This is about the 6th's of the song "Quand je bois du vin clairet", a tourdion from 16th century's France by Pierre Attaingnant.

The song is in some kind of minor mode, but it is unclear to me and to others I've talked to if the sixths should be major or minor, or a mix.

Here is an example with all sixths major but on bar 3, tenors.

Here is another with all sixths being minor.

Here is yet an example (youtube), which sure sounds professional, with a mix.

Now I believe that performers are free to decide whichever they feel sounds good or practical and stick to that, but it would be interesting to know how it was meant to be at the time.

  1. I heard someone who heard someone (!) say that a minor mode with a low sixth was standard at that time in France, and that the sixth should therefore be minor. Is that so?
  2. The dorian mode gives a very medieval character, at least to our modern ears. I'm fully aware that this could be influenced by movies and not have any root in reality. Does it?
  3. Another unverified hypothesis is that the sixth of a minor mode is the fourth of the parallel major mode, and this fourth is very high pitched in some kind of natural temperament (I'm thinking of the natural horn, for example). Could it be correct to pitch the sixths somewhere in between today's minor and major?
  4. Is there another temperament that probably was used at the time for that song? In that case, which? Is a mix of two types of sixth possible within the song? I heard another credible version with a high seventh.
  5. The last youtube example gives credibility to the use of two types of sixths. Is it likely that this soundtrack does it right? Are there rules as to where to use a lowered or raised sixth?

In short: recordings, even good ones, don't seem to agree on the mode of song. This seems to imply there isn't one truth. I am trying to find out if there is one truth that is more true than the other truths.

1 Answer 1


As far as I know, there is no consensus (but lots of argument) among musicologists about the use of ficta for sixths in early Renaissance music. So I would agree that it's up to the musicians.

As far as a high sixth based on a natural (overtone) scale, I can't think of any plausible place low down enough in the overtone series to be playable that would yield anything like a high sixth and also have a perfect fifth above the tonic, so that theory seems unlikely.

I like the pure Dorian myself, with high sixths, but I admit it's just personal preference. You will have to decide for yourself, until such time as Pierre Attaingnant is available to ask.

  • About the overtone scale, I don't think it's the fifth that's the trouble? If the piece is in A minor, played with a horn in C, you'd get the perfect fifth (E), and the high pitched sixth (F... The fourth in the parallel major). The problem is the second, the B. That'd be a B flat on the horn instead.
    – Gauthier
    Oct 21, 2016 at 8:46
  • 1
    Yes, the horn in C, playing in A minor, would have a fifth at E and a funky high sixth at 11/8 (to C). But it wouldn't have a tonic: there's no A in a C overtone series. Oct 21, 2016 at 10:25

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