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“As often as possible they gathered together the children of the village and sat them down in the cabin. Father Brébeuf would put on a surplice and biretta and chant the Our Father, which Father Daniel had translated into Huron rhymes, and the children would chant it after him. Next, he taught them the sign of the cross, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Commandments.”
— Biography of St. Jean de Brébeuf

Towards An Online (Modern) Palestrina Edition
published 24 March 2018 by Guest Author

89796 Gervais EFF OSTROWSKI’S blog article of 14/10/16 mentions Haberl’s complete edition of Palestrina online and of waiting for Nancho Alvarez to do for Palestrina what he did for Victoria, Guerro and Morales. It seems to me that it is going to have to be a collaborative project. I am about to retire, and I plan to spend a lot of time creating scores. I have 4 masses of Fayrfax, and several canzons and a sonata and some motets by Giovanni Gabrieli from sixteenth century part books on IMSLP, also the superb Missa Quando Lieta Sperai by Andrea Gabrieli, and the Magnificat, Lamentations a 6 and some psalm settings by Robert White, involving reconstruction of missing parts, on CPDL, and a few other things like Tovey’s completion of Bach’s Contrapunctus XIX from the Art of Fugue, and Felix Namque I by Tallis.

But I find the prospect of a complete Palestrina somewhat daunting. I have started. My edition of Missa Papae Marcelli went onto IMSLP recently, and I am now working on the six voiced Missa Ave Maria. Jeff Ostrowski talks of its “awesome power.” I might speak of its extreme beauty and eloquence, but the responses are clearly related.

The materials for a collaborative complete Palestrina are all freely available. The edition of Haberl is beautiful and accurate, and the original partbooks are there for the downloading on IMSLP. Perhaps a framework would be in order, firstly that the Sibelius or other notation files be uploaded. This would render the rest of the framework less pressing, but I would suggest the following as a starting point for discussion:

Appreciation of Palestrina has been severely hampered by failure to apply the clef conventions, and many performances lack a proper bass and go far towards hurting the ear. Pro Cantione Antiqua sang at a more correct pitch, but they had falsettists on the top line, whose gimlet power did nothing to serve the music. Much of Palestrina’s output is in chiavette—that is, “little clefs”—with an F clef on the middle line on the lowest part. This implies downward transposition of a tone or a fourth, as given in David Wulstan’s book “Tudor Music.” Transposition of a fourth is appropriate for Palestrina, and leads to a radically different sound world, which I have by no means fully assimilated. Neither has the recording industry. The danger then is too low a pitch, leading to impenetrable textures, but probably Roman pitch was approximately a tone higher than ours, as it certainly was in England. This should also be reflected in the editions. A C clef on the fourth line on the lowest part implies downward transposition of a fifth as in Missa Papae Marcelli. A C clef on the top line implies downward transposition of a fourth as in Fayrfax’ Missa Albanus. An F clef on the top line implies upward transposition of a tone, as in Taverner’s Quemadmodum, or a fourth as in Fayrfax’ Mass “O Bone Jesu.”

When these transpositions are applied, the voice types are a low soprano, called “Mean” in England and taken by an unbroken voice, high tenor, low tenor and bass. High tenor parts create problems for modern choirs. They go up to A quite often, but go down to E which is outside the range of the modern alto. One solution is to have both altos and tenors on the part, so that tenors can fade out when it goes too high, and altos when it goes too low.1 In Fayrfax the high tenor never goes above G, so can be sung comfortably by modern tenors. This is also evidence for the generation of the high tenor voice from the low tenor voice.

89795 Renaissance Jeff Ostrowski criticises the application of Musica Ficta in Haberl and others, which makes me wish that he would write a blog on the subject. I find that there is not much need for it in Fayrfax, but in Palestrina it needs to be applied freely, in the sharpening of leading notes, in avoiding the interval of a tritone within a part, and in the melodic construction of a note, adjacent note, first note, where the adjacent note will be sharpened or flattened to be a semitone away from the first note. This has odd sounding effects if applied to notes a long way from the final of the mode in the cycle of fifths, so probably the further away, the less likely it is to be applied. Necessarily it is a variable art, so variations must have been tolerated. Editorial accidentals are of course marked as such in the edition.

I prefer original note values, except in triple time sections, where I halve them. No doubt you can get used to seeing semibreves flashing by at a rapid rate, and minims used only for runs, but I haven’t yet.

There are some ligatures in Giovanni Gabrieli, and many more in Palestrina, but as they appear to have no effect on the performance, I see no need to note them, for the score should be as clear and unencumbered as possible.

For the same reason I question the need for dashes and underscores in the underlay. They are missing in the part books, and if they are missing in the scores too it makes for an increase in visual clarity. Often in KYRIE and AGNUS DEI the words are repeated many times, and the repetitions are marked by a repeat sign. These along with ampersands and abbreviations will be expanded as smoothly as possible, but I feel that such places should be unobtrusively marked, for the choir director might want to amend the underlay.

I don’t think I need to say why a complete Palestrina on line would be a good idea. The quality of the tiny part of his output which I know is consistently high, and often raises one to awareness of the Heavenly Presence. He effortlessly transcends confessional boundaries.

Email Gervais Frykman about this project at gervais153@talktalk.net.

We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Gervais Frykman.


1   This is something for which Jeff Ostrowski has persistently advocated, since Views from the Choir Loft first began in 2012.