For those who do not know, the double leading tone cadence was perhaps the single defining characteristic of Ars Nova. Earlier music styles used much simpler cadences (movement by 3rds, 4ths and 5ths was very common). Ars Nova was arguably the first style of music to popularize resolving to the tonic by a half-tone.

Because triadic music had not yet been invented during this period, it doesn't make much sense to analyze the cadence using any modern notational system. However, for a song in the key of C, it is reasonable to represent the cadence as Bm/D | C5. Other variants of the cadence may exist, but this is the one I am most interested in.


When is the earliest-known use of a double leading tone cadence?

Scholarly consensus seems to indicate that Ars Nova began somewhere roughly around 1300 to 1320, which means I can probably rule out any song composed earlier than the 14th century.

Here are three possible contenders to the claim:

  • Guillaume de Machaut - He is well-known for penning Messe de Nostre Dame, which does indeed contain a double leading tone cadence, and is probably one of his earlier works. We cannot say for certain though.
  • Francesco Landini - Born 25 years later than Machaut, so this puts him at an immediate disadvantage. He is included however because his use of the cadence appears to be much more prominent than Machaut's. This may indicate that he has more familiarity with the cadence, which lends to an (unlikely) theory that he may have penned some earlier compositions which were lost to time.
  • The composer(s) for Roman de Fauvel - Since it can be dated as early as 1310 AD, this would likely predate any compositions by Machaut (and Landini for sure). However, I cannot find any references indicating whether or not the songs make use of double leading tone cadences. Perhaps someone with a better ear than me can verify?

The double leading-tone cadence is certainly not the "single defining characteristic" of Ars Nova.

As to the chronology, Philippe de Vitry (born before Machaut, and one of the "inventors" of Ars Nova, to whom the eponymous treatise "ars nova" is ascribed) used double leading-tones in his isorhythmic motets. See, for example, the end of Tuba sacrae/In arboris/Virgo Sum.

However, double leading-tones were in use even before Ars Nova. You would have to go through the repertoire or secondary literature carefully to find the earliest instance. But as an example from the 13th century, see the end of the motet L'autre jour/Au tens pascour/In seculum from the Bamberg Codex. (It's an example in Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music, Vol. 1, p. 222-224). On the other hand, this example has E and B (musica recta found on the F-Lydian scale) as leading-tones, so it doesn't count if you only consider subsemitonia which are "sharpened" by way of music ficta as leading-tones.

Incidentally, double leading-tones in cadences with suspension (the ones that sound most striking to modern ears) appear a lot later.

  • Wow, it appears it was wrong on multiple counts - thanks for clearing this up! Most of the background in my question was learned through talking with others, but clearly I should get into the books a little more – Ryan Sep 15 '14 at 20:26

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