Sunday, March 30, 2008

141. Music of the Great Tradition -- 41:Hocket

My motto in dealing with fundamental issues such as similarity vs. difference; the superficial vs. the meaningful; what is likely, what is unlikely, etc.; is very simple: follow the evidence. In that spirit, let's continue our survey of various types of hocket, both Medieval and not, with the focus, this time, on listening.

Here are two clips from the CD Monastic Chant -- 12th & 13th C. European Sacred Music, as performed by the Hilliard Ensemble. First, from Hocquetus 'Mediolano' Sanctus. Second, from HoquetusMusicalisSciencia-SciencieLaudabili. In both cases, the hocketing is intermittent -- and relatively simple, with notes from a single melody alternating between the two upper voices. It's worth noting that in both cases the hocketed segments are melodically disjunct in a manner roughly consistent with P/B hocket. Moreover, as the Hilliard singers employ a remarkably pure headtone, this performance has a quality surprisingly close to P/B style yodeling.

Of special interest for several reasons is an anonymous three voice motet from the Montpellier Codex, dating from 13th Century France: Amor Potest. Here's how the opening looks (as transcribed by N. Nakamura, from the Maucamedus website):


While the opening is not (yet) hocketed, it exhibits at least three traits characteristic of both certain types of European "folk" polyphony and P/B: 1. The use of voice-exchange (stimmtauch), a device not unusual for Medieval polyphony (but common also in the oral traditions of both Europe and Africa), in which the highest part is alternately sung by each of the two voices, which regularly cross one another. Compare with stimmtauch as expressed in the Lithuanian sutartines Mano vainikas and Ko tu kad ber┼żeli. Continual part-crossing of this kind can produce resultant effects strikingly similar to those of hocket. 2. The design of the lowermost "tenor" part, continually repeating the same three notes to produce an ostinato effect, similar to both the lowermost pes of the Sumer canon and certain types of African polyphony, both vocal and instrumental. 3. The continual repetition, with variation, in the piece as a whole, characteristic of both "Old European" folk polyphony (viz. the above mentioned sutartines) and many types of African music generally.

The repetition becomes especially prominent in the concluding section, characterized by continuous interlocked hocketing in the two upper parts (reproduced here from the same source as above):


The following clip (from the CD set Music of the Gothic Era) begins just prior to the segment notated above): Amor Potest (conclusion).

In the light of everything we've been discussing thus far, especially Shai Burstyn's remarkably apt invocation of Giraldus Cambrensis (see below), it's difficult to see Amor Potest as other than either a transcription or adaptation of some sort of oral "folk" polyphony, more or less along the lines of the Sumer canon, only this time with the vernacular text completely replaced by a more acceptable one, in Latin. There is certainly very little trace of the learned (two syllables) in this work, with its many blatant voice leading "errors," obsessive repetition of brief motives, and continuous "run-on" phrasing, with no cadences whatsoever during the entire last section until the very end. The last two are especially interesting as they invoke not only the varied repetition and continuous vocalizing so characteristic of P/B, but also certain aspects of the practice of Leoninus and Perotinus, the two leading "learned" composers of 12th and 13th century Europe. Note also the tendency, found throughout this repertoire, to present hocketed segments without text, using only meaningless vocables, again remarkably close to Pygmy/Bushmen norms. So common was this practice in Medieval music that some scholars have simply assumed most hockets must have been intended for instruments alone.

Compare the ending of Amor Potest with the stimmtauch, hocket, repetition, "run-on" phrasing, nonsense vocables -- and yodeling -- to be heard in the conclusion of the Georgian work song already presented in an earlier post, as sung by the Rustavi Choir: Garuli Naduri. Compare also with an equally remarkable example from the opposite end of Europe, the coastal Algarve region of Portugal -- a traditional song sung by fishermen as they pull up their nets, characterized also by stimmtauch, hocket, repetition, vocables and continual, run-on phrasing: Leva-Leva. (From Smithsonian Folkways, Anthology of Portuguese Music, Vol. 1: Tras-Os-Montes and Vol. 2: Algarve.)

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