Posted in Vocal Polyphony

Renaissance Motets

This is a list of renaissance motets that I’ve listened to. I’ve loved this genre ever since my early studies of polyphony several years ago, so I really enjoyed making this list.


Fig. 1. The Delphic Sibyl by Michelangelo

Orlando di Lassus:

Prophetiae Sibyllarum

I was quite surprised with this series of twelve motets, because until now, I only studied Palestrina’s style, and not musica reservata. Although the term is quite debated, in case of Lassus, it contains expressive setting of text and chromaticism. Indeed, Prophetiae Sibyllarum are an excellent example of this, being extremely chromatic, which we already see from the introduction, named Carmina Chromatico. The introduction and motets also modulate very often, which destabilizes the tonal centre, what Lowinsky calls “triadic atonality”. The series also anticipates Gesualdo and some progressions even reminded me of the 20th century music. The subject of the motets are twelve prophesies, each told by a different Sibyl (Fig. 1) – the ancient oracles, which is initially how I came upon this piece by Lassus in the first place. Continue reading “Renaissance Motets”

Posted in Vocal Polyphony


This is a list of catches that I’ve listened to. Their overall form is much longer, and unlike rounds, they don’t have folk and traditional origins. Instead, they are written by composers for entertainment, usually with humorous and bawdy intent in mind.

Henry Purcell – Once in Our Lives

A drinking song, whose melody is in c minor. It may be structured as three separate musical sentences, although, in my opinion, the first two lines form a longer sentence or even a period. The rhythm is interesting, and the harmony formed is i – iv – V – i – V – i.

Michael Wise – A Catch on the Midnight Cats

I was quite amused that the cats can also be subjects for catches. The version I’ve listened to even had singers meow and purr, which made it more entertaining. The catch is in 3/4, written in g minor, modulating to the relative Bb major and returning, sometimes not so clearly between the two, as F# is only utilized twice to firmly establish g minor. The overall distance between the entrances of the voices is quite large, with the following voice beginning only after 16 bars. The melodic structure of one line is first, an eight-bar sentence in g minor, which modulates to Bb major and returns back to g minor, and similarly the second sentence, also eight bars long.

Harmony could look something like this, first sentence: Continue reading “Catches”

Posted in Vocal Polyphony


This is a list of rounds I’ve listened to. You’ll notice that most don’t have authors, which is because of the traditional, folk roots of the rounds in general.

White sand and grey sand

This very easy and short round was given in the course material. It is written in 4/4 using whole and half notes, with very simple C major progression – I – ii – V – I. (Note that there are versions in other major keys.) The second 4 bars repeat the first 4, only a major third above, and then the last four bars close the melody. I should mention that what I found interesting about rounds in general is just reading about the lyrics. This tune in particular is about a street peddler who is trying to sell sand, which at the time when people used quill pens, was sprinkled on paper to absorb the extra ink. White sand was clean and new, while the grey sand was recycled.

Early to bed and early to rise

This one is based on the proverb “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” which is often associated with Benjamin Franklin. I couldn’t really find a vocal version online to listen to. While there are several instrumental versions, I found playing it on piano adequate enough. It is quite short, written in ¾ and mostly consisting of crochet, half and dotted half notes. The harmony is in F major with I – IV – V – I progression. The second sentence in the period is the repetition of the first, only a third lower, with a slight change in the second bar. More interestingly, there’s a kind of brief coda on the end. Continue reading “Rounds”