On Josquin's Patrem De tous biens plaine

Comments on Josquin's Patrem De tous biens plaine

by Peter Urquhart


Fig. 0: The plainchant Credo I (after De Brugis, Venice 1499-1500)

Most of the Credo movements from Josquin's masses feature quotations of the plainchant Credo I.  It has been my observation that Josquin generally maintains the two characteristic motives of Credo I with the precise intervallic shape they are given in the chant: the 'rising third' (mi fa sol) and the 'half-step neighbor' (mi fa mi).  The exceptions to this claim are infrequent and tend to occur in passages where the quotation of the chant is beginning to weaken.

Fig. 1: Motives used in Credo I

One work that uses this plainchant throughout is Josquin's Patrem De tous biens plaine, which appears in Petrucci's print Fragmenta Missarum (RISM 1505[1]) and the manuscript Cappella Sistina 41.  The collected works edition (the Werken by Albert Smijers, Amsterdam, 1956) of this isolated Credo follows Petrucci's print largely, with occational corrections borrowed from CS 41.  There is enough continuous use of Credo I in this Patrem for it to be considered a cantus firmus; however a more formal cantus firmus is presented in the tenor voice, the tune De tous biens plaine from Hayne van Ghizeghem's chanson.  Credo I therefore appears only in the superius and altus voices.  In Petruccis print the work begins with the superius quoting Credo I supported by stark block chords in blackened notes, an unusual feature that is not found in the CS 41 version.

Fig. 2: Beginning of Patrem De tous biens plaine

The polyphony really begins at the words 'Factorem caeli'; the superius continues the quotation of Credo I until m. 15, at which point the altus takes over at a pitch level a fourth down. At this transposition, the rising motive from Credo I is written in Smijers' edition as Bb-C-D instead of Bnatural-C-D, a significant alteration of this motive. Furthermore, the altus line often rises to E after this beginning on Bb, which implies that the E might be sung as Eb in order to remove the tritone outlined. Smijers marked many of the E's in the altus with editorial flats for that reason (mm. 16, 32, 35, 38, 59, 75, 92, 120, 146, 159, 175, and 205).

Fig. 3: Altus m. 15-20

However, those E's which are in the vicinity of the "half-step neighbor" characteristic motive were allowed to stand as Enaturals. Smijers was not so much protecting the half-step motive as he was observing the harmonic implications of these passages, which are often supported by the pitch A in the bass or tenor (Fig. 4 follows Smijers' edition in the Werken, Fragmenta Missarum p. 98).

Fig. 4: mm. 101-7

A fine recording made by David Munrow in 1976 followed most of Smijers' editiorial choices of accidentals and showed them to be largely reasonable. Smijers chose to maintain the perfection of fifths such as the one in m. 104, and in so doing presented the characteristic neighbor motive as the half step E-F every time it occurred in the altus. However, this result was gained at the expense of the creation of a few linear tritones, and it did not address the question of the initial rising motive.

A glance at the examples provided above suggests that another solution is available; the tritone could be avoided by returning the initial rising motive to its original form, Bnatural-C-D. The counterpoint does not prevent this alternative, one that enables the removal of a considerable number of editorial Eb's; it also allows both motives to be restored to their original contours without tritones. With this in mind, it is most striking to discover that Petrucci's 1505 print lacks a flat signature in the altus voice. Smijers suppressed this partial signature configuration in his score and reported it only in his Critical Notes, as though it were an error. However, there is no possibility that the flat signature was left out by mistake. None of the staves of the altus have a flat signature in Petrucci, and none of the other voices lack any signature flats. Furthermore, Petrucci provided one explicit Bb accidental in the altus near the end of the work (m. 197), confirming that Bnatural was the original signature reading in the altus; this flat was also suppressed without comment in Smijers' edition.

The removal of the Bb from the altus signature works reasonably well throughout the Patrem. For the most part the Bnaturals of the altus that stem from the quotation of Credo I stay clear of Bb's in the other lines, if only barely at times. The conflicts create the piquant color of cross-relation throughout the work, highlighting the use of the two cantus firmi (Fig. 5 follows Petrucci; note the absence of a flat signature in the altus).

Fig. 5: mm. 37-44

When the altus moves away from the quotation of Credo I, which occurs especially at the end of each section of the work, there are passages where Bb must be used in the altus, and most often there are good linear reasons for invoking the soft hexachord. The explicit Bb found in Petrucci at m. 197 is in one of these passages. Indeed, if the flat were not marked, there is still no doubt that the B would be sung as 'fa', because of the direct leap of fourth.

Fig. 6: mm. 196-198

A few passages appear to present problems for this conflicting signature interpretation of the Patrem. Clashes between fa and mi do upon occasion occur; however, most of them are of too short a duration to be a concern. Small clashes such as that shown in Fig. 6 at m. 198 between Eb and Enatural should be considered an aspect of the piquant style of the counterpoint rather than an flaw to be edited away. One larger clash at m. 76 is more puzzling; the altus here is quoting Credo I, so correcting the clash would require an offense to the logic of either the altus or bass lines. This seems to be the only clash of this magnitude in the Patrem.

While it may not be possible to answer all of the questions raised by the partial signature configuration for the Patrem De tous biens plaine with certainty, it is clear nonetheless that with the no-flat signature in the altus, a new harmonic sense and linear logic emerge from the piece. Both the primary cantus firmus and the extensive quotations of Credo I are expressed in their own modal space, if we admit both Bnatural and Bb to coexist in the setting. The Patrem seems to be the sort of piece referred to by Heinrich Glarean, who specifically mentions Credo I while praising Josquin's ability for combining melodies in differing modes (Dodecachordon, ed. and trans. by Clement Miller, MSD 6 (Rome 1965), p. 266):

And yet it was not difficult for this composer to combine songs of different modes, and even to do it gracefully. He has scarcely composed a Mass in which, whatever its mode may have been, he did not include the Aeolian in the Nicene Creed, a procedure others also attempted but not all with the same success.

Click here to see the passage from m. 15-50, and to compare interpretations in sound: Hear partial signatures interpretation


peter.urquhart@unh.edu