Tuesday 7 January 2020

17th century harmony - Thomas Ravenscroft's Three Country dances in One

First of all listen to the piece sung by a favourite group - The City Waites (I've posted this before)


This is a kind of 'round' (like Three Blind Mice, a version of which was also published by Ravenscroft ). This one is much longer and more sophisticated than our usual children's ones - having four separate 32 bar melodies that can be sung separately or together.

What I like very much about this piece is the harmony of the second half of the verses - bars 17-32 - perhaps especially 22-24, which is gorgeous and very 17th century; the kind of harmony that you don't get before or after this time, which which is just delightful.

(BTW I don't understand why this is three, rather than four, country dances in one...) 

If anyone can explain - musically - how this kind of effect is obtained, I'd be pleased to hear; because I can't work it out. (There is loads of it here by Thomas Tomkins; one of the greatest pieces ever written IMO.)

I've always assumed it was an harmonic 'movement', produced by contrapuntal voices, that was later ruled-out as insufficiently smooth and homogeneous (it jumps-out of the texture) - rather like the ban on parallel-moving, open-fifths, despite that these were the first foundation of Western harmony. 

If you want to see what is going on, here is a version that shows a musical score of the separate vocal lines.

Note: The synchronicity fairies have been at work, since Frank Berger has also today published some 17th century music - although his example is pretty Scheidt.


Francis Berger said...

The seventeenth century must be in the air or something. In any case, I sadly lack the musical knowledge required to help answer your question, but I have to say, these country dances are definitely not Scheidt; in fact, I find them immensely enjoyable. All three, or is it four? of them.

Bruce Charlton said...

A correspondent writes (Thanks for this):

"The distinctive harmonic effect in bars 23-24 is known as a Picadry Third' ('tierce de Picardie)' - the temporary use of the major mode in an otherwise minor-key piece, often marking end of a section or whole piece. More information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picardy_third. In the Ravenscroft, the key is (more or less) E minor, but the phrase from 17-24 ends with an E major chord (G#s in the soprano instead of the expected G natural)."

So that's at least a part of it - is anything else going on too?