N A RECENT article, I said that pedantry can only take the conscientious choirmaster so far. Specifically, I provided three brief audio clips of Glenn Gould breaking the “commitment rule” in three different fugues. For the record, Gould’s teacher was a man named Alberto Guerrero (d. 1959); and you’ll see why I mention this random tidbit if you keep reading. When it comes to the subject of text underlay in Renaissance polyphony, pedantry can sometimes lead us down a false path.
Consider This Example • One of my professors at the conservatory used to say: “An example is worth 1,000 words.” Therefore, consider the following example, which comes from the GLORIA of “Missa Iste Sanctus” by Father Francisco Guerrero (considered one of the greatest composers of all time):
Is This An Error? • Surely you noticed a discrepancy involving Déus Páter omnípotens. Many would assume it’s an error in text underlay … but beware! The reality is—and this is not easy for certain people to accept—such discrepancies happen frequently in Renaissance polyphony. As I explained in the aforementioned article, music’s ultimate purpose is not pedantry.
Before you “correct” the score, consider the following:
(1) Sometimes composers didn’t write out the text underlay for each voice. This seems to have been a “convention”—that is to say, it doesn’t automatically mean instruments (instead of voices) would play that line.
(2) Sometimes the composer’s text underlay was thwarted by his publisher. In graduate school they taught us that not all publishers respected the wishes of composers when it comes to text underlay.
(3) There are instances where Father Guerrero, in a subsequent edition, would make changes to the text underlay—and sometimes these changes were quite interesting! That would suggest even the greatest of composers felt there was some “freedom” involved.
(4) It’s entirely possible that “discrepancies” such as the one shown above are not errors at all. Indeed, the composer may have had a reason for placing particular words at particular spots. As a composer, my text underlay is often determined by vowel sounds I desire at particular moments.
(5) It is absolutely possible that false text underlay crept in because of human error. We know the publishers sometimes paid a “proofreader” who looked over the part books before publication. It is eminently reasonable to assume some proofreaders were more skilled than others.
(6) There was an early composer who stuffed all his compositions into a box shortly before he died. Many years later, the box was opened up. In that case, we can be sure of the composer’s text underlay! But this is seldom the case. If memory serves, Palestrina married a rich woman. Because of this wealth, he was able to publish his own music (which probably means his text underlay is more accurate).
Try this one on for size!
* PDF Download • GLORIA (Cristóbal de Morales)
—From Missa Mille Regretz.
Article Summary • What I’ve written constitutes the final, irrevocable, unassailable, and indisputable approach to text underlay. 😁 I’m kidding, of course! This subject is fraught with difficulty.