It is well known (since Fetis) that the first appearance of the unprepared seventh in the dominant seventh chord is in Monteverdi's madrigal "Cruda amarilli". That sets the origin of this chord as a indepent harmony.

However, I've been looking for earlier examples of the use of this chord before this piece and I cannot find many. More specifically, I'm looking for examples of this sonority whether the seventh appears prepared as a suspension or is a passing tone. I have studied thoroughly the music of the Renaissance (up to 1530 aprox.) and I have not found any example. Probably it appeared in the italian madrigal of mid XVIth century, but I'm not sure.

I know that it makes no sense calling such aggregates "dominant sevenths", and that it is also totally un-historical. However, this sonority must have had an origin before its use spread among the composers.

This question is somehow similar, but the answers did not clarify it.

Thanks a lot

  • “this sonority must have had an origin before its use spread among the composers” - Is it true that it must have had an origin before the extant examples? Second point, if it did have an origin before the extant examples, it’s entirely possible it was used in popular music that was never written down, so we can never be certain where it truly came from. Apr 11 at 16:43
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    "The music from which we make history, the written tradition of music, may be likened to the visible tip of an iceberg, most of which is submerged and invisible. The visible tip certainly merits our attention, because it is all that remains of the past and because it represents the most consciously elaborated portion, but in our assessments we should always keep in mind the seven-eighths of the iceberg that remain submerged: the music of the unwritten tradition." Apr 11 at 17:13
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    Cruda amarilli being from 1605. Apr 11 at 22:38
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    Is it "cannot find many" or "I have not found any example?" I don't mean to knit-pick, but what are we really looking for? Additional examples? At least one? Usually, if you look long and hard enough you can find stray examples of nearly anything. Also, do you want complete four voices, or incomplete examples, like no chordal fifth? Apr 11 at 22:48
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    @MichaelCurtis you've never had head lice, I presume, nor cared for anyone who has?
    – phoog
    Apr 12 at 6:26

2 Answers 2


A few years ago I stumbled on a surprising (to me, at least) example in Wilbye's "Draw on Sweet Night", which if I recall is also unprepared. It was published in 1598, so not a lot earlier than "Cruda Amarilli," but earlier nonetheless. If I'm not mistaken this disproves the assertion that Monteverdi's was the first unprepared dominant seventh.

Many years ago, I was struck by the many major seventh chords in Tallis's "In jejunio et fletu" (published in 1575). These are properly prepared, of course. There's also one in "Spem in alium" (1571). It's hard to imagine that he didn't pop out a dominant seventh chord at least once.

If you include instances where the seventh is present only in passing, you may be hard pressed to find the earliest example, as this is very common. It arises for example when there is essentially a V-I cadence and one part has a descending scale from ^5 to ^1 or ^7 to ^3 or any of several other possibilities. There is an example in Josquin's famous "Ave Maria ... virgo serena" (published 1502) but I imagine you will be able to find earlier examples if you look. Since you mention Josquin in the comments, I suppose you are aware of this move and that it doesn't meet your criteria for some reason. If so, can you edit the question to specify?

Dates taken from the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL). I will try to do some more thorough research and expand this answer in the next few days.

There are a couple of spots in Perotin's "Sederunt principes" (1170) where the cantus firmus is on G and the other voices have F and B. I don't see one with a D, but surely this is of interest nonetheless.

  • This is a great answer; pretty much what I was looking for. I'll wait for your edit to mark it as answered :)The piece by Wilbye is in fact full of dominant sevenths as passing tones. I cannot find however the unprepared one. "In jejunio et fletu" has also a few dominant sevenths as passing tones. I still cannot find an instance of the seventh on the accented beat, as a suspension; do you have some other pieces in mind? And finally, regarding the Sederunt, it's a style way too different to the one of the late Renaissance in terms of its overall sonority, son a dom7 is not that characteristic.
    – Pablo
    Apr 12 at 10:15
  • @Pablo the unprepared seventh in the Wilbye is a C in the fifth voice on the second syllable of "melancholy." The first syllable of that word is an A over a bass F sharp. The fifth voice moves from A to C as the bass moves from F sharp to D. There's no C over the F sharp (the first half is F#-A-E-G-A and the second half is F#A-D-G-A). The first time I heard it I thought, "where did this barbershop come from?!" It's in the middle of a dense passage of double suspensions with pairs of parts in parallel contrary motion, and the dominant seventh sonority just jumped out at me from that texture.
    – phoog
    Apr 12 at 11:10
  • "I still cannot find an instance of the seventh on the accented beat, as a suspension": doesn't "suspension" imply preparation? There are several accented prepared sevenths in the Wilbye, including on the A7 following the G or Em/G that follows the D7 mentioned in the answer. Which seventh in Cruda Amarilli did Fétis have in mind? I'm a bit less clear now on what precise phenomenon you're seeking examples of than I was before.
    – phoog
    Apr 12 at 11:12
  • You are right; I totally overlooked that spot. That's excatly the kind of example I was looking for. In any case, researching about this piece, I've found that it was published in 1609, while Cruda amarilli was published in 1603. Do you recall any earlier example of the suspension type? BTW, the spot where the unprepared dom seventh (actually, also a ninth) appears in Cruda amarilli is at the end of the first phrase, right on the "Ahi lasso"
    – Pablo
    Apr 12 at 13:41
  • A few examples from scores, if they're standard notation, would be nice for this answer :-) Apr 13 at 18:02

I don't know if you want to count example like the one below. It has a "dominant" seventh chord, but it is broken up rhythmically. Found in Dufay and His Contemporaries, which the cover page says ranges from date 1400 to 1440.

5. Vince con lena (3 voices, Dominus Bartolomeus de Bononia prior)

The starting to show clefs, key signature, etc.

enter image description here

Continuing with the keyboard reduction for the chord...

enter image description here

Obviously it isn't a functional dominant seventh chord, but I understand we are looking for the sonority M3, P5, m7 above a bass. We get the bass with M3 and m7 on beat 8 with the P5 coming on beat 9. I understand the F4 and D4 to be embellishments of the E4 and the chord would probably be analyzed as Em in first inversion, but the characteristic sound of a dominant seventh chord seem pretty clear to me, because the B♮3 and F4 over the G3 bass are on the beat.

I admit this is cherry picking. A quick scan of the score shows a pretty obvious intent to avoid our modern sense of a dominant seventh chord. But the OP seems to be specifically allow for this kind of incidental, passing, etc. type occurrences.

Some additional examples are in Orgel oder Instrument Tabulatur (Ammerbach, Elias Nikolaus) from 1571 (according to IMSLP.) In that collection the dominant seventh is used many times in final cadences. A few examples...

#106. Aliud Passamezo.

enter image description here

#115. Ein ander Galliart.

enter image description here

#134. Ein ander Dantz.

enter image description here

Obviously these are all the "passing" variety of seventh.

  • Thanks Michael; this is a very thorough answer. The examples from Ammerbach are very interesting because they are exactly from the years that I am interested in (second half XVI century) and they use the dominant seventh as a passing tone. However, It would be awesome to find examples of an accented dominant seventh from around that time, obviously prepared and resolved tipically 7-6-5.
    – Pablo
    Apr 16 at 9:25
  • I gathered some ancient music from IMSLP, about 150 pages, and printed it up in spiral binding, both to play for enjoyment and for this kind of harmonic study. It's fun to find the unusual harmonic moments. Apr 16 at 20:56

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