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Wilde, Howard

Towards a New Theory of Voice-Leading Structure in Sixteenth-Century Polyphony

Ph.D. Royal Holloway, University of London, 1995

This study arises from a broad dissatisfaction with the two prevalent strands of contemporary analytical thought on Renaissance music: on the one hand, the work of the post-Schenkerian school seeks to explicate large-scale structures according to an eighteenth-century model of cadential closure (determined by the Bassbrechung); on the other hand, it is impossible to formulate normative archetypes of structure with exclusive reference to contemporaneous concepts of mode, since these are too diverse and mutually contradictory. Instead, a set of hypothetical voice-leading archetypes is proposed; these are derived from the principles of sixteenth-century (two-part) cadence theory, but their normative status is analogous to that of the Ursatz in eighteenth-century tonality. The thesis falls into four sections:

  1. A critical appraisal of the chief theoretical issues in the analysis of early music, with special reference to sixteenth-century modal theory and to later (Schenkerian) paradigms of tonal behaviour.
  2. The formulation of a preliminary hypothesis derived from sixteenth-century cadence theory.
  3. The testing of this hypothesis on some problematic works, principally drawn from the output of Palestrina.
  4. A variety of analytical case-studies from Josquin to Gesualdo, in order to demonstrate the wider critical and historical potential of the proposed archetypes.