The Shawm and the Alta Ensemble during the “Slide Trumpet Years”

Veröffentlicht: 16.08.2021     Autor/in: Adam Gilbert


In the alta ensemble, the “slide trumpet years” refers to the decades between the rise of the alta ensemble in the early 15th century and the simultaneous development of “Low Contra” style and the arrival of the trombone. During this period, a core duo of schalmei and bombard, pitched a fifth apart, performed the functions of Cantus and Tenor voice, presumably performing composed polyphony in one of two pitches a fourth apart, and instrumentalists of the alta perceived links between their instrumental ranges, fingerings, solmization, and tuning. In considering the issue of the slide trumpet, imagining scenarios in which the instrument did or did not exist suggests that the presence of a slide trumpet during these years remains the most elegant and simple solution for performing the Contra voice and function. Existing evidence challenges assumptions about the musical literacy of instrumentalists of the alta as enjoying less refined skills in reading notated music and crafting counterpoint than other contemporary musicians. Moreover, positing that members of the alta would have been fluent in an equally crucial form of literacy – employing solmization in visualizing composed and extemporized counterpoint – this article presents examples of contemporary compositions and counterpoint indicating proposed vocables.

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Alta capella; shawm; slide trumpet; trombone; performance practice; 15th-century music


«... und machens nur aus dem Synn»


Adam Gilbert, "The Shawm and the Alta Ensemble during the “Slide Trumpet Years”". Forschungsportal Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, 2021. (Abgerufen am TT MM JJJJ)


The text of this article is provided under the terms of the Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0


One of the problems facing those recreating the performance practices of the fifteenth-century alta ensemble is the need to reconcile archival and iconographic evidence of performance ensembles with a lack of surviving contemporary instruments. As a result, we find ourselves studying the shawm family and its companion brass instruments by relying on surviving instruments and documentation from the two centuries that follow. Over the course of more than four decades, I have gradually proceeded from playing a treble shawm pitched in C at a' = 440 Hz, to an instrument a step higher in D, to an instrument yet a half-step higher at a' = 466 Hz, each time based on newly understood evidence. Each instrument revealed new approaches to fingering, articulation, and tuning, resulting in a keener awareness of pitch relationships and voice functions among the instruments of the ensemble. Each step along the way has convinced me that the closer we get to putting pieces of the puzzle together, even when separated by as much as two centuries, the more they continue to make sense. [1]

In this article, I will consider several issues concerning the instruments in the alta ensemble during the “slide trumpet years”. I will make observations about the functions and ranges of the instruments of the alta ensemble and argue that linking the fingerings of schalmei and bombard to fifteenth-century solmization and the Guidonian hand offer valuable practical information about tuning and technique. [2] By imagining the lack of existence of a fifteenth-century slide trumpet, I will argue that imagining the instrument did exist remains the simplest and most elegant solution to performing music from the first half of the fifteenth century. In considering the level of literacy of the instrumentalists, challenging how evidence of their lack of reading and contrapuntal skill is interpreted. Finally, I will argue for exploring the possibility that the instrumentalists of the alta had access to the rich resources of an especially rich form of literacy in the guise of contemporary solmization.

Ex. 1a: Instrument ranges in Alta pitch
Ex. 1b: Slide trumpet pitches visualized in Alta pitch
Ex. 1c: Anonymous, Depuis le doloreux partir (mm. 1–6)

In compositions in which the lowest notated pitch does not descend below f-faut, the Cantus almost always lies above c'-solfaut. Example 2a presents the same cadential formula from the previous example in this Bas pitch. In Example 2b, the slide-trumpet positions indicate an instrument visualizing its first position pitch as c-faut, a fourth below the bottom pitch of the bombard. [9] Examples 2c and 2d present passages from two chansons requiring Bas pitch, once again with diatonic and chromatic slide positions notated for the slide trumpet. The anonymous J’atens le confort closes with an arpeggiated passage in its Contra straight out of the playbook of Guillaume Dufay’s Se la face ay pale and Donnes l’assault. The anonymous chanson A cheval, tout homme, a cheval enlists the sounds of trumpets in the service of its amorous text, breaching the boundary between love and war. [10] The slide trumpet is not limited to parts with trumpet calls, however, and these chansons provide opportunities for exploring the boundaries between common counterpoint motives and those with mimetic associations to trumpets.

Ex. 2a: Instrument ranges in Bas pitch
Ex. 2b: Slide trumpet pitches visualized in Bas pitch
Ex. 2c: Anonymous, J’atens le confort (mm. 1–6, 25–32)
Ex. 2d: A cheval, tout homme a cheval (mm. 1–6)
Table 1: Schalmei Fingerings and Vocables
Table 2: Bombard Fingerings and Vocables

On both the schalmei and bombard, the tuning of each fingering corresponds closely to the vocables: Notes associated with “mi” or “la” tend to be pitched lower than equal temperament, while notes that are “fa” tend to be pitched higher than equal. The result is that each “mi” and “la” tends to create a pure third over an “ut” or “fa” respectively, and that each “fa” tends to create a pure minor third over “re” or “sol”. This correspondence between tuning, temperament and vocables is intimately related to tuning with pure intervals. Because difference tones are quite audible on shawms, anything other than a pure consonance creates a dissonant difference tone. For example, when two shawms sound a pure major third, for example on “ut” over “mi”, the residual tone echoes the bottom pitch “ut”. In the same manner, the minor third creates a residual difference tone a major third below the bottom pitch. When tuning any consonant interval, I listen not for the frequency of my pitch, but for the difference tone. [12]

It is common to think of forked fingers as a means to lower a pitch. In upper-hand notes on the schalmei and bombard, however, forked fingers can raise the pitch of a given fingering. On the schalmei fingering for f' / b' (1 3 / 5 6) and g' / c' (2 / 5 6), the two added fingers bring the note “up” to pitch, producing a nicely tuned “fa”. This is also true for the corresponding notes of the bombard.

There are some minor but crucial differences in the fingerings of the Cantus and Tenor instruments. While the fourth note “fa” of the schalmei (c' / f') typically works best with a fork fingering (1 2 3 / 4 6), the fourth note of the bombard (F / B♭) works best with a single fourth finger (1 2 3 / 4). [13] If one plays the single fingering in a relaxed manner, it works quite nicely as a “fa”, and allows for one of the special features of the bombard: If one plays the half step “mi” above (F / B) without the key, it should sound almost at the same pitch as the F / B♭. Adding the key “pops” the note up to a very stable “mi” (this rule works so well that I use it to test the tuning and set-up of any bombard). Modern makers have often tended to view that note on the bombard as being too sharp, often adjusting the tuning to favour a more equal-tempered forked fingering.

Ex. 3: Anonymous, J’atens le confort (mm. 25–32)

2. Clarino Range

Peter Downey has proposed that the trumpeter could have played in the clarino range, providing a diatonic scale for the performance of melodic lines. [21] From the vantage point of the alta ensemble, this conjecture presents two problems. First, based on the size of instrument depictions, the clarino range of the trumpet would likely encompass the second octave of the schalmei. Even with a schalmei capable of two octaves, the resulting Cantus and Contra voices would sound in the same range. Imaging the schalmei and trumpet playing voices in the same range also presents problems. In a composition like Pullois’ Gloria, the canonic Cantus of which echoes the sound of trumpets, the upper two voices would – if played a step higher than the written pitch – fit the schalmei but extend below the clarino range of the trumpet. [22] Played up an octave to accommodate the clarino range of the trumpet, the Cantus voice would stretch out of reach for the schalmei.

A second problem is the dearth of music from before the late fifteenth century imitating the clarino range of the trumpet: with rare exception, mimetic compositions echo the sounds of the middle (principale) range of the trumpet. [23] The anonymous motet Clara dei genitrix contains extensive mimetic patterns of trumpets that hint at both middle and clarino ranges, but it dates from the turn of sixteenth century. [24]

One might imagine a trumpeter playing a Contra voice against the regular duo of schalmei and bombard, but transposed an octave higher than notated. [25] Even in this scenario, the clarino range of the trumpet would not accommodate the full range of most existing Contra voices. Moreover, when sounding an octave or more higher than notated, it would create dissonant fourths with the Tenor in certain places with the counterpoint inverted.

3. “Lipping Down” or other Manipulation

In another scenario, the trumpeter could have manipulated pitch, either through “lipping down” (as described by Cesare Bendinelli), or through some other manipulation of the natural trumpet. [26] Future experiments may explore the plausibility of Bendinelli’s procedure, but I have yet to hear of anyone able to yield a complete Contra voice through such techniques.

4. Trombone

In a plausible scenario, the trombone simply existed earlier than is currently known. [27] However, the iconography to suggest this does not account for the ubiquitous presence of natural or single-slide trumpets with shawms in paintings and prints. [28] Moreover, because documentation of the trombone corresponds so closely to the development of the Low Contra voice in counterpoint, it seems likely that the trombone with its extended lower range originated at least partly in response to necessities resulting from changing contrapuntal paradigms.

5. Second Bombard

Early fifteenth-century depictions do survive of the alta with a schalmei with two bombards. The range of the bombard would allow it to play many of the Contra voices of this period. This viable performing ensemble does not account, however, for the continuous presence of a trumpet in contemporary accounts and iconography of the alta, for Contra voices increasingly extending below the range of the bombard, or for the general lack of a consistently employed second bombard player until the advent of four-part music. [29]

6. Unknown

In a final scenario, the alta ensemble was simply doing something completely different than is discernible based on surviving notated music. Distinct traditions could have existed simultaneously, and the alta performed something other than conventional polyphony. Barring further documentary evidence, however, such scenarios must rely on speculation.

All of the above scenarios invite ongoing research and experimentation in performance, but none allows for the complete performance of the Contra voice by the trumpeter as the third member of the alta. They therefore must rely on the premise that the trumpeter could not perform all of the notes of notated Contra voices or fulfil that function in conventional contrapuntal procedures.

Despite the lack of a surviving instrument, the single development of someone adding a longer tube and finding a second diatonic position on the trumpet removes any obstacles for playing a Contra voice in music from the years before the advent of the trombone and Low Contra voice. For this reason, adopting the existence of a slide trumpet as a working hypothesis remains the simplest and most elegant solution to the problem of playing a Contra voice in the fifteenth century. [30] Because this has become an increasingly common practice in the performance practice of alta ensembles since the 1980s, even skeptics of the existence of a slide trumpet in the fifteenth century may refer to the last decades until the present day as the “modern” slide-trumpet years.

Ex. 4: Example of a Rule for Florid Counterpoint, Juxta artem conficiendi

The anonymous Regulae cantandi contrapunctum [I-Venezia, Biblioteca Marciana, lat. Cl. VIII. 82 (= 3047), 63r–65r (V); D-Mbs, Clm 15632, 103v–104v (M)] lists consonant intervals not as numbered intervals over a letter name but – like the examples in Iuxta artem conficiendi – entirely in terms of vocables:

  1. Note that over every ut, the unison is ut, the third mi, the fifth sol or ut, the sixth la or re, the octave fa or ut, the 10th la or re, the 12th sol or ut, the 13th la or re, and the 15th fa.
  2. Note that over every re, the unison re, the third fa, the fifth la or re, the sixth mi, the octave sol or re, the 10th fa, the 12th la or re, the 13th mi, the 15th sol, etc.
  3. Note that over every mi, the unison is mi, the third is sol or ut, the fifth mi, the sixth fa or ut, the octave la or mi, the 10th sol or ut, the 12th mi, the 13th fa, the 15th la.
  4. Note that over every fa, the unison is fa, the third la or re, the fifth fa or ut, the sixth sol or re, the octave fa, the 10th la or re, the 12th fa, the 13th sol.
  5. Note that over every sol the unison is sol or ut, the third mi, the fifth sol or re, the sixth la or mi, the octave sol or ut, the 10th mi, the 12th sol.
  6. Note that over every la, the unison is la or re, the third fa or ut, the fifth la or mi, the sixth fa, the octave la or re, the 10th fa, the 12th la.
  7. The rule stated above is general and should serve the entire hand. [52]

This passage reveals that not all consonant intervals are created equal: In the interval of a third, for example, a “mi” over “ut” presents different implications than a “re” over “fa”, a “sol” over “mi”, or a “la” over “fa”. Moreover, visualizing intervals in this manner brings choices about when to sing “fa” over “la” or when to mutate into immediate relief in performance.

Both of these treatises originate in the years in which Low Contra voices were the norm. Regulae cantandi dates from the final quarter of the fifteenth century, and Iuxta artem dates from the first decades of the sixteenth century. Nonetheless, their vocabulary works equally well for the earlier conventions of counterpoint with a High Contra. Despite the lack of intervals below the Tenor in Regulae cantandi, its vocables function equally well for Cantus and Contra voices when performing or improvising two voices above and below a Tenor. This is true, in part, because when any voice extends below the Tenor, it essentially exchanges its contrapuntal function with that voice.

Example 5 illustrates simple clausulae (cadential formulae) modeled on the passages in Iuxa artem conficiendi, arriving on all six finals of the hexachord system. [53] The parallels in these passages illustrate the vocables that Cantus and Contra sound over each final of the Tenor. These correspond both to the intervals in Regulae cantandi and to the vocables of conventional solmization. [54] The first two clausulae on “ut” and “re” are shown in clefs associated with both “Alta” and “Bas” pitches. Although the melodic patterns are the same in a cadence on “ut”, for example, the Contra faces different choices of vocable, which could affect choices for visualizing the final note of a clausula as a “mi” or “fa”, for example. For players of the shawm, the differences represent more than theoretical abstractions: they correspond to specific notes and fingerings on the bombard and schalmei with palpable implications for tuning and temperament. [55]

Ex. 5: Clausulae with vocables

Just as singing with vocables is more efficient than with letter names, vocables also prove more efficient in terms of visualizing and communicating melodic patterns. Referring to the consonant triadic pattern “ut mi sol” is more flexible than using its letter names, as the pattern can be employed in different transpositions: although similar in outline, the triad “re fa la” implies different places and musical relations. Example 6 illustrates motives with underlying triadic sonorities common to florid counterpoint. The vocables are easier and more flexible to sing than the letter names, and they provide rich information about place and relationships. Like contemporary singers and composers, the instrumentalists of the alta held in their hands a memory palace of such motives, most likely identified not only by letter names, but also by their singable vocables. [56]

One may well ask if a player thought in the same terms as a singer and or be tempted to distinguish between instrumental and vocal styles. Of course, there is no way to know exactly how an instrumentalist from five centuries ago perceived their music. However, as one who plays and sings counterpoint – both composed and extemporized – I perceive no difference between playing and singing, and I increasingly visualize and identify melodic patterns almost entirely as a combination of vocables and letter names that tend to land on certain places of my instrument.

Ex. 6: Triadic Sonorities with Vocables
Ex. 7: Anonymous, Du pist mein hort / Qui latuit / Je suy si povere de liesce (mm. 1–19)

Tyling’s Tandernaken is the earliest known setting of the famous Dutch song, and the only surviving setting with two voices above the Tenor. [62] Because of its dissonances and florid style, it shares traits with more conventional polyphonic song. Its opening two phrases (Example 8) outline three different cadential arrivals, first on “ut” in the Tenor, then on “mi”, and finally in “re”. The outlines of the first and third cadences present the kind of florid fauxbourdon style with two voices proceeding above the Tenor. However, the differences may be more stylistic than fundamental, for the second cadence, arriving on “mi”, appears almost identical to the formula that opens Dufay’s Le serviteur hault guerdoné (mm. 1–3). [63]

Ex. 8: Tyling, Tandernaken (mm. 1–8)

The anonymous Aux ce bon youre delabonestren (Example 9) has been linked to the repertory of the basse danse because its Tenor is preserved in stroke notation. [64] The opening of the Contra stands out for its consonant intervals that combine to outline the interval of a ninth and rhythmic repetitions at cadential bridges. This setting also warrants notice for passages in which the Cantus mutates to “mi” on f' (mm. 3 and 12).

Ex. 9: Anonymous, Auxce bon youre delabonestren (mm. 1–12)
Ex. 10: M. Gulielmus, Falla con misuras [La bassa castiglya] (mm. 1–15)

Example 11 presents my own counterpoint modeled after Gulielmus, adopting the “re fa mi re” and and the “re fa sol la” motives found in notes 7–11 of the La Spagna Tenor, one that occurs prominently in Johannes Ghiselin’s La Spagna and throughout Henricus Isaac’s Missa La Spagna. Although this consonant triad is found in many other compositions, Ghiselin and Isaac acknowledge the motivic affinity between their counterpoint and the Tenor melody. Moreover, because of the prominent role of mutation in their compositional process, identifying such motives by their vocables provides richer information rather than by letter names alone. [67]

Ex. 11: Counterpoint over La Spagna (mm.1–15) after Gulielmus

Although no three-voice settings of the La spagna Tenor with a High Contra voice survive, adding two voices above the Tenor offers an opportunity to experiment with adding contrapuntal voices in the style of the compositions from Tr87. Example 12 presents a three-voice counterpoint La spagna, with Cantus and High Contra, modeled loosely on Auxce bon youre, Je sui povere de liesse, and Tyling’s Tandernaken. As in the duo setting above, both voices employ the “re fa sol la” motive from the Tenor, this time as a point of imitation. [68]

Ex. 12: Three-Voice Counterpoint over La Spagna (mm. 1–15) after the Trent 87 dance pieces

Example 13 presents another counterpoint over La Spagna exploring imitative patterns in the added voices modeled after a slightly later style. This three-voice setting reflects a hybrid between common contrapuntal motives over La Spagna (outlining thirds, fifths, and sixths), with the High Contra voice associated with compositions from the mid-century. While there is no contrapuntal restriction against with blending these styles, I know of no surviving contemporary compositions that do so. [69] This raises one of the paradoxes of recreating historical improvisation: the closer we come to recreating the sound of the alta ensemble in the years before the advent of the Low Contra voice, the more questions arise about precisely how they performed and visualized music, and even about the choices they made on the minutest level.

Ex. 13: Three-Voice Counterpoint over La Spagna (mm. 1–15) with Triadic Sonorities

A more immediate issue facing those recreating historical improvisation is the fact that polyphonic sources of the La Spagna Tenor date from the final two decades of the century. Although these are problematic witnesses for dating compositions, even the 3-voice setting of La Spagna in the “earliest” conceptual style – Francisco de la Torre’s Alta, (Example 14) – can only be performed using trombone to play the Contra. This work must be performed at Alta pitch, as is made clear from its clefs, voice ranges, and cadential formulae. From its very first note, the Contra sustains the note “A re” for three breves, which is the ONLY note conspicuously missing from the the slide trumpet range. In this sense, de la Torre’s setting offers a fitting punctuation to the end of the “slide trumpet years.”

Example 14: Francisco de la Torre, Alta (mm. 1–8)

This article grew out of an invitation to read the paper, “Voices and Vocabulary of the schalmei in the alta during the 'Slide Trumpet Years'” during a study day at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (12 October 2018), where I was honored to meet the late Edward Tarr. I would like to thank Christelle Cazaux for encouraging me to write on this topic, Adam Bregman, Ross Duffin, and Keith Polk for making comments along the way, and Lorenz Welker for posing suggestions and thought-provoking questions. For more on my own journey “toward authenticity” see Gilbert 2020.


Through this article, the term “shawm” refers to all members of the instrument family. The term “schalmei” refers specifically what is commonly referred to as “treble shawm” and “bombard” refers the instrument pitched a fifth lower and commonly referred to as “alto shawm”. The term “trombone” is synonymous with “sackbut”.


Baines 1950, 20–21.


The term “Low Contra” is commonly employed by musicologists to refer to these procedures. I adopt the term “High Contra” to refer to counterpoint in which the Contra typically proceeds above the Tenor voice, especially in cadential formulae.


The instrument changed little over time, but players switched to thinking in B♭ by the end of the eighteenth century.


For the earliest historical sources linking wind fingerings to solmization, see Agricola 1529, 9v–10r; Ganassi 1535, 3–6; Welker 1983, 127.


Adopting this terminology at the recommendation of Ross Duffin and Adam Bregman acknowledges the intimate relationship between the alta ensemble and its common high range. One may choose the more consistent Latin term “bassa” to refer to the lower pitch, but I use “bas” in reference to employing the fingerings associated with performing in “bas” ensembles.


Surviving documentary evidence suggests that slide instrumentalists were thinking in terms of diatonic positions into the nineteenth century. For a complete edition of Depuis le doloreaux partir, see Southern 1981, 37–38.


Though modern studies typically refer to the slide trumpet as pitched in D, this “Bas” pitch resonates with how trumpeters have historically visualized their fundamental pitch as C.


For modern editions of J’atens le confort and A cheval, see Southern 1981, 1, 13.


There is no single standardized fingering system for surviving shawms, and fingerings for individual notes can vary on different instruments. The fingerings shown here work with remarkable consistency on schalmei and bombard copies made by Robert Collier, Robert Cronin and Rufus Acosta, Joel Robinson, and Paul Hailperin. A number of these instruments were based on or conform closely to measurements taken by Herbert Myers.


Duffin 2008, 32–37, 163.


Myers 2020, 129, n. 4.


Studies arguing for and against the existence of a slide trumpet in the fifteenth century include Sachs 1940, 108; Sachs 1950; Downey 1984; Duffin 1989; Myers 1989; Polk 1989; Polk 1997; Polk 2018; Tröster 2004; Tröster 2007; McGowan 1996; Klaus 2013, 1–8; Neumeier 2015, 53–54; Welker 1983, 131–141; Welker 1990.


On the ranges and playable notes of the natural trumpet, see McGee 2009, 55–58; Polk 1992, 57; Welker 1983,127.


The ensemble Les haulz et les bas has experimented with this in performance to good effect. It is plausible that a tradition of monophonic performance did overlap polyphonic performance practices. For the role of the ensemble of trombadori and cenemella, see McGee 1999, 96, 101–106 and McGee 2009.


McGee 1999, 101; McGee 2009, 55–62.


For a study of the trombetta repertory, see Wheat 1994; Bent 2007.


The ensemble Les haulz et las bas has illustrated this procedure in their arrangement of Dufay’s Se la face ay pale. See Les haulz et les bas, Concilium zu Constanz, 1414–1418, Ahalani ar 0059, 2018.


This example is notated in “Bas” range.


For this argument and a response, see Downey 1984, 31; Duffin 1989, 400.


Gülke 1967, xv–xvi, 24–26.


In addition to the aforementioned compositions by Dufay, the anonymous Tuba gallicalis and Pullois’ Gloria, this repertory includes the anonymous A cheval, tout homme, a cheval, the anonymous compositions Alla cazza, Alla battaglia, Alla caccia, su su, and Alla cacza.


Gerber, Finscher and Dömling 1975, 356–60, 366–368. The ensemble Ciaramella experimented with arranging Alla cazza for natural trumpet. While it functions, it sounds suspiciously like something for which we have little or no notated examples for before ca. 1600.


On fifteenth-century trumpeters exploring the extended upper register, see Polk 1992, 98.


With thanks to Lorenz Welker for this suggestion in personal communication.


On ideographs by Zorzi Trombetta that raises the possibility of the trombone existing as early at the second half of the 1440s, see Myers 2020, 136.


For discussions of trumpet iconography, see Tröster 2004 and Tröster 2007.


For a consideration for bombards of different sizes in early fifteenth-century music, see Myers 2020, 133–134. On the consistent appearance of two bombards in the alta during the late fifteenth century, see D’Accone 1997.


Ross Duffin encouraged the Boston Shawm and Sackbut Ensemble to try this in the early 1980s. Since then ensembles like Les haulz et les bas, Piffaro, and Ciaramella have explored this as a standard configuration for the early alta.


Lewis Lockwood linked the Casanatense Chansonnier to the alta ensemble of Ferrara, identifying works with ranges altered to fit the range limitations of the instruments. Although Joshua Rifkin has questioned his identification of this source, it remains a viable candidate as a source for music for court instrumentalists. Lockwood 1984, 225–226; Polk 1968, 15–18; Rifkin 2003, 314–323.


Polk 1992, 85. On the alta and improvised performance, see Welker 1983, 149–161.


Polk 1992, 164.




Welker 1983, 159–161.


Leech-Wilkinson and Durante 1981, 18, 25.


Ibid., 21–23, 30.


Baroncini 2002, 59.


Ibid., 63.


Coelho and Polk 2016, 67–69.


Fallows 1999, 333.


Polk 1992, 158–159.


On added voices to an existing contemporary song on Zorzi’s notebook, see Ibid., 150.


See for example Aux ce bon youre and Quene note in GB-Ob Digby 167, 31v, and song Tenors like Je suy si povere de liesce in Montellier 1939, 180–181.


Banks 2006, 136–137. A similar situation occurs in the Division Flute (1706) in which the bass progression of Paul's Steeple is presented largely in quarter notes. Marking these individual pictures in rhythm is an incredibly useful pedagogical tool for anyone practicing improvisation over grounds. In his teaching of teaching extemporized counterpoint, Ross Duffin also suggests that one improvising over a bassadanza Tenor should play three notes for each breve of the Tenor voice, thus echoing the notation of Zorzi’s Contratenor voices.


On the use and perception of tone and mode in practical music, see Wiering 2013; Smith 2011.


Allaire 1972; Smith 2011; Urquhart 1988; Heinzelmann 2013. For a more skeptical view of solmization in historical performance, see Mengozzi 2010.


Duffin 2013, 198–199; Gilbert 2005, 112–120; Polk 1968; Polk 1992; Guido 2017; Gilbert 2013, 184; Berentsen 2016, 111–117. For brief mentions of solmization in recent studies of improvisation, see Fiorentino 2017, 82; Haymoz 2017, 94; Canguilhem 2015, 133–136.


Meyer 1997, 98–100.


Ibid., 9, 100.


For a detailed study of these passages, see Gilbert 2019, 39–43.


Meyer 1997, 50–51. See also Reaney 1977; Reaney 1998.


Gilbert 2019, 43, 49–50.


For a discussion of solmizing modal finals, octaves, and reciting tones, see ibid., 32–33.


Fiorentino 2017, 82. With few exceptions, “fa” naturally falls on cross-fingerings on both schalmei and bombard, a fact which can affect pitch and “feel”. The relationship between evolving tuning systems and the intonation of individual notes on schalmei and bombard invites further exploration, and – barring more concrete evidence than provided by later surviving instruments – speculation.


Anyone wishing to test this assumption need only try to sing the letter names of such passages. The vocables are, simply put, easier to sing than the letter names.


Trent 87: Trent, Italy, Museo Provinciale d’Arte, Castello del Buonconsiglio, MS 1374 [87]:

Du pist mein hort 109r; Auxce bon youre delabonestren, 117v–118r; Tyling, Tandernaken, 198v–199r.


Duffin 2013, 197–198.


[Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14274 (St. Emmeram Codex)]. Welker 1994, 10–11.


Lorenz Welker has argued convincingly that its Latin-texted concordance, Qui latuit, is not the work of Dufay (Welker 1994, 10).


Montpellier 1939, 180; Crane 1968, 48, 79–80. I will argue in a later study that Du pist mein hort (Je sui povere de leesse) is most likely a florid setting or reworking of the Tenor voice of a chanson from the Burgundian circle of Pierre Fontaine.


Jan Willem Bonda (Bonda 1994) has suggested that the Cantus was originally intended for singing the text, based in part on the grounds that the text does not work well with the Tenor as notated in Tyling’s setting. One might note, however, that Tyling’s simple version of the Tenor (the only setting in which the opening is not presented as a classic “mi fa mi re ut” cadential motive) arguably fits the opening of the Dutch song more closely than the later versions.


Gilbert 2019, 36.


GB-Ob MS Digby 167 (c. 1450–1475), 31v.


Duffin 2013, 198–199; Gilbert 2005, 112–119. For examples using both number intervals and solmization, see Fiorentino 2017, 81–82.


For the opening of Gulielmus’ famous duo only indicating numerical intervals, see Gilbert 2005, 116–117.  Among modern performers, Crawford Young stands out for his counterpoints over La Spagna and other contemporary Tenors.


Among other contemporaries, both Ockeghem and Isaac routinely repeat or elide motives at their point of mutation. See, for example, the Tenor of Ockeghem’s Au travail suis (mm. 7–9) and the Pleni of Isaac’s Missa Quant j’ay au coeur (mm. 79–86). See Gilbert 2003, 53.


Of course, this motive outlines a common consonant triad, one that is also prominent in florid compositions like Obrecht’s Tandernaken. See Polk 1992, 210.


Later compositions with two voices above but in Low Contra style include Erasmus Lapicida’s Tandernaken and Agricola’s Allez regrets.