09 July 2012

Fuga Trium Tempora from the Strasbourg Codex

[This is a draft “Working Paper” of research in progress; comments are welcome, but it should not be considered published work and may be removed before this is submitted for publication and replaced with a link to the published version.]

The manuscript, Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Municipale (olim Bibliothèque de la Ville), MS 222. C.22, was an extraordinary collection of music theory and secular and sacred music (sometimes in contrafact) from the first half of the fifteenth century.  In 1870, during the siege of Strasbourg in the Franco-Prussian war, the manuscript was destroyed.  Fortunately, portions of the manuscript survive in two important testimonies from before 1870: a short publication by Auguste Lippmann, “Essai sur un manuscrit du quinzième siècle decouvert dans la Bibliothèque de la ville de Strasbourg” Bulletins de la Société pour la Conservation des Monuments Historiques d'Alsace Serie 2.7 (1870), pp. 73–76, which reproduces a single page of the manuscript in facsimile (see Figure 1 below) and a partial copy of the manuscript made by Edmond de Coussemaker.  Coussemaker copied the table of contents, made an index with incipits, and transcribed some, but not all, of the pieces in the manuscript.  Coussemaker’s copy is now Brussels, Bibliothèque du Conservatoire Royal de Musique, MS 56.286 and has been published in facsimile in Albert van der Linden, editor, Le manuscrit musical M.222 C.22 de la Bibliothèque de Strasbourg: XVe siècle (Brussels: Office international de librairie, 1977). Many of the works in the manuscript can be identified through concordances in other manuscripts, though the process of finding concordances through incipits with contrafacted sacred texts has not always been easy.  Important work on the manuscript was conducted by Charles van den Borren (Le manuscrit musical M.222 C.22 de la Bibliothèque de Strasbourg (XVe siècle) brulé en 1870, et reconstitué d’après une copie partielle d’Edmond de Coussemaker [Antwerp: E. Secelle, 1924]) and in an excellent Habilitationschrift by Lorenz Welker (“Musik im Oberrhein im späten Mittelalter: Die Handschrift Strasbourg, olim Bibliothèque de la Ville, C.22” [Habilitationsschrift: Basel, 1993]).  Though most of the music that Coussemaker transcribed has appeared in modern editions, a few pieces have never been published in modern notation.

 Figure 1: Color image of folio 78v from the Strasbourg codex

One such neglected work was found on folio 38r (or perhaps 37v–38r, see Welker, “Folio-Synopse” p. 12) and transcribed on pp. 32–33 in Coussemaker’s edition.  It is a “Fuga trium temporum” whose top voices are attributed to J. de Climen and whose tenor is attributed to J. Cornelius (“Tenor J. Cornelii”).  The double attribution is unusual but as Virginia Newes notes, the tenor is inessential to the canon and could have been added later. (“Fuga and related contrapuntal procedures in European polyphony ca. 1350–ca. 1420,” [Ph.D. dissertation: Brandeis University, 1987], p. 403).  The description “Fuga trium temporum” implies a canon at the unison separated by three breves.  That the title appears under the top voice suggests that it is the top two voices which are in canon.  Though tenor canons are not unusual in the period and for much of the piece the tenor works in canon with itself at the distance of three breves, this effect is largely accounted for by the tenor’s need to support the upper-voice canon, and several cases of bare perfect fourths and long passages in parallel unisons strongly argues against an intention of four-voice performance (which is what Ensemble Leones, the only group I have found that has performed the piece, did in their reconstruction of “[Quatour voces in] fuga trium temporum”) or of one upper voice plus two tenor voices in canon (which would not fit the idea that J. Cornelius added an additional voice to an existing fuga).  Reproductions of Coussemaker’s transcription of the work are in Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 2: Top voice of J. de Climen, Fuga trium tempora.

Figure 3: Tenor by J. Cornelius of Fuga trium tempora.

The two-part form of the piece suggests that the work may have originally been a rondeau that no longer has a text (similar to Baude Cordier’s Tout par compas).  Less likely, the piece could have been a virelai or even a ballata (like Andrea da Firenze’s Dal traditor in the Squarcialupi codex), though the close spacing between entrances is more characteristic of French than Italian superius canons.  In any case, Charles van den Borren’s suggestion (p. 88) that the work could be an Italian caccia seems unlikely.

The work’s neglect in modern scholarship may be due to its lack of text, but is more likely attributable to the unsatisfactory nature of the piece which results when transcribed from Coussemaker’s edition.  Whether read as two upper voices without tenor, two upper voices with tenor, or a single upper voice, several problems emerge. The top voices have an unusual phrygian cadence.  The piece ends with a major third (C–E) between the top voice(s) and tenor: highly unlikely for the period.  Several intense dissonances appear in the second section that are out of style with the first. Parallel octaves, fifths, and unisons the tenor and the upper voices appear six times (10 if closely syncopated parallels are counted) in the second half; they are absent in either counting in the first half. Finally, the top voices have no motivic repetitions between the first and second sections.  Example 1 transcribes the ending as written.

Example 1: Ending of Fuga trium tempora as transcribed.

A small emendation to the piece, not previously explored, relieves all five of these problems.  After the first note of the second section, the top voice should be read a third higher than it is written.  Either the scribe of the Strasbourg codex or Coussemaker either wrote this section a third too high or he neglected to notice a change of clef for the second half of the piece.  A proposed emendation of the top voice is given in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Proposed emendation to Coussemaker’s transcription.

With this emendation, the second half of the top voice echoes many elements of the first half, all parallels are removed, the ranges of the first and second half become identical, and the piece ends with the upper voices on G supported by the C a perfect fifth below in the added tenor part.  (If the tenor was essential and conceived with the upper voices, we might expect the top voices to end on a high G with the D a fifth below with the tenor singing the G a fifth below.  The change in modal flavor added by the tenor is further evidence of it being a later addition).  The whole piece as I have transcribed it is given in Example 2 and, for the sake of understanding the piece better, a MIDI rendition as an .mp3 file is given in Example 3.  After the middle cadence, the second upper voice may rest or continue the canon from the first section; examples supporting both types of continuation are found in other pieces in Newes’s dissertation.

Example 2: Fuga trium temporum, new transcription.

Example 3: MIDI rendition.

The new transcription does nothing to explain who J. de Climen or Johannes Cornelius might be.  David Fallows has proposed that he might be the same as Jacobus de Clibano known from several compositions in the Aosta codex (“Jacobus de Clibano,” s.v. in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition) or, less likely, he may be the same as Clement Liebert known from the piece Comment porray in the Strasbourg codex.  But neither this short contribution nor the musical style of Comment porray (though also in 2/4 but in white notation) give any aid in confirming or refuting this connection.  But I hope that the addition of a new contribution to the small repertory of fugae and canons of the early quattrocento can give a renewed urgency in discovering more about the identity of the composers of this finely crafted little work.


Unknown said...

Wow, well deduced, Myke! And a lovely ditty to boot!

Jason Stoessel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Stoessel said...

Pleased to finally get around to reading your post after it disappeared off my radar during a busy July. The proof is in the listening: sounds entirely like an ars nova piece from the 1370s - nice work!

Jason Stoessel said...

Even more convinced that your emendation is spot-on after some canonic technique analysis: after first four breves, there is a strong three-breve periodicity, which arrives out of a series of melodic permutations around breve units. Interesting, each pair of 3-breve periods arrives from interlocking 6-breve melodic periods. 10 out of 12 of 3-breve periods are strongly demarcated by the G plus rest figure and octave leap, which in terms of cognitive music theory could be considered significant. The advance on older canonic technique is that the composer doesn't start at the beginning of a period but two-thirds of the way through with a figure that is repeated later in the canon. The sequence of notes 4-8 of the canon appear thrice, but in each occurrence they are prefixed or suffixed by melodic motifs already at the start of the canon (notes 1-3 or notes 9-11+rest). So thanks again for sharing your transcription since it has revealed this to be a really interesting example of canonic techniques.

Michael Scott Cuthbert said...

Thanks so much Jason and for the insights that your recent work on canonic techniques is bringing to this field.