A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Intonation

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INTONATION (Lat. Intonatio). I. The initial phrase of a Plain Chaunt melody: usually sung, either by the Officiating Priest, alone, or, by one, two, or four leading Choristers. Some of the most important Intonations in general use are those proper to the Gregorian Tones. Though differing widely in character and expression, these venerable Chaunts are all constructed upon the same general principle, and all exhibit the same well-marked combination of four distinct elements—the Intonation, the Reciting-Note, the Mediation, and the Cadence. The first of these, with which alone we are now concerned, consists of a few simple notes, leading upwards—except in one peculiar and somewhat abnormal case—to the Dominant of the Psalm about to be sung, and thus connecting it with its proper Antiphon. [See Antiphon.] Now, as each Mode has a fixed Dominant upon which the greater part of every Psalm is recited, it follows, that each Tone must also have a fixed Intonation, to lead up to that note: and this principle is so far carried out that two Tones, having a common Reciting-Note, have generally, though not always, a common Intonation—as in the case of Tones I and VI, III and VIII. This rule, however, is broken, in the case of Tone IV; which, though its Reciting Note is identical with that of Tone I, has a peculiar Intonation of its own.[1] Almost all the Tones have one form of Intonation for the Psalms, and another for the Canticles; while some few add to these a third variation, which is used only for the second part of the Introit. [See Introit.] The subjoined forms are taken from the editions of the Roman Vesperal, and Gradual, lately published at Ratisbon; in the former of which, the Intonation assigned to the Magnificat, in the Sixth Tone, varies widely from the more usual reading given in the Mechlin edition. The forms used for the Introit so nearly resemble those for the Canticles, that we have thought it necessary to give those of the Fourth and Sixth Tones only.

For the Psalms.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone I." \cadenzaOn f'\breve g'1( a') \bar ":" a'\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone II." \cadenzaOn c'1 d' \bar ":" f'\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone III." \cadenzaOn g'1 a' \bar ":" c''\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone IV." \cadenzaOn a'\breve g'1( a') \bar ":" a'\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone V." \cadenzaOn f'1 a' \bar ":" c''\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VI." \cadenzaOn f'\breve g'1( a') \bar ":" a'\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VII." \cadenzaOn c''1( b') c''( d'') \bar ":" d''\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VIII." \cadenzaOn g'1 a' \bar ":" c''\breve \bar "||" }

For the 'Magnificat.'

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone I." \cadenzaOn f'1 g'( a'\breve) \bar ":" a' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone II." \cadenzaOn c'1( d') c'( f'\breve) \bar ":" f' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone III." \cadenzaOn g'1 a'\breve( c'') \bar ":" c'' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone IV." \cadenzaOn a'1( g') g'( a'\breve) \bar ":" a' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone V." \cadenzaOn f'1 a'\breve( c'') \bar ":" c'' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VI." \cadenzaOn f'1 g'1( a'\breve) \override Score.Stem #'stencil = ##f g'4 f'1 \bar ":" a'\breve \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VII." \cadenzaOn g'\breve c''( b'1) c''( d''\breve \bar ":" d'' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VIII." \cadenzaOn g'1( a') g'\breve( c'') \bar ":" c'' \bar "||" }

For the Psalm 'In Exitu Israel.'
Irregular or Peregrine Tone.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \cadenzaOn a'1( bes') \bar ":" a'\breve \bar "||" }

For the Introit.

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone IV." \cadenzaOn a'1( g' a'\breve) \bar ":" a' \bar "||" }
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \tempo "Tone VI." \cadenzaOn f'1( g' f' g' a') \bar ":" a'\breve \bar "||" }


The Intonation is usually sung to the first verse, only, of each Psalm, but, to every verse of the Magnificat and Benedictus. When sung before the first verse only, whether of Psalm or Canticle, it is assigned either to the Officiating Priest, or to the two leading Choristers. Before the remaining verses of the Magnificat, and Benedictus, it is sung by the whole Choir.

The opening phrases of the Antiphon, the antiphonal portion of the Introit, the Gradual, and many other Plain Chaunt Anthems and Hymns, are also sung, as Intonations, either by a single Priest, or by one, two, or four leading Choristers. The Gloria in excelsis, and Credo, have fixed Intonations of their own, which may be found in their proper places, in the Missal.

It is always interesting to observe the use made, by modern composers, of antient materials: and we shall find that some of the Intonations given, in our examples, have been turned, by the greatest Masters of the modern School, to very profitable uses indeed. For instance, Handel, in 'The Lord gave the word,' from 'The Messiah,' uses the Intonation of the First Tone, transposed a fourth higher, with wonderful effect—

{ \new Staff \with {midiInstrument = #"church organ"} { \clef tenor \key bes \major \override Score.Rest #'style = #'classical { r4 r8 bes bes2 bes4. c'8 d'2 } \addlyrics { The Lord gave the word; } } }
etc.

while that of the Eighth (as sung to the Magnificat) has been employed, in a very striking manner, by Mendelssohn, in the 'Lobgesang'—

{ \new Staff \with {midiInstrument = #"church organ"} { \key bes \major \relative f' { f4 g8. f16 bes8. bes16 bes4 } \addlyrics { Al -- les was O -- dem hat, } } }
etc.

We have selected these instances from innumerable others, not only because the chief interest of the works mentioned is centred in these few simple notes; but because, in both cases, the phrases in question are really used as Intonations—i.e. as initial phrases, given out in unison, to be continued in harmonious chorus. Whether the composers were conscious of the source of the ideas they treated with such masterly power, is a question open to argument: but, there can be no doubt that John Sebastian Bach, when writing his great Mass in B minor, chose the opening subject of his magnificent Credo, simply because it was the Intonation assigned to the Credo in the Plain Chaunt Mass—

{ << \new Staff \with {midiInstrument = #"church organ"} { \time 4/2 \key b \minor \relative e' { e\breve cis1 d cis b e fis } } \addlyrics { Cre -- do in u -- num De -- um }
\new Staff \with {midiInstrument = #"church organ"} { \clef bass \key b \minor \override Staff.Rest #'style = #'classical \relative a { r4 a gis fis e d cis b | a b a g! fis e fis gis | a b cis d e fis e d | cis a b cis d cis d e | } } >> }
etc.

That the effect with which Bach introduces this grand old subject was not lost upon Mendelssohn, is evident, from a passage in a letter written from Rome, by the last-named composer, to his friends in Germany (April 4, 1831).

II. The art of singing, or playing, correctly in tune. Thus, we say that the intonation of such and such a performer is either true, or false, as the case may be. For a detailed account of the conditions upon which perfect tune depends, see Temperament.

[ W. S. R. ]

  1. Though constructed of similar Intervals, the Intonations of Tones II and III are not identical. By no permissible form of transposition, could the G, A, C of the latter be substituted for the C, D, F of the former.