Part 14: How to play “diverse ways upon the plainsong Miserere”

This is the fourteenth and last of this section of my multi-part post on ‘How to play divers wayes upon the Plainsong Miserere’. (Please see previous posts below for earlier installments.)

Example 15 is Christe qui lux es et dies by Heathe, who may have been an organist at Exeter Cathedral. In this hymn verset the simple plainsong is in the lowest of three parts. For plainsong notes 3-15 the top part has a descant consisting of the rhythmic motif ‘dotted crotchet—quaver—crotchet’ that creates cross-rhythms against the semibreves of the plainsong, while the middle descant has 4:1 against the plainsong. For plainsong notes 16-27 the rhythmic devices used in the two descants are exchanged: the top descant is 4:1 while the middle part has the dotted motif. In the last section, plainsong notes 28-34, the top descant is 8:1 and the middle part is 4:1.

Example 15  [Thomas?] Heathe’s Christe qui lux es et dies (30513, fols 102v-103r):


Next week I’ll begin a new series of posts, the first giving background information on English descant sources, such as Leonel Power’s treatise (‘This tretis is contrivid upon the Gamme for hem that wil be syngers or makers or techers,’ GB-Lbl Lans. MS 763, fols 105v-113) and other early sources that refer to descant being learned on the keyboard as well as by singing. The (vocal) exercises on ‘plainsongs’ comprising solfa syllables in Power’s treatise will be presented in posts over a number of subsequent weeks as exercises for organists and singers (and anyone else interested in learning counterpoint!) to practice note-against-note descant.

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