from about 1580/90.
Musica ficta before 1500
Musica ficta and the synonymus musica falsa (more common in 13th cent.) were used by music theorists from the
mid-13th cent. to denote chromatic notes alien to the hexachords that had formed the basis for musical
instruction since they were first established by Guido od Arezzo in 1025-6.
Hexachords on g, c’, f’, g’ comprised the white notes of the modern diatonic scale with the addition of bb (which
was adopted into musica recta even before Guido’s system) – were defined as musica vera or recta (all of the
structure 1-1-1/2-1-1 and identified with the same sylables ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la). Mi-fa were always the notes of the
The singer moved up&down the overlapping hexachords if necessary making transitions (mutations or coniunctae)
on notes common to two hexachords, though never between the notes bounding the semitone mi-fa.
The system of solmization (originally designed for plainchant) had to be extended to cope with the growing
demands of polyphony by transpozing recta hexachords to alien pitches that semintone steps other than B-C, E-F
and A-B could take their place within the solmization system.
The range of available ficta hexachords was increased, rationalized and in the 1430s Ugolino of Orvieto recognized
a complete system of ficta hexachords whose sole purpose was to accomodate the chromatic notes.
Because of the ficta notes the theorists from the late 13th cent. ownwards repudiated the application of modes to
polyphony. Only Tnctoris and Glarean (in the late 15th and early 16th cent.) made serious attempts to assign
polyphonic compositions to specific modes.
Enchiriadis treatises (ab. 900): the earliest explicit of chromatic alteration – named absonia (or disonantia). Vitium
seems to mean disturbance of the normal scale. A scale G A Bb c | d e f g | a b c' d' | e' f#' g' a' | b' c# was
proposed as an addition to the more normal scale and is expecially suited for the organum at the 5th. The pitches
of eb and f# were introduced to plainchant, c#, g#, d# and Ab were allowed.
Accidentals were placed above, below, in advance of or even after the note to
which applied.
The reasons for the incomplete provision of accidentals are:
 the signs were used to indicate solmization and only incidently they also
indicated inflection,
 medieval musician’s reluctance to admit in theory or to notate in practice
something that lay outside the regular, respectable system
Consequently the responsibility for providing the appropriate inflections
rested in with the performer.
The cross-section of required accidentals includes pitches that fall within
musica recta and those that lie outside it. The same is with the additional
accidentals – they affected both recta and ficta notes. Therefore it is not
possible to equate musica ficta only with added accidentals (e.g. B).
Theorists rules of 13th century
Johannes de Garlandia: leading notes need to be a semitone to their destination.
Lambertus – main purpose of musica ficta is to achieve perfect vertical consonances on 5ths, 8ves and
other perfect intervals.
Jehan de Murs:
for melodic progressions lower returning notes should be raised G-F-G → G-F#-G, leading notes
approached by any other means (e.g. by lap) should be raised also,
the sounding of mi against fa is forbidden in vertical perfect intervals (i.e. 5ths and octaves are to be
perfect; this rule is ubiquitous in treatises),
the perfect interval should be approached by the nearest imperfect interval. A major 3rd will
expand to a 5th, a major 6th to an octave, a minor 3rd will contract to an unison, etc.
when one of the parts proceeds by step, this step will in practice, be a semitone (ex. 1a; if both
proceed by step, only one will be a semitone),
Several theorists added that these rules should be effected where possible without resort to musica ficta
– if the interval or progression can be corrected within the system of musica recta, this should be
done. (Whereas Jehan de Murs’ examples invariably sharpen a leading note in the upper part, using
musica ficta, one progression may be corrected within the recta system by flatening the lower note
instead of sharpening the upper, thus placing the semitone step in the lower part (ex. 2b).
Invariable consequence to the second harmonic rule, applicable to most music up to 1450 is the ‘double leading note
cadence’ (ex. 2a) in which results from the superimposition of the legitimate two-part progressions (ex. 2b and 2c).
An anonymus 15th – cent. theoretical fragment from Seville state explicitly that melodic tritone should be avoided when
they return within their own confines).
True chromatic progressions (e.g. F-F#-G) are both allowed in theory and prescribed in manuscript sources.
In Diffinitorium (1472) wrote that musica ficta is ‘a way of singing apart from the
regular ordering of the /Guidonian/ hand’.
In Liber de natura etproprietate tonorum:
- 5th and 6th modes (the authentic and plagal form of F mode) use Bb and not B.
- the necessity for the flat is twofold – to create perfect consonances in polyphony
and to avoid the linear or vertical tritone,
- the flat at the beginning of the staff affects the whole segment, while the
‘accidental’ flat lasts as long as the hexachord segment before which it is placed,
- the formation of this two modes with Bb to avoid tritone, is well known, so much
so that the flat not need to be always written down,
- linear tritones should also be avoided in other modes but in polyphony they are
sometimes unavoidable because of inadmissible vertical intervals that may
othervise result and in such cases n should be used (if vertical tritone problem
clashes with the linear one, the former shuld take precendence),
- what is true of the tritone in regular modes is also true of irregular ones in
musica ficta,
- the linear tritone is less difficult when approached by step then by leap.
c1500 to c1600
So long as the traditional gamut and hexachord system stood as a basis of musical
structure, distinction of musica recta and musica ficta must have influenced both
composition and performance, and those accidentals that were extra manum were
considered variable units within a basically diatonic system.
Even more problematic interpretation of unspecified accidentals because of:
- gradual increase of the number of voices used for vocal polyphony,
- the multiplication of variant versions of works as a result of the invention of
music printing,
- rise of experimental chromatic and enharmonic tone systems (such as that of
Vicentino) along with
- the freer exploatation of chromatic degree-inflection by composers outside the
rank of theorists.
On the other hand composers, copyists and printers become accustomed to the
specification of many more accidentals.
There is no single formula devised that seems readily applicable to all types of
musica ficta problems, but it seems likely that an attitude of intelligent and wellinformed relativism on the matter is historically more realistic then an pocalyptic
vision a universal solution for all cases.
There is a persuasive evidence that the musicians of that period found it difficult
how to apply the rules of musica ficta.
Contemporary theory and ‘rules’
Lovinsky (1964) summed up the prevailing rules under the headings of ‘causa
necessitatis’ and ‘causa pulchritudinis’.
‘Causa necessitatis’:
- prohibition of simoultanous sounding of mi and fa (e.i. diminished 5ths and
octaves between two simoultaneously sounded). ‘Mi contra fa diabolus est in
musica’ (ex. a)
- ‘una nota super la, semper est canendum fa’
to prevent a linear tritone when a line ascends la,
- the prohibition of false relations.
‘Causa pulchritudinis’:
- the rule governing the subsemitonium modi –
raising of the leading note in cadential formula,
- the rule of propinquity – approaching a perfect consonance in two voices by the
nearest imperfect consonance (ex. b) and
- the rule of ending on a complete (major) triad (probably only in 16th century).
How to apply the rules when one contradicts the other?
Jacobus Gallus Carniolus,
Jakob Petelin Kranjski
Life and work:
Born (probably) on July 3rd 1550 either in Šentviška gora or in Ribnica (Reiffnitz) in Carniola (nowadays central
most likely educated at the Cistercian monastery at Stična (Sittich) in Carniola,
left Carniola sometime between 1564 and 1566, traveling first to Austria, and later to Bohemia, Moravia, and
for some time lived at the Benedictine Melk Abbey in Lower Austria,
a member of the Viennese court chapel in 1574,
choirmaster (Kapellmeister) to the bishop of Olomouc (Olmütz), Moravia between 1579 (or 1580) and 1585,
from 1585 to his death worked in Prague as organist to the Church of St. John on the Balustrade (Cz. Sv. Jan na
died on July 18, 1591 in Prague.
represented the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia, mixing the polyphonic style of the High Renaissance FrancoFlemish School with the style of the Venetian School. His wide-ranging, eclectic style blended archaism and
modernity, rarely used the cantus firmus technique, preferring the then-new Venetian polychoral manner, yet he
was equally conversant with earlier imitative techniques,
both sacred and secular, and hugely prolific opus of over than 500 works. Some are for large forces, with multiple
choirs of up to 24 independent parts,
most notable work is the six part Opus musicum, 1577, a collection of 374 motets that would eventually cover the
liturgical needs of the entire ecclesiastical year. Printed in Prague where he also published 16 of his 20 extant
masses, his five-voice motet Mirabile mysterium contains chromaticism worthy of Carlo Gesualdo,
enjoyed word painting in his madrigals (harmoniae), - his secular output, about 100 short pieces, was published in
the collections Harmoniae morales (Prague 1589 and 1590) and Moralia (Nüremberg 1596).

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