Musica ficta

Musica ficta

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Musica ficta was a term used in European music theory from the late 12th century to about 1600 to describe any pitches, whether notated or to be added by performers in accordance with their training, that lie outside the system of musica recta or musica vera ('correct' or 'true' music) as defined by the hexachord system of Guido of Arezzo
Guido of Arezzo
Guido of Arezzo or Guido Aretinus or Guido da Arezzo or Guido Monaco or Guido d'Arezzo was a music theorist of the Medieval era...

. In modern usage, the term is often loosely applied to all unnotated inflections (whether properly recta or ficta) that must be inferred from the musical context and added either by an editor or by the performers themselves (Bent and Silbiger 2001).

One common (though not exclusive) use of ficta was to avoid harsh harmonic
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

 or melodic
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

 intervals such as the tritone
In classical music from Western culture, the tritone |tone]]) is traditionally defined as a musical interval composed of three whole tones. In a chromatic scale, each whole tone can be further divided into two semitones...

, for example the use of a E instead of a E to avoid dissonance with a B in another part. In modern transcriptions of medieval
Medieval music
Medieval music is Western music written during the Middle Ages. This era begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and ends sometime in the early fifteenth century...

 and Renaissance music
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

, ficta are usually indicated by an "accidental" sign
Accidental (music)
In music, an accidental is a note whose pitch is not a member of a scale or mode indicated by the most recently applied key signature. In musical notation, the symbols used to mark such notes, sharps , flats , and naturals , may also be called accidentals...

 appearing above the note. (In modern notation, accidentals are written before the note, not above.) Editors provide these ficta for modern singers, whereas the kind of training given to singers of that time may have made such indications unnecessary.

Medieval and Renaissance singers were trained in a system of hexachord
In music, a hexachord is a collection of six pitch classes including six-note segments of a scale or tone row. The term was adopted in the Middle Ages and adapted in the twentieth-century in Milton Babbitt's serial theory.-Middle Ages:...

s, six-note scales in which each note was given a name - in ascending order: ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la. A hexachord contained only one half-step interval, between mi and fa. The 11th century theorist Guido of Arezzo
Guido of Arezzo
Guido of Arezzo or Guido Aretinus or Guido da Arezzo or Guido Monaco or Guido d'Arezzo was a music theorist of the Medieval era...

 had designated three types of hexachord: molle ("soft") starting on F, with a half-step between A (mi) and B♭ (fa); naturale starting on C, with a half-step between E (mi) and F (fa); and durum ("hard") starting on G, with a half-step between B (mi) and C (fa). The ficta hexachords were those having a note other than A, E, or B as "mi". For example, a raised F (in modern terms, F-sharp), indicated by adding the sign, created a ficta hexachord starting on D (D E F G A B) that would be operative until that part mutated into another hexachord where the raised F was no longer desired. Likewise a sign applied to any note other than B would indicate that it was "fa" in a ficta hexachord; or, when applied to B, that the hexachord was molle rather than durum. Unfortunately, the use of the signs was by no means consistent: it was assumed that a good singer "knew his mi's and fa's," so that the signs were typically only added if the scribe anticipated that singers would be likely to interpret differently otherwise.

The exact performance practice of musica ficta - where and when they were used - is a matter of intense investigation and controversy among musicologists
Musicology is the scholarly study of music. The word is used in narrow, broad and intermediate senses. In the narrow sense, musicology is confined to the music history of Western culture...

 and is likely to remain so for a long time to come. Music theorists
Music theory
Music theory is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identify patterns and structures in composers' techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods...

 from Odo of Cluny
Odo of Cluny
Saint Odo of Cluny , a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, was the second abbot of Cluny. He enacted various reforms in the Cluniac monastery system of France and Italy....

 in the 10th century to Zarlino
Gioseffo Zarlino
Gioseffo Zarlino was an Italian music theorist and composer of the Renaissance. He was possibly the most famous music theorist between Aristoxenus and Rameau, and made a large contribution to the theory of counterpoint as well as to musical tuning.-Life:Zarlino was born in Chioggia, near Venice...

 in the 16th gave highly different rules and situations for the application of ficta. Thus the controversy is not only among contemporary musicologists; theorists of the Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

 were never in agreement on the rules of ficta either. Johannes de Garlandia
Johannes de Garlandia
Johannes de Garlandia may refer to:* Johannes de Garlandia * Johannes de Garlandia...

 (13th century) and Philippe de Vitry
Philippe de Vitry
Philippe de Vitry was a French composer, music theorist and poet. He was an accomplished, innovative, and influential composer, and may also have been the author of the Ars Nova treatise...

 (14th century) both wrote that ficta were essential in singing polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 because of the necessity of forestalling certain dissonances and properly arranging cadences; but they resisted their use in plainchant. The early 14th century theorist Jacques de Liège, on the other hand, insisted that notes in plainchant needed to be altered with judicious application of musica ficta.!

In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

 treatises of the Renaissance, such as Johannes Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris was a Flemish composer and music theorist of the Renaissance. He is known to have studied in Orléans, and to have been master of the choir there; he also may have been director of choirboys at Chartres...

's Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477) and Gioseffe Zarlino's Le istituzioni harmonice (1588), described resolution at cadences through a major sixth into the octave or the inversion, a minor third closing to a unison, which, unless the other voice already descends by a semitone, necessitates the rising voice to add a sharp (see dyadic counterpoint) (Tinctoris 1961, ; Zarlino 1968, 144–45). At such points, accidentals were in fact sometimes notated throughout this period of history.

Further reading

  • Allaire, Gaston G. 1972. The Theory of Hexachords, Solmization and the Modal System: A Practical Approach. Musicological Studies and Documents 24. [N.p.]: American Institute of Musicology.
  • Arlettaz, Vincent. 2000. "Musica ficta, une histoire des sensibles du XIIIe au XVIe siècle". Liège: Mardaga. ISBN 2-87009-721-1. English summary online:
  • Article "Musica Ficta," 1980. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vols. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Bent, Margaret. 1984. "Diatonic 'Ficta'". Early Music History 4:1–48.
  • Coussemaker, Charles Edmond Henri de (ed.). 1864–76. Scriptorum de musica medii aevi nova seriem a Gerbertina alteram. 4 vols. Paris: A. Durand. Reprinted, Milan: Bollettino bibliografico musicale, 1931.
  • Hoppin, Richard H. 1978. Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.. ISBN 0-393-09090-6
  • Johannes de Garlandia. 1972. De mensurabili musica, critical edition with commentary and interpretation by Erich Reimer. 2 vols. Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 10 & 11. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner.
  • Randel, Don (ed.). 1986. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5

External links