Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/350

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


334

��VOICES.

��chiefly used for Mixed Voices. In Compositions for Equal Voices, whether Acute, or Grave, the arrangement of the Clefs was more frequently dic- tated by the compass of the Voices, than by the transposition, or non transposition of the Modes.

The terms Cantus, Altus, Tenor, and Bassus, sufficed for Compositions written for any number of Voices. In the ' Missa Papae Marcelli,' and innumerable like Compositions, we find parts for Tenor I and II, and Bassus I and II. In these cases, the second Voice is always of exactly the same compass as the first ; and, instead of sing- ing constantly below it as it certainly would now sustains an equally important part, con- tinually repeating the same passages, and crossing above, or below, its fellow-part, without reserve.

Another common arrangement, in Compositions for more than four Voices, was to label the fifth Voice, Quintus, or Pars Quinta, and the sixth, Sextus, or Pars Sexta ; and this, without re- ference to the nature of the Voice : consequently, in old Part-Books, we constantly find, in the volume labelled Quintus, parts for Cantus, Altus, Tenor, and Bassus, all indiscriminately mingled together. But here, again, the arrangement was governed by a law as strict as that which regu- lated the conduct of Tenor or Bassus I and II. The Quintus and Sextus were exact duplicates of two other parts, with which they corresponded, throughout, both in compass and importance ; so that, in fact, it was a matter of absolute in- difference whether parts then associated were labelled Altus and Quintus, or, Altus I and Altus II. And the constant crossing of the parts, to which this arrangement gave rise, was used as a means of producing the most varied and beautiful effects. They used the device with unlimited freedom ; frequently making one Voice cross over two as in Palestrina's ' Missa brevis/ where the Altus crosses below the Tenor and Bassus, and sings the lowest part of the harmony. The following example will show the immense advantage derivable from the distribution of certain passages between two Voices of strongly contrasted timbre. ^ CANTUS.

�� � � �p

�In ex - eel - iU. lif

Al/TUS.

�r-XJ-^ ^3 ex eel - sis.

�:

�In ex - eel sis. In ex - eel - sis. TBNORE. _^> jo. g,

T~J r^ ..

� �z* | 1 In ex - eel - Us. In BASSUS.

� ex eel - sis.

� � ��In ex - eel - sis, in ex - eel - sis.

Crossing their Voices thus, the Polyphonic

Composers frequently wrote passages, which,

had the parts been arranged in the ordinary

manner, would have exhibited glaring cases of

��VOICES.

Consecutive Fifths and Octaves, but which, thanks to this device, enriched their harmonies with indescribable beauty. The practice how- ever died out with the School of Palestrina; and in modern Music the parts rarely cross, to any serious extent.

The opening of the i;th century witnessed a radical change in the distribution of Voices, as well as in all other matters connected with the Art of Composition. Except in Italy, artificial Soprani and Contralti were heard only at the Theatre. The beauty of the female Voice was universally recognised, both in its Soprano and Contralto registers; and cultivated with assiduity. In Germany, Boys were taught, as now, to sing both Soprano and Contralto parts, with equal success. In England, a different plan was adopted. After the Great Rebellion, the difficulty of obtain- ing Choir-Boys was so great, that Treble parts were either summarily dispensed with, or played, as a pis alter, upon Cornets. Adult Voices were, however, more easily attainable; and adult singers learned to execute Alto, and even low Treble parts, in Falsetto. And thus arose the cultiva- tion of the peculiar form of Voice now called the Counter-Tenor ; an unnatural register which still holds its ground in English Cathedrals, with a pertinacity which leads to the lamentable neglect, if not the absolute exclusion, of one of the most beautiful Voices in existence the true Boy Con- tralto. This sweeping change in the constitution of our Cathedral Choirs naturally led to a chanj

��Music written for them. In the Verse- Anthems of Humfrey, Wise, Blow, Purcell, and other Masters of the School of the Restoration, the Falsetto part, under its title of Counter-Tenor, holds a very important position indeed ; and still more prominent is the rdle accorded to it by Croft, Boyce, and other writers of a later generation. In truth, the new Voice, at first an unavoidable necessity, soon became the prevailing fashion ; and Music was written for it, even at the time when the Chapel Royal at Whitehall was graced with the most talented and accomplished staff of Choir-Boys on record. So general was the custom of confiding the Alto part to Counter-Tenor singers, that it was adopted, even at the ' Ora- torio Concerts' of the i8th century. The Alto parts in Handel's Choruses were sung chiefly, if not wholly, in Falsetto. It was not until 1773 that Dr. Arne first had the hardihood to employ female Voices in the Choruses of his Oratorio, 'Judith'; and it is doubtful whether, even then, they were entrusted with the Alto parts. Happily for Art, the value of the female Contralto is now no less freely recognised in England than in other countries; and it is only in Cathedral Choirs, and Choral Societies connected with them, that the Falsetto Counter-Tenor safely holds its ground. In Germany, the Falsetto Voice has always been held in very low estimation indeed ; while the true Boy-Contralto has been almost as exten- sively cultivated as the rich low tones of the deeper female register. 1 We have heard the > Spohr, on his first visit to this country, expressed the greatest

�� �