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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Musical borrowing and formal organization in Renaissance polyphonic mass cycles Reimer, Sarah


Composers in the Renaissance era frequently engaged in the technique of musical borrowing by incorporating a preexisting melody, which functioned as a cantus firmus, into a newly composed polyphonic setting. This study analyzes the structural relationship between a cantus firmus and surrounding polyphonic voices, identifying the distinctive musical features of the cantus firmus that contribute to the overall form of the mass cycle. Analyses of four mass cycles by the fifteenth-century composer Josquin des Prez, spanning his entire oeuvre, examine different ways that a borrowed melody can contribute to structure and formal organization in a polyphonic texture. Before the analysis portion of this study I develop criteria for attributing formal function to segments of monophonic and polyphonic Renaissance compositions. I find that, although the borrowed melodies in Josquin’s mass cycles are diverse, the preexisting formal functions of the cantus firmus usually govern the formal functions of the concurrent polyphonic voices. Consistently, the first statement of the borrowed melody, arguably the most important indicator of initiation formal function, is always retained in the new setting. Similarly, the final cadence of the borrowed melody always aligns with the ending of either a mass section or entire mass movement. There are also moments, however, where the converse is true, such that the polyphony redirects and transforms the expected formal functions of the cantus firmus.

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