After last week’s musical musings, I had great fun on Thursday discussing the terminology of sixteenth century music with my music supervisor. I freely admit to butterflies before the meeting, but in a change of insect metaphor, I came out buzzing. I think we have come up with a solution concerning how to talk about the music. English musicians in the sixteenth-century (well, trained ones at least) would have talked in terms of hexachords, but I think the modern audience for that terminology is far too limited to make it practical for me! I’m still puzzled by the notion that the church led the way in moving to a major and minor tonality, given that the ballad tunes are mainly in the major and minor modes and never in any of the more, shall we say, obscure modes. I accept that there is an argument that those modes may only be obscure to modern ears because we are accustomed to hearing music in major and minor keys – sixteenth-century ears may have found the modes that we consider obscure to be much more familiar. But if that were the case, why are there so few (or even ‘no’) ballad tunes in those modes? The sources are mainly late sixteenth-century or seventeenth-century… not so far removed from the date of the ballads themselves?  I still think that the ballad tunes foreshadow the changes in art music that were to come later, My supervisor thinks that it’s a chicken and egg situation and that there is no way of knowing;  I’m not sure how to go about trying to prove it, or even if it is possible to prove it.  Or, for that matter, if anyone else has already suggested it so I’d be happy to hear from anyone who has any thoughts on this matter.

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