For example, "Tiento de 5° tono" - The fifth tone? Mixolydian? I'm not sure about whether "tono" refers to a scale mode because the music is scattered with accidentals that don't seem to follow the alleged scale mode.

Iberian organ works aren't published with the key signatures I'm used to (in the title) as Bach's or Buxtehude's. The titles often indicate tone, which I cannot, for the life of me figure out, and works that are in the same tone have different key signatures. There is very little info in English on this, so is there someone who can "decrypt" this aspect of the music of Cabanilles, Correa de Araujo, et. al.?


As suspected by alephzero, the word "tono" (in Spanish) or "tom" (in Portuguese) refers in this context to the "church modes", i.e. the Gregorian modes of the plainchant tradition.

In The Evolution of Organ Music in the 17th Century: A Study of European Styles, John R. Shannon describes Musical Flowers for keyboard instrument and harp, the chef d'ouvre of the Portuguese composer Manuel Rodriguez Coelho published in 1620, as "... a well-organized anthology containing the following: twenty-four tentos, three each of the eight church modes;[...]" (p.130).

The tentos in the collection are named in succession "First tento of the first tone", "Second tento of the first tone", etc up to "Third tento of the eight tone" (the scores are available on line here).

The eight tones would be the 4 authentic and 4 plagal Gregorian or church modes, but as the French Baroque Organ Music and the Eight Church Tones paper referenced by alephzero points out, "in many pieces the tonal structures or keys seem to bear little relationship to those of corresponding plainsong tones". For example, the practice of applying a G minor "key signature" to pieces in the second tone is present in Coelho's work:

coelho ("IV. First tento of the second tone")

As well as different keys (e.g. D major) for the seventh tone (although not adopted as a "key signature", the accidentals place the piece clearly in that tonality):

enter image description here ("XIX. First tento of the seventh tone")

So judging by the example of Coelho's work ("the first monument of 17th-century Iberian keyboard music" according to Shannon), there seems to be great consistency between Iberian practice and that described in the paper about French Baroque organ music.

  • I haven't read alphazero's reference yet, in full. But it seems like composers follow the tone in their works' titles for the most part. I see the C/C# and F/F# in XIX above which sort of throw me off. It almost seems like the tone indicated in the title is then somewhat arbitrary. – Mickael Caruso May 25 '16 at 18:49
  • I would be cautious trying to force a description of these pieces in terms of modern "keys". I'm more familiar with early English keyboard music, but pieces often meander between what we would now describe as closely related keys, and treat all 12 notes of an unequal-temperament scale (e.g. quarter-comma meantone) with almost equal importance. You can see that in the Coelho example with the F and C naturals and sharps. Sharps tend to be used in ascending passages and naturals in descending, as in the modern melodic minor scale, but not restricted to the 6th and 7th degrees of one fixed "key". – user19146 May 25 '16 at 20:06

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