Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

Faburden [faburdon, faburthon, fabourden, faberthon etc.]

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Faburden [faburdon, faburthon, fabourden, faberthon etc.].

A style of improvised polyphony particularly associated with English music of the 15th century, related to but independent of Fauxbourdon.

1. Introduction.

2. Early faburden.

3. Faburden and fauxbourdon.

4. Later history of faburden.



1. Introduction.

The term ‘faburden’ originally designated the lowest voice in an English technique of polyphonic vocal improvisation that enabled a group of soloists or a choir to sing at sight a three-part harmonization of plainchant, derived from the notes of the chant itself. It flourished from about 1430 or earlier until the time of the Reformation. The highly schematic formula used led to chains of what would now be called 6-3 chords, punctuated by occasional 8-5 chords (particularly at the beginnings and ends of phrases and words). The plainchant was thought of as the mean or middle voice, from which the other two parts were derived, although of course the chant was also present in the treble, which doubled it at the upper 4th while the bottom part sang 5ths or 3rds beneath it. The singers apparently declaimed the words simultaneously in the normal rhythm of plainchant. Ends of phrases were slightly ornamented, probably from quite early on, to provide satisfactory cadential suspensions; it is unlikely, at least in choral performance, that general ornamentation was introduced.

By 1462 the name ‘faburden’ was being used to designate the whole technique or complex of the three voices, so that one might speak of singing the Magnificat ‘in faburthon’ (see Harrison, 1962, pp.24–5). From about the same period onwards a number of traditional faburden parts, with or without their plainchants, may be traced through their use as the basis of polyphonic vocal compositions; they are also employed in 16th-century English organ pieces ‘on the faburden’ by Redford and others. A number of single faburden parts in mensural notation have been found, usually, like squares (see Square), in liturgical books; the discovery by Mary Berry of a considerable number of faburdens, notably faburdens to hymns, apparently copied in sight notation (see Sight, sighting) on the same staff as their plainchants, suggests that most of the directions for the ‘Sight of Faburdon’ given by Wylde’s Anonymous about 1430–50 (see below) still held good after 1528. The faburdens that survive in mensural notation nevertheless show that the technique was subject to variation and that different transpositions of the plainchant came to be used when faburdens were written down (this may have been one of the reasons why they needed to be written down); and the late account of the Scottish Anonymous (1558 or after) gives a very full picture of additional refinements to faburden, including arrangements for four voices. Similar developments are found in the history of Fauxbourdon and are described, along with aspects of faburden and gymel, in the treatise of Guilielmus Monachus (c1480). Guilielmus, writing in Italy, may well have been English: this can be argued not merely from his knowledge of insular musical techniques, but also from his use of the English variant Sarum Sanctus no.3 as the unnamed cantus firmus of one of his musical examples (ed. in CSM, xi, ex.56, p.40; see Thannabaur, 1962, melody no.49).


2. Early faburden.

The English had used the word ‘burdoun’ (or bordoun, burdon or burdowne) to mean ‘lowest voice’ since before 1300: seven literary references in English to the term are known before about 1400, two in Anglo-Norman French, and another in Welsh (byrdwn). All but two refer unequivocally to singing, and in two of these the singing is choral. Six use ‘burden’ to mean the lowest voice of three – treble (or ‘hauteyn’), mean and burden; in two jocular uses by Chaucer, both set in secular surroundings, it means the lower voice of two soloists; in the Welsh reference, a quatreble is added to make four voices. In three references the surroundings are definitely ecclesiastical, and ‘monks’ or ‘clerks’ are singing (see Flasdieck, 1956; Carter, 1961; Scott, 1971; Hoffmann-Axthelm, 1972; Oxford English Dictionary; Trowell, 1977; Stone, 1977–92, under ‘Burdun’; Welsh reference in Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, i, Cardiff, 1950–67, under ‘Byrdwn’). This tradition presumably relates at one extreme to the ‘triple song’ of Cistercian and Benedictine monks, attested since the 12th century (see Scott; A.A. King: Liturgies of the Religious Orders, London, 1955, pp.94–5); and at the other to secular ‘three-men’s songs’, first referred to as such about 1425. It may also be connected with the three- or four-voice harmonization of chant apparently envisaged by Pseudo-Tunstede (see CoussemakerS, iv, 294a), although this was not an exclusively English technique (see J. Dyer, MQ, lxvi, 1980, pp.83–111). The unequivocal use of ‘burden’ to mean a low voice-part is unique to English during the 14th and 15th centuries. Harrison (1962) suggested that the voice-name might be rooted in instrumental practice, since shawms (chalamis) ‘quos burdones appellamus’ were played, while bells sounded, at the installation of the abbots of St Albans in the 13th century; Stone has dated this reference as perhaps as early as 1235, some 60 years before the first known uses of ‘bordoun’ as a voice name. This employment of wind instruments to enhance ecclesiastical dignity may have been, or have become, more general: Ulrich von Richental noted that at the Council of Constance in 1414 the English bishops processed to the sound of three trombones, and ‘die pusauner pusaunoten über einannder mit dreyen stimmen, als man sunst gewonlichen singet’ (J. Handschin, SMz, lxxiv, 1934, p.459).

The earliest use of the evidently composite term ‘faburden’ in the British Isles is probably to be found in the Cornish-language Ordinalia, a cycle of sacred plays surviving in a 15th-century copy of a 14th-century original (Fowler, 1961, esp. 125): a minor devil calls on Beelzebub and Satan to sing a great faburden (‘faborden bras’) as an obscene parody – presumably one takes the faburden and the other the chant – to which he will add a fine treble (‘trebl fyn’: see E. Norris, ed.: The Ancient Cornish Drama, Oxford, 1859, pp.176–9). The earliest precisely datable references come in two documents of 1430 and 1431, both connected with Durham Cathedral. The first is the earliest known indenture for an English choirmaster: John Stele is to teach the Benedictine monks and eight secular boys both to play the organs and to sing organ-song (‘ad organum decantandum’), i.e. ‘Pryktenote ffaburdon deschaunte et counter’ (Bowers, 1975, p.A056; for later indentures etc. see ibid., p.A058, and HarrisonMMB, 41, 169, 174–5, 177ff, 181, 187, 192). With the addition of square-note, this form of words was to remain surprisingly constant in nearly all subsequent pre-Reformation choirmasters’ indentures, in contexts which suggest that faburden was used as a simple technique appropriate not only for professional choirmen but above all for musically unskilled monks and canons carrying out the opus Dei in their closed choirs, to which lay singers were not normally admitted. At Durham, however, there had been a tradition of lay singers helping the monks in triple song (‘in cantu qui dicitur trebill’, i.e. perhaps faburden); their absence had given rise to a complaint in 1390, and Stele’s appointment appears to be intended to solve a continuing problem. The second reference to faburden comes in a letter probably of 1431, formerly dated 1428–32. In 1426/7 the prior and convent of Durham had turned the parish church at Hemingbrough, Yorkshire, into a collegiate foundation with four clerks and six vicars-choral; it came into operation in 1428. Richard Cliffe, a vicar there, wrote to the prior recommending the appointment as fifth vicar of a priest then serving at the secular cathedral of Lichfield, Staffordshire; among the musical accomplishments then thought desirable in a vicar-choral he listed the ability to read and sing plainchant and ‘to synge a tribull til [to] faburdun’ (Trowell, 1959; Bowers, 1975, pp.4096, 5076; idem, 1981, p.14; R.B. Dobson: Durham Cathedral Priory, Cambridge, 1973, pp.156–62). The letter dated 21 November (the day after St Edmund KM), without year, but can hardly belong to 1432, since the vicar, William Watkinson, was installed on 27 November that year, and an interval of only six days would be insufficient. By 1431, then, faburden was known in three counties in the English north and Midlands as a technique expected of musically unsophisticated vicars-choral and unskilled monks. It is probably no accident that the first full description of faburden comes from the Augustinian abbey of the Holy Cross, Waltham.

This anonymous treatise, The Sight of Faburdon, was copied into GB-Lbl Lansdowne 763 by the precentor (more likely ‘preceptor’)of Waltham, John Wylde, at a date formerly thought to lie between 1430 and 1450 but now believed by Reaney (1970, p.263) to be earlier. The first mention of faburden in English musical theory precedes this in the same manuscript in a cryptic paragraph on f.58 which compares faburden to cantus coronatus. Sweeney (1975) has pointed out that this paragraph, along with other surrounding material, is also found in the tract De origine et effectu musicae (GB-Ob Bodley 515, ff.89–90). In the Bodleian Library catalogue, Madan dated the latter manuscript as from the first half of the 15th century; from its appearance it is certainly earlier than Lansdowne 763 and the first archival references to faburden (see Wylde, John).

According to the author of The Sight of Faburdon, which is the last of an important and systematically arranged collection of vernacular treatises on discant, faburden was ‘the leeste processe of sigtis natural and most in use’ (‘the lowliest of the sight techniques, natural [i.e. seemingly instinctive, innate, or possibly vocal] and commonest’). The ensuing directions show that a faburdener, like the singer of ‘counter’ or ‘countir’, was to keep beneath the plainchant throughout and to imagine or ‘sight’ his notes by visualizing them on the plainsong staff a 5th higher than he sang them, transposing downwards like a horn in F (see Sight, sighting). Unlike the singer of counter, the faburdener is restricted to only two intervals, the 3rd and the 5th beneath the plainchant: he is to derive these by downward transposition from the sighted notes, visualized respectively as a 3rd above and a unison with the plainchant. He is to begin with the 5th below ‘in voice’ and thereafter is to sing 3rds, ‘closing’ his sight into a unison with the chant in order to sing a 5th again at the ends of words; he may sing as many 3rds as he likes, but never two consecutive 5ths. The restriction to 3rds and 5ths beneath the chant allows the foolproof addition of a third voice called a treble, who sings the same notes as the plainchant, but a 4th higher. (Wylde’s author did not give directions for the singer of the ‘tribull til faburdun’, to use Cliffe’s phrase: the pitch of the treble is known only because of the fact that when the faburdener sings a 5th or a 3rd beneath the chant he is also respectively an octave or a 6th beneath the treble.) The 4th, though a consonance, was not a concord and was not one of the permitted intervals in the treble sight of discant, though it might be made good, as Pseudo-Tunstede had observed, by the addition of a lower part (see CoussemakerS, iv, 279). Had Wylde wished to include a special prescription for the treble to faburden, he would have instructed him to set his sight even (i.e. in unison) with the plainchant and his voice at the 4th above. Scott’s suggestion that the use of the term ‘mene’, here used merely as a voice name, implies transposition of the chant to the upper 5th by mean sight, though accepted by Strohm, seems implausible because unnecessary: the tract is explaining a rule-of-thumb process of improvisation, not a technique of written composition, and the singers might choose to begin at any convenient pitch.

One of the difficulties of extemporizing discant beneath the plainchant, according to Pseudo-Tunstede, had been that it prevented all but the most skilled singers from adding a third voice above it (CoussemakerS, iv, 294). But if the low part is restricted to 3rds and 5ths beneath the chant, a treble or quatreble discanter will always be safe if he keeps to the unison, 4th or 6th above it (or their equivalents at the upper octave). Compositions or passages built up in this way for three voices are found in English sources of the 14th century, many of them exhibiting the typical parallel movement of faburden, and some with the cantus firmus in the mean (see Trowell, 1959, p.57, and many of the English compositions in score notation published in PMFC, xiv–xvii, which include the ‘Grottaferrata Gloria’ (xvi, no.37) formerly advanced as an Italian example of proto-fauxbourdon). Sanders’s observations on the commonness of parallel movement in free composition and the comparative rarity of its application to chant may suggest that a technique from popular music was only gradually adapted for liturgical use. On the other hand, Coussemaker’s 14th-century English Anonymus 5 (CoussemakerS, i) describes a ‘widely prevalent’ (totus generalis) method of singing which accompanies a plainchant entirely in octaves or 6ths, beginning with either but pausing or closing on an octave, and avoiding parallel octaves. This was formerly interpreted as so-called English discant above the plainchant, a now exploded concept; since the rest of the tract is largely concerned with discanting beneath the chant, this technique may now be considered an early ancestor of faburden with the chant untransposed in the treble (though its actual pitch would be at the singers’ choice), needing only the addition of an inner part a 4th below it to produce the characteristic three-voice sonorities. Although this description differs from the technique of the Lansdowne tract, the writer agrees in forbidding the singer to close downwards with an octave on to a mi (E or B), pitches on which the faburdener also may not cadence (see below). The Dutchman Johannes Boen (d 1367) in his Musica (1357) describes his astonishment, on arriving in Oxford as a student, at hearing a similar technique: it was, he says, universally beloved by ‘laymen and clerics, young and old’; their singing was ‘restricted entirely to 3rds and 6ths, ending on 5ths and octaves’ (tertiis et sextis…duplis et quintis postpositis, ipsas solas invocantes; see W. Frobenius: Johannes Boens Musica, Stuttgart, 1971, esp. 76). Applied to chant, and adding a parallel mean, this would have been faburden in all but name. Ex.1 is a specimen from the apparently Carthusian Credo in GB-Lbl Sloane 1210, f.1; the notes taken from chant are marked ‘x’.

In such pieces the lowest voice (perhaps a ‘burden’) will sometimes sing parallel 5ths below the mean, when the treble will usually sing parallel 6ths above (10ths above the bass). These are written compositions, not faburdens, but they suggest a possible ancestry for faburden: by restricting still further the succession of intervals open to the outer voices (parallel 5ths were vanishing for other reasons at this time) a method was distilled, perhaps, which allowed even unskilled musicians to harmonize plainchant in a halo of rich sonority.

One of the hitherto unexplained mysteries of faburden is that Wylde’s Anonymous omitted the pitches E and B from his list of notes in the chant where the faburdener may ‘close down even in sight upon the plainsong’ (i.e. sing a 5th beneath it). Practical experience has now suggested a reason. The faburdener arrives at his notes by visualizing them in sight and transposing down a 5th: he can therefore never produce a B but sings only B, since the sighted note is always the F-fa above on the plainchant staff. With a great many chants, especially if the faburdener observes the instructions of Wylde’s Anonymous and frequently ‘closes’ (i.e. makes his sighted note converge with the plainchant in a unison) ‘at the last end of a word’, his Bs will also involve him in Es.

Ex.2 makes this clear; it shows the Sarum version of the communion Vos qui secuti estis me (selected for comparison with Du Fay’s fauxbourdon setting: see Fauxbourdon, ex.1), harmonized in faburden strictly according to the instructions of Wylde’s Anonymous. The top staff shows the plainsong mean and its parallel treble, which, like the faburden, has perpetual Bs; the lower staff shows the faburden and above it, in small print, the sighted notes from which it is derived. The faburdener sings a 5th beneath the chant at the beginning and also, wherever possible, at the ends of words (marked ‘o’ above his part); elsewhere he sings 3rds. Every E in the plainchant, under which the faburdener may not sing a 5th, is marked ‘+’: two of them come at the end of a word (‘estis’, ‘iudicantes’). The faburdener’s Bs force him to sing the four Es marked ‘*’, and these in turn oblige him to sing every other E as an E, visualized in sight as a B. There are many contradictions and some successive false relations between the Es in the mean and the Es in the faburden; these can be paralleled in the compositions of Leonel Power and Dunstaple. But if faburden 5ths are placed beneath the plainsong Es, particularly at the ends of words, where 5ths are otherwise recommended, quite unacceptable progressions result. This must explain the prohibition of the strong open 5ths A–E and E–B: they quarrel much more fiercely with the Bs and frequent Es than do the alternatives, the 3rds C–E and G–B.

From ex.2 it is clear that with certain plainchants the faburdener is forced to swim for long periods in ‘the sweetness of B-fa’, to use a phrase of Giraldus Cambrensis. He not only produces Bs ‘in voice’, but in order to sing Es he also has to add Bs ‘in sight’ on the plainsong staff in front of him, which has none. This seems the simplest explanation of the term ‘fa-burden’: ‘bass part characterized by the use of B-fa’. The term was presumably invented by a sophisticated musician, and such a person listening to a faburden, visualizing the music in notation and noting the absence of B-mi and the characteristic flatwards shift of tonality, might well have christened the bottom part ‘fa-burden’ on those grounds alone; when one finds that a chant without a B in it will often be harmonized not merely with perpetual Bs, but also with Es, the above explanation of the name ‘faburden’ gains further support. Trumble’s main objection (1960, pp.28–9) to this derivation – that the singer of counter also transposes down a 5th from his sighted note and therefore never sings B-mi, so that his part could equally well have been called a faburden – does not take account of the general rule of discant that a 5th or octave must always be perfect. The discanter must in such cases match a fa with a fa and a mi with a mi: a counterer harmonizing a plainsong B-mi with the octave beneath would be forced, as common sense also suggests, to sing a B-mi (see Bukofzer, 1936, pp.143, 146, 149). Hoffmann-Axthelm’s hypothesis (1972) that ‘fa’ is the Scottish and northern English dialectal form of ‘foe’, that ‘burden’ meant a bass voice bearing a cantus firmus and that a ‘foe-burden’ was a part in some way inimical (?counter) to the plainchant also seems unduly contrived: ‘burden’ did not mean a tenor part, as she suggested, and Wylde’s Anonymous expressly called the plainchant a mean. Doe’s hypothesis (1972) that a ‘fa’ burden began on F-fa a 5th beneath tenor C and a ‘faut’ (i.e. faux) burden on C-fa ut an octave beneath cannot hold, since both the F and the C are ‘fa ut’.


3. Faburden and fauxbourdon.

It is not yet possible to explain the undoubted relationship between faburden and fauxbourdon. Just as the names are obviously similar and yet importantly different, so are the musical techniques. It is likely enough that Wylde’s Anonymous was describing faburden as it was understood in 1427–32 by Richard Cliffe, whose protégé could read and sing plainchant and ‘sing a treble to faburden’. An improvised technique used by musically unsophisticated monks would probably not change very rapidly. In any case, although Wylde’s copy of the faburden treatise may be later than the Cornish and Durham references, none of the other material in his plainly retrospective collection can be shown to date from later than about 1430. Du Fay’s earliest fauxbourdons belong to the courtly world of late Gothic sonority; they were apparently written for two solo voices and an instrument, with a rhythmically independent, contrapuntally conceived tenor and a refined, chanson-style ornamentation of the plainchant which is decorated in both the upper parts with many dissonant passing notes and melismas. If Du Fay invented this kind of fauxbourdon about 1427, as Besseler maintained, it is hardly conceivable that such a style could have been transmuted by 1430 into a simple rule-of-thumb technique for the chordal declamation of plainchant by a male-voice chorus of Durham monks. The presence of a simpler style of fauxbourdon alongside the refined manner of Du Fay’s earliest experiments, in the contributions of Johannes de Lymburgia and Binchois (who was perhaps in English employment in the 1420s), may suggest that they and Du Fay were interpreting a common experience, the new sound (for them) of English faburden, in two very different ways. Besseler (1950, p.15) had imagined Du Fay listening to the parallel movement of English discant, but Kenney (1959) showed that the latter was an invention of Bukofzer’s. The simpler fauxbourdon of Binchois, which is far more akin to the sound of faburden, did not become the general rule until the 1440s, when English singers may well have gone abroad in answer to requests from King Alfonso V of Portugal (1439) and from the Emperor Frederick III (1442) (L. de Freitas Branco: Elementos de sciencias musicais, Lisbon, 1931, ii, 38; H. Nicolas: Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England, London, 1834–5, v, 218). It must be significant that the Germanic and Iberian words for ‘fauxbourdon’ (Faberdon, Faberton etc.; fabordão, fabordón, fabordó) appear to derive from the English word ‘faburdon’, not from the French. The German poet-musician, theorist and doctor Johann von Soest tells us that in his youth (c1460) he studied ‘Faberthon’ in Bruges with ‘two masters from England’ (F. Stein: Geschichte des Musikwesens in Heidelberg, Heidelberg, 1921, esp. 14).

Faburden and fauxbourdon may have been used in very similar liturgical situations, but they were essentially designed for different kinds of performer and were transmitted in different ways. Fauxbourdon doubtless came to be extemporized super librum like faburden, but it has left its mark in history as sophisticated music, designed for professional performance, transmitted, even at its simplest, in learned notation in manuscripts that usually also contain the finest ‘high culture’ music of their time; the canonic instructions describing how to perform fauxbourdon are written in Latin, which is also the language used by musical theorists in discussing it. Faburden, though it has left its traces in polyphonic manuscripts, was essentially a means of schematic improvisation which did not normally need to be written down; it was a technique much used by unlearned monks and musically unsophisticated canons and vicars-choral, many of whom were in any case not permitted to sing elaborate polyphony. The two insular treatises on faburden are in English, not Latin. Faburdens were mainly transmitted orally, and some of them assumed traditional forms which can be traced where they were written down as a basis for composed polyphony or for more elaborate four-part improvisation based on the faburden (in which 3rds and 5ths would not be interchangeable), for organ extemporization, or simply in order to secure agreement if there were several singers to a part. Surviving single-line faburdens are almost exclusively found in liturgical plainsong books. (Only one such single-line fauxbourdon tenor is known; perhaps significantly, it is found in a source much nearer to English influence and example than the Italian manuscripts, namely F-CA 29, f.159, the anonymous hymn Cultor Dei: see facs. in Wright, 1978.) It is mainly because scholars have not been comparing like with like – on the one hand a mainly written tradition, on the other a mainly oral one – that the controversy over the origins of faburden and fauxbourdon is proving so difficult to resolve.


4. Later history of faburden.

Faburden, like fauxbourdon, offered a basis for further development in written composition. With or without their accompanying chants, faburdens might be used in plain or decorated form as a framework for vocal polyphony. Harrison (1962) has shown the process at work in a number of compositions (though not all of his examples are strict faburdens, and Paul Doe has suggested in a private communication that the pitch relationships between faburden and chant are not always correct), ranging from a hymn in the late 14th-century GB-Lbl Sloane 1210 to specimens from the mid-16th-century Giffard partbooks (Lbl Add.17802–5). The first extensive collection to show consistent use of the practice, however, is the Pepys manuscript in Cambridge (GB-Cmc 1236; ed. S.R. Charles, CMM, xl, 1967), which dates from about 1460. The source, like several later ones, contains monophonic faburden parts which, if realized according to the first set of precepts of Guilielmus Monachus (f.19v), yield a faburden setting with the chant in the upper parts. Ex.3 shows the beginning of verse 2 of the hymn Eterne rex altissime, realized from the faburden in GB-Lbl C.52.b.21, f.188r (manuscript addition to printed book); chant notes are marked with a cross. (It should however be noted here that Guilielmus’s second discussion, on f.27v, says that the English manner was always in triple time and that the first note of the chant was always doubled in length to allow the bass part to move up from an octave to a 6th: these features are not to be found in surviving examples of written faburden, although his method of spacing out the cantus firmus in equal breves before decorating it is applied to the notes of the faburdens themselves when they are employed in organ pieces.) Harrison’s findings, complemented in 1980 by his valuable study of organ music composed ‘on the faburden’, show that sophisticated musicians have used faburden, and a number of archival and literary references demonstrate this: the technique was particularly useful for processional music such as litanies and processional antiphons, psalms and hymns. Like fauxbourdon it was also widely used for alternatim performance in hymns, responsorial psalmody and settings of the Magnificat, Nunc dimittis and Te Deum. The organ settings ‘on the faburden’ favour the same categories, particularly hymns, although antiphons are not unknown (see edns by J. Caldwell, EECM, vi, 1965; and D. Stevens, EECM, x, 1967). Harrison (1980) has shown that they are more abstractly composed than is usual in vocal faburden: the melodies are presented in notes of uniform length, a breve or a semibreve, traceable even beneath ornamentation.

Faburdens recovered from vocal polyphony, and some of those surviving as mensural monophonies, show a variety of transpositions; many of them imply that the chant was sung at the upper octave in the treble (or at the upper 5th in the mean), as was usual in fauxbourdon. At first view this might imply that the traditions of faburden and fauxbourdon had met and mingled, or that Wylde’s Anonymous was describing an aberrant form of faburden, or simply that the older manner had been largely forgotten during the second half of the 15th century. The organ pieces ‘on the faburden’, and the discovery by Mary Berry of a number of faburdens copied into liturgical books of the 15th and early 16th centuries, show that this was probably not the case (H.M. Miller, 1940; Mother Thomas More [M. Berry], 1970, pp.248ff). Trowell (1977) offers a classified list of all strict faburdens then known, excluding those for the Magnificat, a total of 144 (not counting nos.106–15 and deleting no.44, indicating their transposition and type of notation. (The list needs correction: in no.15 3rds are dotted; no.54’s title is Lucis creator optime; no.71 is on ff.67v–68.) Two recently identified mensural faburdens are: a single-voice Aspergus in GB-Lbl Lansdowne 462, f.1v; and, in GB-BEV DDHU 19/2, f.IV Bv, the bottom part of a three-voice [Sancta Maria vir]go in plainchant notation (decorated faburden); in both, the chant would fit in the treble at the upper octave. The Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music has recently recovered from Worcester Fragment x (GB-Ob Lat.liturg.d.20), ff.1v–2r, a previously illegible faburden and mean for the communion Beata viscera which, in spite of its void notation, Margaret Bent thinks may be as early as 1400 and thus the earliest recorded example of the technique; the chant is transposed up a 5th, and the polyphonic portion consists of 58 breves in major prolation, unadorned save for the introduction of a passing minim at five points in the faburden (unpublished research). Further and later examples are discussed by Allenson (1989: hymn Christe qui lux es and six settings of the processional psalm Laudate pueri) and Aplin (1978, 1979: vernacular settings of Magnificat, Nunc dimittis and Te Deum).

In all of Berry’s faburdens that the present writer has examined, and in the separate mensurally written faburdens designed to fit plainchants present in the same books – nearly 40 examples, and there are more – the faburden seems to be intended to fit in 3rds and 5ths beneath the chant. The faburdens have almost all been added on the plainchant staff over the notes of the chant itself. The pitch of the sighted notes is indicated, which the faburdener must transpose down a 5th: such an interpretation is supported by the survival of separate mensural faburden parts for three items, one of which has been duplicated in the same book in ‘sight notation’. This takes various forms. First there are hymns with dots or tiny plainchant notes, or both, indicating over every note of the chant whether a third or unison is to be sighted; in some an ornamental descent to the cadence is shown by extra dots, in others by mensural notes (see illustration). There are other hymns, with dots to show only where the faburdener is to sight 3rds; the sighted unisons are left unmarked; there is no mensural notation and rarely cadential ornament – this type of notation seems to be earlier than the first described above, since the former has occasionally been copied in on top of it. Sometimes this has also happened in the case of the third, most economical procedure, where only the sighted unisons are indicated, either by means of a dot or by a stroke through the plainchant note. In addition to the hymns (of which the bulk are in the 15th-century hymnal GB-Lbl Harl.2951), the printed Sarum Hymnal of 1528 (Ruremund) also contains manuscript faburdens for all the Magnificat tones (Lbl C.52.b.21).

The old method of faburden continued in use, then, into the 16th century. Erasmus was astonished at the ‘fauburdum’ that greeted his ears wherever he went among the English Benedictines (C.A. Miller: ‘Erasmus on Music’, MQ, lii, 1966, pp.332–49, esp. 339, 341). The late treatise of the Scottish Anonymous (GB-Lbl Add.4911; see J. Maynard: An Anonymous Scottish Treatise on Music, diss., Indiana U., 1961; I. Woods, RMARC, no.21, 1988, pp.37–9) affords evidence that by 1558 or later faburden had sprouted a remarkable variety of different methods in Scotland, including a four-voice kind that recalls the prescriptions of Guilielmus Monachus. The writer prescribes octave transposition of the plainchant as if he were describing fauxbourdon: if Guilielmus’s four-voice fauxbourdon represented English practice around 1480, treble-derived faburden must presumably have come into existence by then (it may of course always have been an alternative to Wylde’s approach), for it would have been very cumbersome to build new altus and bassus contratenors around the faburden voice as understood by Wylde’s Anonymous, and his plainchant mean would itself have had to vanish. Erasmus, whose visits to England began in 1499, described singers bursting out into many-voiced faburden, ‘not one of them singing the pitches shown by the notes in his book’ (nullus eas sonat voces quas habent codicum notulae). There is however one passage in Scottish Anonymous (f.98v) where he seems to be recalling the priorities of Wylde’s mean-derived faburden: the treble and ‘baritonant’ are directed to vary from the ‘richt way’, but the counter ‘standis ay ferm & invariabill from the just way of faburdoun’. By 1505 the Scottish Chapel Royal owned ‘two manuscript volumes of parchment with notes in faburdone’; one wonders whether faburden was the ‘new kind of chaunting and musick … wherein he was expert himself’ that the Scottish King James I (1427–37) brought into the divine service: he had spent the years 1406–24 in captivity at the English court (H.G. Farmer: A History of Music in Scotland, 1947, pp.102, 105). In both Scotland and England, however, faburden appears to have died out as a device for liturgical music with the destruction of the Latin repertory that accompanied the Reformation. Its final manifestations have been studied by Allenson (1989) and Aplin; the latter has shown (1978, 1979) that faburdens were still employed after the collapse of the Latin liturgy, without the chant, as the basis for settings of the Anglican rite. Morley mentioned the practice but equated it with the Italian falsobordone; his example, the hymn Conditor alme siderum, gives a faburden that presumably transposes down an octave to produce 6ths and octaves beneath the plainchant. He showed how the faburden should ‘break some notes in division’ at the cadence, as in many surviving examples, but did not show how the chant itself was decorated at this point; he omitted any mention of the middle voice.

It is possible that faburden gave rise to the name ‘burden’, meaning a refrain in a song or poem, a use not attested before the late 16th century. If faburden had to do with cantus coronatus, as suggested in Wylde’s manuscript (f.58), then it was also used in secular music. The technique could easily have been applied, like fauxbourdon, to any cantus prius factus, secular as well as liturgical, and in certain 15th-century carols a monophonic phrase in what is anachronistically called the burden is immediately repeated by three voices as a kind of refrain in a manner very close to faburden (see Trowell, 1959, pp.54–5, 57ff). This may be evidence of a use of faburden refrains in popular singing which could have survived to the time of Shakespeare and Bacon.


terminology and history

MGG2 (‘Fauxbourdon’; H.-O. Korth)

RiemannL12 (R. Brinkmann)

M. Bukofzer: Geschichte des englischen Diskants und des Fauxbourdons nach den theoretischen Quellen (Strasbourg, 1936/R)

H.M. Miller: ‘Sixteenth-Century English Faburden Compositions for Keyboard’, MQ, xxvi (1940), 50–64

H. Besseler: Bourdon und Fauxbourdon (Leipzig, 1950, rev., enlarged 2/1974 by P. Gülke)

H. Kurath and S.M. Kuhn, eds.: Middle English Dictionary (Ann Arbor and London, 1952–98)

H. Flasdieck: ‘Franz. faux-bourdon und frühneuengl. faburden’, AcM, xxv (1953), 111–27

D. Stevens: ‘Processional Psalms in Faburden’, MD, ix (1955), 105–10

H. Flasdieck: ‘Elisab. Faburden-“Fauxbourdon” und NE. Burden-“Refrain’’’, Anglia, lxxiv (1956), 188–238

B. Trowell: ‘Faburden and Fauxbourdon’, MD, xiii (1959), 43–78

E. Trumble: ‘Authentic and Spurious Faburden’, RBM, xiv (1960), 3–29

H.H. Carter: A Dictionary of Middle English Musical Terms, ed. G.B. Gerhard and others (Bloomington, IN, 1961), esp. ‘Burdoun’, ‘Faburden’, ‘Mene’, ‘Hauteyn’, ‘Treble’

F.Ll. Harrison: ‘Faburden in Practice’, MD, xvi (1962), 11–34

A.B. Scott: ‘The Beginnings of Fauxbourdon: a New Interpretation’, JAMS, xxiv (1971), 345–63

P. Doe: letter to the editor, ML, liii (1972), 479

D. Hoffmann-Axthelm: ‘Bourdon’, ‘Faburdon/fauxbourdon/falso bordone’ (1972), HMT

B. Trowell: ‘Faburden: New Sources, New Evidence: a Preliminary Survey’, Modern Musical Scholarship: Oxford 1977, 28–78

L.W. Stone and others, eds.: Anglo-Norman Dictionary (London, 1977–92)

J. Aplin: ‘A Group of English Magnificats “Upon the Faburden”’, Soundings, vii (1978), 85–100

J. Aplin: ‘“The Fourth Kind of Faburden”: the Identity of an English Four-Part Style’, ML, lxi (1980), 245–65

F.Ll. Harrison: ‘Faburden Compositions for Keyboard’, Visitatio organorum: feestbundel voor Maarten Albert Vente, ed. A. Dunning (Buren, 1980), 287–329

B. Miles and D. Evans: ‘Rhai Termau Cerddoriaeth Eglwysig yng Ngwaith y Cywyddwyr’ [Some terms of sacred music from the work of poets], Y Traethodydd [Gorffennaf], cxlii (1987), 131–46

E. Trumble: ‘Autobiographical Implications in DuFay's Song-Motet Juvenis qui puellam’, RBM, xlii (1988), 31–82

E. Trumble: ‘Dissonance Treatment in Early Fauxbourdon’, Beyond the Moon: Festschrift Luther Dittmer, ed. B. Gillingham and P. Merkley (Ottawa, 1990), 243–72

other studies





S.B. Meech: ‘Three Musical Treatises in English from a Fifteenth-Century Manuscript’, Speculum, x (1935), 235–69

T. Georgiades: Englische Diskanttraktate aus der ersten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1937)

G. Schmidt: ‘Zur Frage des cantus firmus im 14. und beginnenden 15. Jahrhunderts’, AMw, xv (1958), 230–50

F.Ll. Harrison: ‘Music for the Sarum Rite’, AnnM, vi (1958–63), 99–144

E. Apfel: Studien zur Satztechnik der mittelalterlichen englischen Musik (Heidelberg, 1959), i, 82ff

S.W. Kenney: ‘“English Discant” and Discant in England’, MQ, xlv (1959), 26–48

D.C. Fowler: ‘The Date of the Cornish Ordinalia’, Mediaeval Studies, xxiii (1961), 90–125

P.J. Thannabaur: Das einstimmige Sanctus der römischen Messe in der handschriftlichen Überlieferung des 11. bis 16. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1962)

E.H. Sanders: ‘Cantilena and Discant in 14th-Century England’, MD, xvi (1965), 7–52

Andrew Hughes: ‘Mensural Polyphony for Choir in 15th-Century England’, JAMS, xix (1966), 352–69

Mother Thomas More [M. Berry]: The Performance of Plainsong in the Later Middle Ages (diss., U. of Cambridge, 1970)

G. Reaney: ‘John Wylde and the Notre Dame conductus’, Speculum musicae artis: Festgabe für Heinrich Husmann, ed. H. Becker and R. Gerlach (Munich, 1970), 263–70

R. Bockholdt: ‘Englische und franko-flämische Kirchenmusik in der ersten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts’, Geschichte der katholischen Kirchenmusik, ed. K.G. Fellerer, i (Kassel, 1972), 418–37, esp. ‘Faburden and Fauxbourdon’, 427–31

E. Apfel: Grundlagen einer Geschichte der Satztechnik vom 13. bis zum 16. Jarhundert, i (Saarbrücken,1974), esp. 208–17, 325–9

R. Bowers: Choral Institutions within the English Church: their Constitution and Development, 1340–1500 (diss., U. of East Anglia, 1975)

C. Sweeney: ‘John Wylde and the Musica Guidonis’, MD, xxix (1975), 43–59

E. Apfel: Aufsätze und Vorträge zur Musikgeschichte und historischen Musiktheorie (Saarbrücken, 1977), 105–6, 111–22

J.A. Caldwell: ‘The Te Deum in Late Medieval England’, EMc, vi (1978), 188–94

C. Wright: ‘Performance Practices at the Cathedral of Cambrai, 1475–1550’, MQ, lxiv (1978), 295–328

J. Aplin: ‘The Survival of Plainsong in Anglican Music: some Early English Te-Deum Settings’, JAMS, xxxii (1979), 247–75

R. Bowers: ‘Obligation, Agency, and laissez-faire: the Promotion of Polyphonic Composition for the Church in 15th-Century England’, Music in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Cambridge 1979, 1–19

G. Reaney: ‘The Anonymous Treatise De origine et effectu musicae, an Early 15th Century Commonplace Book of Music Theory’, MD, xxxvii (1983), 101–19, esp. 117

A. Wathey: ‘Oxford, New College MS 7, fols. 299–300, offsets’, in R. Bowers and A. Wathey: ‘New Sources of English Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Polyphony’, EMH, iv (1984), 330–46, 344 n.67

S. Allenson: ‘The Inverness Fragments: Music from a Pre-Reformation Scottish Parish Church and School’, ML, lxx (1989), 1–45, esp. 9–13

For further bibliography see Fauxbourdon.

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