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I'm watching this video about modes and right here he mentions something that sounds like 'musica fikta' which he explains as sharps and flats added to modes to make them sound better (right when majors and minors were being invented in music history).

What's the correct spelling of 'musica fikta'? I'd like to look it up to learn more about it.

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2 Answers 2

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These ficta pitches were not really a part of the mode, but rather just decorative chromaticism.

When discussing ficta, I think it's often helpful to remember when it was typically used: ficta notes would be briefly introduced right at moments of cadential arrival, and then they would typically be immediately abandoned. (I'm simplifying here, because there were other uses of ficta, but this is the clearest.)

Imagine you're in A Aeolian—a very common mode and final for this style of music—and you have an interior cadence on D. In order to really push towards that D, the music will briefly introduce C♯, D's leading tone, to cadence on that D, and then revert to C♮ as the "true" third of the global A Aeolian.

With all of this said, identifying mode in polyphonic music (e.g., Monteverdi's madrigals) can be rather difficult, and it's not really just a question of "what notes are used"; in A Aeolian, you're going to find a lot of C♯s, F♯s, and G♯s. If you're interested in how mode is constructed in polyphonic music, check out Susan McClary's Modal Subjectivities.

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From Wikipedia:

Musica ficta (from Latin, "false", "feigned", or "fictitious" music) was a term used in European music theory from the late 12th century to about 1600 to describe pitches, whether notated or added at the time of performance, that lie outside the system of musica recta or musica vera ("correct" or "true" music) as defined by the hexachord system of Guido of Arezzo.

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  • found it! copied and pasted from Wikipedia.
    – Simon Suh
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 6:37
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    Hello! I think it would be better if the source was in your answer rather than posted as a comment, as it might be hard for people to track later on. Maybe try and find multiple sources or try explain it in your own words as well, because some people don't find Wikipedia a reliable resource.
    – user87626
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 6:53
  • A few words describing the hexachord system of Guido d'Arezzo would make this answer more useful.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 9:30

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