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I've been playing from a collection of versets (fugues) by Gottlieb Muffat.

https://imslp.org/wiki/72_Versetl_sammt_12_Toccaten_(Muffat%2C_Gottlieb)

The versets are arranged by the old Church tones and the section on E has been very surprising. Below is one particular verset that raised a number of questions in my mind.

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The really strange part is from m.3 to m.4 where in the treble I identified three consecutive dissonances: d5 A6 A5. There are other interesting harmonic passages in a very short space, so much that my notes are a mess, but I found many half diminished seventh chords and augmented triads.

Can someone help put this music and the overall collection of versets into historical perspective for me?

Are the three consecutive dissonances really as strange as they seem to me?

How would this collection have been used by musicians? Each verset is very, very short. Hardly the stuff for a concert. I thought maybe they would be used like preludes or transitions between parts of a Church service.

Is it correct to say this piece on E is in phrygian mode? There is the "flat" ^2 degree and the tonic chord is played major at the end, which seem like important identifiers of phrygian mode.

The other versets on E have similar harmony, and I seem to notice a lot of augmented triads. Are augmented triads a feature of phrygian mode?

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    FYI: first of the three dissonances: A4 rather than d5. Also, it's actually four consecutive dissonances: a M2 precedes the A4. Very interesting question(s).
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 19 at 0:34
  • Two other observations: To my ear, it sounds closer to A minor, and the whole thing sound better to me if the F natural in m. 3's A6 were actually an F#, as it is most elsewhere in the piece. So in addition to any stylistic considerations, I guess there's also the possibility of an error in the transcription.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 19 at 0:43
  • One last (maybe) comment: If you haven't already taken the time to translate the introduction from the first edition, a glance suggests that might be enlightening. I noticed some text that I think meant that these were intended as studies. If you have translated it, please post, of course!
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 19 at 0:55
  • Hm, assuming that the only real "litmus test area" is the tema itself before wacky stuff starts happening, I'm not convinced that we can't just call it E natural minor (with piccardy ending). We don't actually get a ^2 within the theme-proper, and its appearance as an F natural in the lower voice might just be in deference to the pattern of the theme. Commented Jan 19 at 15:12
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    @AndyBonner look at the final cadence, in the next to last bar, where the dominant chord is B half diminished 7, with F natural in the alto and D natural, the non-raised leading tone, in the bass. This is truly weird if you try to analyze it as E minor but makes perfect sense in Phrygian mode. The Picardy third (one "c") is one of the most unremarkable things about the piece, but it certainly doesn't mean that it's in E minor.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 23 at 1:02

2 Answers 2

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Can someone help put this music and the overall collection of versets into historical perspective for me?

It seems likely that these are in the tradition of the French organ mass:

The French Organ Mass is a type of Low Mass that came into use during the Baroque era. Essentially it is a Low Mass with organ music playing throughout: part of the so-called alternatim practice.

History

The French Organ Mass is a classic example of the so-called alternatim practice, a term which indicates a type of liturgy when alternate sections of liturgical items (such as a Mass or a Magnificat) were performed by different forces. In organ alternatim practice—and so, in the French Organ Mass—the organist plays when texts would otherwise have been sung. The tradition stemmed from the antiphonal psalmody of the early Western church. In France, organ playing was regulated by printed "ceremonials", which specified precisely when the organist should play. The surviving ceremonials are all similar in outline, but differ widely in details. A typical organ Mass comprised versets for the ordinary of the Mass except for the Credo (which was to be sung in its entirety).

One of the most important extant ceremonials was written in 1662 and regulated the diocese of Paris. According to this ceremonial, [...]. The Sanctus begins with an organ verse and proceeds in any of the following three ways:

  • the Benedictus is substituted with an organ verset, and then a second organ solo accompanies the Elevation
  • the Benedictus is sung, and then the organist accompanies the Elevation
  • a single organ verset covers both the Benedictus (instead of the singing) and the following Elevation

And so on, including

Altogether, an average Mass would comprise about 20 versets.

You ask:

Are the three consecutive dissonances really as strange as they seem to me?

Yes; as Aaron's answer notes, the second is an error; it isn't an augmented sixth but a major sixth. After correcting this error, it's not so strange (and it's no longer three consecutive dissonances).

How would this collection have been used by musicians? Each verset is very, very short. Hardly the stuff for a concert. I thought maybe they would be used like preludes or transitions between parts of a Church service.

Indeed. See above.

Is it correct to say this piece on E is in phrygian mode? There is the "flat" ^2 degree and the tonic chord is played major at the end, which seem like important identifiers of phrygian mode.

Yes. As noted at the beginning of the question, the pieces are organized by "old church tones," so the only conclusion to be drawn for a piece ending on E with an empty key signature is that it's in Phrygian mode . (Note that the presence of accidentals in modal music is entirely normal in this period; it was only later that "modal" came to imply "diatonic" as well. But even with the liberal use of F♯ in the piece, the final cadence uses F♮, preserving the Phrygian character.)

The other versets on E have similar harmony, and I seem to notice a lot of augmented triads. Are augmented triads a feature of phrygian mode?

I'm not familiar enough with the style to comment offhand, but scanning the piece in question, I note that the downbeat of measure 4 is a 5-6 suspension over a III chord with the root in the alto and the third in the bass, but with the fifth being raised as it is the leading tone. It seems very idiomatic and would surely fit as well in Phrygian as it does in Dorian and subsequently in minor-key tonal music. At the fifth quarter of the measure is an augmented triad that arises as a (♭)6-5 suspension, also not entirely out of place in minor-key tonal music. So yes, it's a bit weird because everything fits together a bit differently from "standard" minor-key music, and yes, that could make augmented triads more common, or at least more prominent, but I can't say whether that is generally characteristic of chromatic harmonies in the Phrygian mode. But since modal music was becoming less common as chromaticism of this sort was becoming more common, it's perhaps unsurprising that my fairly brief search for another example was unsuccessful.

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  • This is very helpful. I need to look up some of the works cited in the wiki page. I don't have any particular interest in playing a Mass, but I would like to know what the interaction of text and organ music sounds like. Commented Jan 23 at 14:40
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I can clear up a portion of the problem: the seeming A6 in m. 3 is an error in the score. The F natural should be an F sharp. Here is the corresponding portion from the first edition:

mm. 1–3

FWIW, that note is transcribed correctly in John Phelan's Creative Commons edition (on IMSLP).

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  • Yes, there is another error in measure 5 3rd beat RH 2nd voice, the F# should have been F. The performance here follows John Phelan's score. Commented Jan 23 at 1:38
  • Thanks for spotting those two errors. Now I worry about the edition I chose to print. I should probably compare the phrygian section of my Adler edition against Phelan/first editions and look for other errors. So far the major/minor pieces sound normal to me, but the phrygian stuff is unusual, and it's hard to tell what is an error. Commented Jan 23 at 14:56

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