article 25:   “ad pulsandum in organis”

There are many – among them even such a distinguished personage as Alexander Silbiger – who still doubt that certain 16th-century prints in part-books and open score were intended for keyboard instruments, in spite of subtitles like that of the first (and greatest?) of them, Musica Nova (1540): “Accomodata per cantar et sonar sopra organi; et altri strumenti.” The very ease of playability on a keyboard of such works contrasts sharply with the difficulties presented by true ensemble and vocal pieces, and indicates that they were composed at and primarily for the keyboard.

A related issue is that of intabulation – putting part-books or open score into keyboard staff notation. A large number of such collections survive. Intabulation would have been a necessity in the case of part-books, but an accomplished keyboardist of the time would have had no difficulty reading an open score like the one presented here, from a collection of vocal music by T. L. de Victoria published in 1600. Only an organ part survives, a spartitura of the first of two choirs marked “ad pulsandum in organis” – for the organist.

Other early unfigured organ parts of the time consist of a bass-line only, and sometimes represent a bassus continuus, following the lowest line present at a given moment in either choir. The first printed organ part appeared as an adjunct to Banchieri’s Concerti ecclesiastici (1595), along with the discant as an aid to harmonization. There are also a number of other early organ scores similar to Victoria’s extant. The magnificent Spaniard may have wanted to react to chaos resulting from playing from a bass-line alone; complaints about the alleged absurdity of continuo-playing are frequent throughout the 17th century. Viadana’s famous Concerti of 1602, which marked the introduction of printed figures to the bass line, was undoubtedly spurred by these developments. A conservatory paper I wrote in 1972 claimed that organists must have added some kind of chord indications to unfigured parts, as far back as Ortiz (1553). When my teacher Gustav Leonhardt read it, he commented, “Yes, but can you prove it?” I couldn’t then, and still can’t – but I still think so.

The present minor contribution offers nothing new, except that Victoria's score is so neat, is such a fine example of full-voice accompaniment to polyphony, is so expressly “for the organist”, and that it originated from the greatest of the composers who offered such parts at an early date. It is also notable for having escaped mention in F. T. Arnold’s encyclopedic “The Art of Accompaniment from a Thorough-Bass”, which I sweated through at the long-distant era just mentioned. It did not, however, escape the attention of the great American musicologist Otto Kinkeldey, whose 1910 overview of “Orgel und Klavier in der Musik des 16. Jahrhunderts” can still be studied with immense profit.

February 14, 2021

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