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Vincenzo Galilei mastered the lute at a young age, studied the music of the Turks and Moors, researched ancient Greek music, contributed to the Florentine Camerata -- and fathered an illustrous if ill-fated son, the scientist and philosopher. Yet his compositions, mentioned in many textbooks on music, are rarely if ever heard today.
Vincenzo Galilei was born in Santa Maria a Monte, near Florence, about 1520 (or possibly later). At an early age, he attracted the attention of patrons of music, such as Bernardetto de Medici and Giovanni Bardi by his fine fine command of the lute. With Bardi's support he was enabled to devote himself to serious study of the theory of music, studying with Zarlino in Venice and travelling to learn about the music of the Turks and Moors.
Through his correspondence over some 10 years with Girolamo Mei (the author of a treatise on ancient music, published posthumously in an abridged version in 1602) we have our present-day knowledge of Greek music. Vincenzo's study of ancient Greek music provided him with a basis for his experiments in the new musical style and let to the writing of his Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna (1591), in which he attacks the elaborate polyphonic style of the sixteenth century. His activities were an important contribution to the efforts of the Florentine Camerata, the circle of musicians and amateurs that invented the new stile recitativo that finally led to the birth of opera.
Galilei was highly innovative in all aspects of musicianship. He was amongst the first to explore the emerging key system in his compositions which he favoured over the church modes in use at that time. He recognized the superiority of equal tempered tuning and compiled a codex of pieces illustrating the use of all 24 major and minor keys as early as 1584. His essays on acoustics anticipate several of the findings about the nature of sound made by his most famous son. In particular he was the first to show that the ratio of an interval was proportional to string lengths but varied as the square of the tension applied to the strings and as the cubes of volumes of air.
In 1562, Vincenzo Galilei settled in Pisa where he married into one of the noble families. During his time in Pisa, the first of his six or seven children was born in 1564, namely his son Galileo Galilei. In 1572 he returned to Florence where he died in 1591. Of his children, two were musicians both of whom composed virtuoso works for the lute, namely Michelangelo Galilei and Pietro Paolo Galilei.
In 1584, Vincezo published the second edition of his Fronimo Dialogo in Venice with the subtitle: On the art of tabulating music well and playing it correctly, on string as well as wind instruments, especially the lute His examples are all in the tablature of the time which fixed only the pitch, but not their duration or the voice they belong to. None of this is a problem on the lute, an unusual wind instrument on which the notes are generally allowed to sound for as long as possible. However, to transcribe them for blown (as distinct from plucked) wind instruments (an obvious undertaking, given the subtitle) one must discern the order in the mass of notes, grouping them in voices that progress logically while employing only the notes that are there.
Galilei's Ricercares illustrate the uses of the 12 modes in use by the musicians of his day as follows:
Musical scales consist of notes ascending (or descending) in a pattern of intervals. In the case of the chromatic scale, it is a straight progression of semitones (half-steps), the basic unit of musical interval in regular use in Western music. The major scale is an irregular combination of semitones and tones (whole steps) which, as you may have supposed, are equal to two semitones (half-tones). The sequence runs as follows, where T denotes a tone, and S a semitone: T T S T T T S. If you play the white notes of a piano in order, beginning with C, you will find that it sounds musical and "right". There are many other such scales, of course. The minor scale, for example, consists of notes arranged thus: T S T T S T T. If you play the white notes of the piano beginning with A, you will be playing the natural minor scale, also known as the Aeolian scale. The major and minor scales, consisting of seven notes each, are known collectively as the diatonic scale, as opposed to the twelve-note chromatic scale.
During the Medieval and Renaissance periods of Western music the major and minor scales as we know them today were not recognized as such by theorists or by composers who relied instead on a system of so-called modes each ending on the notes D, E, F and G. Each of these modes could take one of two forms, the authentic form which lay between the tonic and its octave, and the plagal form which lay between the dominant and its octave, thus:
Tonic Finalis Mode D D Dorian A D Hypodorian E E Phrygian B E Hypophrygian F F Lydian C F Hypolydian G G Mixolydian D G Hypomixolydian
Although the modes were basically diatonic the note B was often flattened in order to avoid the tritone, three consecutive steps of a tone (whole note) making up an augmented fourth, namely F to B, the most awkward interval to sing and therefore one that is carefully avoided either directly or in outline in most of the music of the period with which we are concerned. The same goes for its inversion, the diminished fifth, to a rather lesser extent.
Indeed among the various traits that mark the period in which Galilei lived is the increased prominence accorded to what we would call the major and natural minor modes. These had, of course, been used long before -- with the B consistently flattened -- as variants of the Lydian (or Hypolydian) and Dorian (or Hypodorian) modes. But the theorists did not recognize these variants as independent modes until the Swiss, Glareanus published his Dodecachordon (1547). In illustrating that treatise he drew heavily on the "new" modes as well as on composers of the preceding generation. Wishing to graft his additions on to the old ecclesiastical system with its grouping of eight modes into four authentic-plagal pairs, Glareanus divided major and minor each into such a pair. Natural minor becomes Aeolian and Hypoaeolian (Modes 9 and 10); major becomes Ionian and Hypoionian (Modes 11 and 12). The former pair has its final on A, the latter on C. The basic ambitus of each authentic mode, of course, extends an octave upward from its final; that of each plagal mode, an octave from the fourth below its final.
Thus to the eight so-called "ecclesiastical" modes tabulated above were added the following:
Tonic Finalis Mode A A Aeolian E A Hypoaeolian C C Ionian G C Hypoionian
In point of fact, Aeolian and Ionian modes had long been in use as transposed forms of the Dorian and Lydian modes respectively to which B flat had been added. For example, Dorian mode with B flat is the same, intervallically, as the Aeolian mode (which is the same the descending form of our harmonic minor scale.
The modes gradually evolved over a period of some 500 years, into the major and minor scales that we know today as the basis of Western European music. The pure diatonic modes seem to be completely satisfying only when they are used for unaccompanied meody -- plainsong or folk-song, for instance.
As soon as voices are combined together the ear finds certain progressions more satisfactory than others, and in particular a strong cadence is felt to be the most natural way of closing a musical sentence. Thus it was perhaps inevitable that cadential fomulae should be adopted involving the use of a leading note (i.e. a note one semitone below the tonic). Since this note is not present in all the modes, the seventh degree of the scale is sometimes sharpened by means of an accidental. This sharpening of the leading note at cadences was practiced quite early in the history of polyphony. At first forbidden by the ecclesiastical theorists on the grounds that it obscured the distinctive qualities of the individual modes, it was well understaood that although the composer conformed in theory and wrote without accidentals, the singer supplied them wherever necessary. It was for this reason that the accidentals were known as musica ficta or musical falsa. These were not notated in the manuscript but supplied by the performers.
Although Glareanus' system of a dozen modes was widely accepted, some theorists continued to feel that the eight-mode system sufficed. Like them, Glareanus realised that the old system, by permitting the flattening of B in the Dorian and Lydian pairs provided for the intevallic configuration of the Aeolian and Ionian pairs. But the presence or absence of the flat actually changed the mode, and Glareanus' tabulation set up an independent modal pair for each intervallic configuration.
The flattening of B in the Mixolydian pair merely produced normal Dorian and Hypodorian transposed. The B, of course was not flattened in the Phrygian pair.
Glareanus mentions hypothetical modes (13 and 14) on B, but dismisses them as impractical since their scales cannot, like those of the other modes, be divided into a perfect fifth plus a perfect fourth, or the reverse. These are now known as the Locrian and Hypolocrian modes, but Glareanus called them the Hyperaeolian and Hyperphrygian.
In the event, it is plain that in polyphony only five modes mattered for practical purposes. Glareanus himself emphasises that the Lydian pair, as modified into Ionian and Hypoionian, has almost completely suplanted the unmodified pair. Moreover, the distinction between an authentic mode and its plagal is, in polyphony, an academic one. This leaves, as the really fundamental modes of Late Renaissance polyphony, the Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Ionian. But actually, Glareanus does not deal so much with the mode of a polyphonic complex as with the modes of its individual voices. He realised that in such a complex the different ranges of adjacent voices will frequently tend to place them in different modes, this rather often being the authentic and plagal forms of the same pair.
To bring the pitch of the modes into a different relationship with the "tessitura" (or middle compass) of the voice, modes can be raised or lowered in pitch, most usefully by means of a key signature of one flat. The modes are then described as "transposed Dorian", "transposed Phrygian", etc. Any further alterations of pitch were made simply by begining a few semitones higher or lower.
Inflexions of the note were notated as B durum or quadratum ('hard', 'square') and B mollum or rotundum ('soft', 'round'), respectively. the round form has remained as a letter b , and its use to flatten a note was extended later to all other notes of the scale; the square form turned itself into #, and thence into our signs for a 'natural' note (including h). Hence the present German terminology of B = B flat and H = B natural.
Thus mode 1 (Dorian) could be D authentic in cantus durus with b natural, or G authentic in cantus mollis with b flat.
In the original, the 12 ricercari per b-quadratum of Galilei are followed by twelve more per b-rotundatum, that is at a different tessitura.
We may divide the five modes in general use into two categories, namely Major modes (Ionian, Mixolydian) and Minor modes (Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian):
The Ionian mode bears the closest resemblance to the diatonic C major scale; however, the free use of accidentals (in particular B flat) makes the actual sound of the mode, as opposed to the simple scale, quite distinct
The Mixolydian mode is similar to the Ionian, since an F sharp will invariably be used at the cadence. But if a B flat is used there may occur an alternation between major and minor tonic chords which is characteristic of the mode.
The Dorian mode is one of the most frequently used. It takes C sharp at cadences, and if as well a B flat is used it has a great similarity with the Aeolian mode.
The Aeolian mode takes a G sharp at cadences, and has many characteristics in common with the modern minor scale. It does not normally use B flat.
The Phrygian mode has a strong and unique personality; since we do not normally sharpen more than one note in a chord in this style, there is no dominant chord available, and hence no need for a leading note. It makes either a plagal cadence, or the so-called "Phrygian cadence".
To sum up, then, we have five modes of practical use in Renaissance polyphony, namely Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Ionian. The accidentals which occur in them are C sharp, F sharp, G sharp, and B flat. These accidentals may occur freely in any one mode, forming perfect, plagal and Phrygian cadences.
Broadly speaking, there is a tendencey to cadence more often on the dominant than elsewhere, where this is possible (the Aeolian cannot, lacking a supertonic, and the Phrygian cannot, lacking a dominant; both substitute the the cadence on the subdominant). The minor modes also tend to make fairly frequent use of the mediant close, and the major modes of the submediant. Nevertheless, it is the rich variety of possible cadences that makes the modal system so effective an alternative to the diatonic-modulating system of more recent periods.
In addition to the above, the so-called "Tierce de Picardie" is posible at most closes, and all but obligatory at the final close, as the slight discordance of a minor third was considered an unsatisfactory end to a piece. A bare perfect consonance was preferred. An example can be heard at the final cadence of Galilei's Ricercare per tuono uno.
Like their classical and medieval counterparts, renaissance musical theorists associated each mode with a specific 'ethos' or mood, much as we today tend to associate music in minor keys with sadness or gravity and that in major keys with happiness and lightheartedness. Thus Adam Gumpelzhaimer (1559-1625), in his Compendium musicae latino germanicum (1595) enumerated the 12 modes as follows:
The teaching of 19th-century theory began with the diatonic major and minor scales as their didactic foundation. None-the-less, there were some experiments with modes to evoke a Gothic atmosphere. Beethoven's String Quartet op. 132 set a prayerful mood by including a four-part chorale 'in the Lydian mode'. And the growing fashion for folk-song eventually led to an interest in exotic scales which could be made to generate novel harmonies such as those in Chopin's mazurkas, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies.
In the 20th-century many composers have been drawn to folk song as a spring-board for an exploration of the modes in their own compositions, amongst them Percy Grainger, Vaughan Williams and Bella Bartok spring readily to mind.
The modes have been explored by exponents of modern jazz, notably Dizzie Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Keith Jarrat. For an extended discussion of this see A Jazz Improvisation Primer by Marc Sabatella.