Chapter 9: The Rules Regarding the Placement of Consonances and Dissonances.

Although consonance is more pleasing to the ear than dissonance, dissonance serves and important purpose in musical composition: it makes the following consonance that much sweater by contrast. Thus, a good composer will allow dissonance into the composition, but only in well regulated places. (Tinctoris cautions against taking this line of reasoning to the extreme: a small sin in not permissible because it makes later good works better by contrast. However, he does allow small dissonances as part of musical ``figures of speech'' but forbids all dissonances of a long duration.)

In order to understand the places in which dissonance can fit, we must name the two minims of the semibreve. These are the systoli or down-beat [odd beats of the measure] and diastoli or up-beat [even beats of the measure] corresponding with the pulse of the blood through the veins. Similarly, each seminim of the minim may be named. As we will see below, dissonances may be freely entered on the diastolic minim by the passing tone, but dissonances may be entered on the systolic minim only by the use of the syncopated dissonance.

Dissonances must be brief, lasting no more than a minim in time. Thus a semibreve or breve which is dissonant for its entire length is not allowed. Dissonant minims and notes of smaller values are allowed by the following rules:

Passing Tones

The passing tone is the simplest rule allowing dissonances and the easiest to apply. In a sequence of notes proceeding by stepwise motion in time values of a minim or less [ a run], the notes which fall on the diastolic notes may be dissonant. Notes may not be dissonant if they fall on the systolic note, nor may dissonances be approached by a leap. Passing dissonances occur most frequently when one voice moves and the other remains stationary, although they can also occur when the two voices move in contrary motion. Gafurius allows that passing dissonances may occur on the systolic beats, but only rarely.

There are two common occurrences, as shown in the following examples. In Example 1, the second and fourth minims [quarter-notes] are diastolic and hence a dissonance is allowed on each, although only the second minim is dissonant. In Example 2, the phrase begins with an augmented semibreve, and thus the first and third minims [quarter-notes] are systolic and allowed to be dissonant.

Example of Passing and Neighbor tones (1,2 &3)

Neighboring Tones

Neighboring tones are like passing tones except that the melody reverses direction and returns to the previous consonance. These may be dissonant, but again they must occur on the diastolic notes. Note that although neighboring tone dissonances are allowed they are not common in the early Sixteenth Century. In particular, Gafurius states that a neighboring dissonance does not cancel the rule prohibiting two perfect consonances in a row.

Example 3 shows a typical use of the neighboring tone. The second minim [quarter note] is a dissonant neighboring tone.

Syncopated Dissonances

The syncopated dissonance is the most elegant of the dissonances, but it requires careful preparation and some skill to master. A syncopated dissonance occurs when the second half (minim) of a syncopated semibreve is dissonant. This dissonance will hence occur on the systolic minim.

A syncopated dissonance requires three steps: the preparation, the suspension and the resolution. Each step occurs on its own minim. The preparation happens on a diastolic (even numbered) minim. Here one of the voices sounds the syncopated semibreve while the second voice sounds a consonant note. On the next minim, the suspension the second voice moves (usually by a step) to strike a dissonant note. On the third minim, the resolution, the first voice moves by a step to to bring the voices once again into consonance.

Examples of Suspensions (Examples 4 and 5)

Example 4 shows a typical syncopated dissonance. In this example, the semibreve in the descant is syncopated and its second minim is dissonant. When the semibreve in the descant sounds against the first semibreve in bass, the result is a consonance, the preparation. When the bass moves to the second semibreve, the result is the suspended dissonance. When the descant moves to the final minim, the resolution, the voices are once more in harmony.

It is possible chain a number of syncopated dissonances together, so that the resolution of the previous suspension is the prepartion of the next (Example 5). The syncopated dissonances is especially common at a cadence, where a dissonance of a 7th is resolved to a major sixth which then proceeds to the octave. Chapter 12 describes cadences at some length.

The syncopated dissonance is a most excellent device and is well loved by all the famous composers. Isaac uses it freely among the upper voices of his La Spagna. To create a suspension with the basse dance tenor, the suspension must come at the first minim of any breve of the tenor. Ortiz uses such a syncopated dissonance for the penultimate note of the tenor, as part of the final cadences for his recercada.

Perfect meters

If the natural meter of the piece groups notes into a measure of three beats (either because of perfect tempus or prolation or because of the tripling of the value of a note) rather than two beats, which are the systolic and diastolic beats becomes unclear. Tinctoris states that either the first or the third beat in a measure must be consonant, meaning that either (1) passing dissonances are allowed on the second and third beats (in which case the first beat must be consonant), and (2) syncopated dissonances are allowed on the first beat (in which case the third of the previous measure must be consonant for the preparation of the suspension). Thus the first beat is the systolic one and the second and third are diastolic.

Because the largest dissonance which is allowed is the minim, this rule applys in basse dance music only when the countertenor part makes a hemiola into imperfect time and perfect prolation. In that case, the first and fourth minims are systolic and the others are diastolic. In the normal perfect time and imperfect prolation, the first, third and fifth minims are systolic and the second, fourth and sixth minims are diastolic.

Onward to: Chapter 10: The Rules Regarding the Placement of Perfect Consonances

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