Heaven and earth: a performer’s guide to Josquin’s masses 6
with lower-clef combinations. All the superius parts in these masses peak on G, except Ad fugam’s which peaks on Eb, giving it the narrowest range of all the 18 masses. The remaining 14 masses were written out at a lower pitch in the earliest sources, nine of them descending to low F; three (all probably written quite late) to low G; one to low E; and one to low D. None of the superius parts above these notes exceeds the F an octave and a fourth above middle C, and most only go up to the D a ninth above middle C. So if one were to transpose the four high-pitch masses down to the level of the other 14, one would end up with an unsuspected consistency of scoring across the set.
The evidence may be examined more carefully. None of Josquin’s 18 masses exceeds three octaves (or 22 notes) in overall range; and none has fewer than two octaves and a fourth (or 18 notes). Sixteen of the 18 lie within the 20, 21 and 22 range, the only exceptions being Ad fugam with 18, and Mater patris with 19. This compares interestingly with the contemporary Eton Choirbook repertoire, where there is a wider spectrum. Ordinary four-part pieces there might have a range of no more than 14 notes (as in Cornysh’s Gaude virgo mater Christi ), where the average five-part piece had 22 or 23 notes. Cornysh’s Magnificat has 26 notes, though that was exceptional. By English standards Josquin seems to have been deliberately working a particular four-voice soundworld, no matter where he was employed or how the choirs he was writing for were made up.
Compared with Josquin, the English liked to push out the boundaries of voice ranges both ways at once, which brings us to an interesting practical point – pitch. If you have an overall range of 23 notes in a composition the scope for transposing it for whatever reason – to suit the singers/the building/a theory about clef combinations/the supposed difference in pitch standard between those days and ours – is significantly reduced by comparison with a piece with 20 or 21 notes (which is what ten of Josquin’s masses have). Even with bionic modern singers the extremes of the ranges can become impractical in a piece of 23 or more notes if the music is transposed more than a tone either way; whereas all of Josquin’s masses could be made to have the same ranges, by transposition of up to a fourth down from written pitch, giving in every case a bottom bassus note of F, and a top superius note of D (if 20 notes overall), Eb (if 21) or F (if three octaves). This is not quite to say that every Josquin mass would then be scored the same – there are small variations in the overall ranges between them – but perhaps it is surprising to discover that they all fall so nearly into the general pattern: Low soprano and/or Alto, Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Baritone/Bass in modern terminology.
If the English had a wider spectrum to work in than Josquin, this was not because they had wider ranges within the individual parts (it was because they had added a fifth voice range). In the matter of voice ranges Josquin