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Seminar in medieval and renaissance music: The keyboard and fifteenth-century musica ficta: on the road toward the twelve-steps octave

Elżbieta Witkowska-Zaremba, Warsaw, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art


Thursday, 13 February - 5:00pm



Musica ficta has long been the subject of in-depth discussions by musicologists, including its adoption and applications in the domain of plainchant melodies, the domain where musica ficta  was termed coniuncta by late-medieval theorists. This paper addresses the fifteenth century treatises belonging to the Johannes Hollandrinus  tradition, the treatises which add new elements to these discussions. On the one hand, these texts contain descriptions of little-known practices of singing chant melodies ‘semitonialiter’; on the other, they explicitly formulate the idea that the use of semitones exceeding the Guidonian gamut constitutes a musical phenomenon which integrates vocal (both plainchant and polyphony) and instrumental music.  Convenient comparative source material can be found in two Prague organ treatises (ca 1430) which demonstrate the extent to which hexachordal thinking  and the theory of coniuncta  determined the use of semitones on the keyboard.