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Wiering, Frans

The Language of the Modes: Studies in the History of Polyphonic Modality

Ph.D. University of Amsterdam, 1995
(frans.wiering@let.ruu.nl)

The modes of polyphony are studied from a deliberately historical viewpoint. The documentary evidence for the application of the modes to polyphony is problematical and does not support the prevailing image (deriving from Bernhard Meier's writings) of a stable and uniform system that can be easily applied in music analysis. The two main types of evidence are texts that mention the modes, from poems to theoretical treatises, and cycles of compositions through all modes. Four phases are distinguished in the history of polyphonic modality: from the end of the 13th century to 1476, from 1476 to 1547, from 1547 to 1620, and from 1620 to the end of the 18th century. These are characterised as "uncertain beginnings", "general acceptance", "controversy", and "gradual disappearance". The appendices contain an annotated survey of c. 250 texts about the modes, and 407 modal cycles.

The following are the chapter headings:

  1. Modality and Its Terminology
  2. Polyphonic Modality in Recent Research
  3. The Primary Sources of Polyphonic Modality
  4. Tinctoris and the Early History of Polyphonic Modality
  5. Modus and Tonus
  6. The Rise and Fall of Polyphonic Modality
  7. Early Cycles from Central Europe
  8. Zarlino and Polyphonic Modality in Italy
  9. Conclusion: The Language of the Modes