The Motets of Jacobus Gallus and the Doctrine of Musical Figures in the first half of the 17th Century


  • Hermann J. Busch



The present paper represents a contribution to the study of the relation between word and tone in the works of Jacob Gallus. The author bases his study on the doctrine of musical figures as it was formulated by the theorists of the 17th century, first of all by J. Burmeister. Since Gallus' music is intimately connected with the text, the application of this doctrine to his works yields interesting results. The figures isolated by the author from the compositions of Gallus can be divided into two groups: harmonic figures, which concern the whole structure of the composition, and melodic figures, which concern the melody itself. The first harmonic figure dealt with is the fuga realis which means the occurence of imitation. This generally used technique has an intimate connection with the text, only if it occurs in the middle of a homophonic piece. Its subsidiary form is, among other things, also hypallage, a counter-fugue serving to represent a contrast of content. In this connection it is interesting to note that Gallus follows the model of Lasso in his motet »Peccantem me quotidie« since Lasso in his composition of the same text also used a counter-fugue. As a further means of interpreting a text, the figure noema is employed, that is, a chordal passage in an otherwise polyphonic composition. This figure in contrast to imitation which illustrates the text in an image arouses a strong emotional state which results in turning the attention of the listener to the corresponding meaning of the text. Far more often than simple noema its repetitive forms analepsis and auxesis occur. The corresponding figure in polychoral compositions is anaploce which occurs in Gallus in such a characteristic form that Gallus' works were already taken by the theorists of the early 17th century as school examples of this polychoral technique. Among the harmonic figures in a narrower sense the dissonant figure syncope occuring in connection with the figures ple-onasmus and symblema, serves for effective underlining of an emotional state. In Gallus, the employment of the double subdominant, which nearly always appears in passages of heavy emotional content, belongs to specific harmonic structures. Such an employment of the double subdominant is denoted by Burmeister as the figure pathopoeia. The figure hypotyposis may comprise interpretation of strong emotional states and may illustrate the text in various ways. So it can occur, for example, as a change of a binary to ternary metre which is induced by a joyful mood in the text. In this respect Gallus' motet »Auditellus« is interesting with its conclusion in a ternary metre. Also here, Gallus follows Lasso's composition for the same text who set to music the same passage of this text in a ternary metre. Further, the figure hypotyposis may have a melodic meaning and denotes the employment of melisma, especially of coloraturas, to the effect of underlining a special moment of the content, above all, joy. In addition, this figure serves to illustrate movement and everything that is living. Gallus made a very moderate use of melisma, but when he did employ it, the reason was nearly always provided in the contents of the text. A special example of the figure hypotyposis appears in the structure of the so-called directed melodies: anabasis – an ascending melody, and katabasis – a descending line. Both the figures are employed by Gallus to illustrate progress of movement and to depict strong emotions. These figures are similar to circulatio, that is, a circular melodic movement, often found in Gallus and other composers of the 16th century. The passage »circumderunt eum« in the Passion 2, V (24, 141) and the parallel passage in Lasso has already been discussed by A. Schmitz. Like hypotyposis, the figure pathopoeia also has a melodic meaning in addition to a harmonic meaning. So Burmeister denoted the special use of semi-tonal progressions as pathopoeia, whether these are a part of tonality or not. Finally the author of the paper draws attention to the fact that Gallus, like other authors of that period, employs the general rest, denoted by Burmeister as aposiopesis, as a means of emphatic stress.


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How to Cite

Busch, H. J. (1969). The Motets of Jacobus Gallus and the Doctrine of Musical Figures in the first half of the 17th Century. Musicological Annual, 5(1), 40–53.