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Fauxbourdon [faulx bourdon; fau(l) bordon, fau(l) wordon; fauburdum]

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Fauxbourdon [faulx bourdon; fau(l) bordon, fau(l) wordon; fauburdum]

(Fr.; Ger. Faberdon, Faberton, Fabordon, Fabourdon etc.; It. falsobordone; Sp. fabordón, favordón; Port. fabordão).

A technique of either improvised singing or shorthand notation particularly associated with sacred music of the 15th century. The Iberian and Germanic forms of the word appear to derive from the English Faburden, although the French form was also known in these areas. The Italian Falsobordone seems to be a translation from French but evolved a rather different style and history.

1. The term in musical sources.

2. Fauxbourdon extemporized from plainchant.

3. Typology, distribution and nationality of written fauxbourdon.

4. The first fauxbourdons; explanations of the term.

5. Technical characteristics and applications.

6. Later developments.




1. The term in musical sources.

‘Fauxbourdon’ was an enigmatic French phrase attached as a tag or label to short compositions or sections of longer ones, normally sacred and written as apparently two-voice pieces with the cantus firmus in the upper part, appearing in continental musical manuscripts from about 1430 to about 1510. The words ‘faux bourdon’ were often preceded by the preposition ‘à’ or ‘per’, sometimes ‘au’ (even ‘aux’) or ‘in’; the expression might also be shortened to ‘per faulx’ or ‘per bardunum’. Although some scribes contracted the two words into one, this article follows Trumble in reserving ‘fauxbourdon’ for use as a generic term referring to the whole technique or complex of voices, or to the category of composition.

The designation ‘faux bourdon’, or one of its variants, was usually placed in either the discantus or the tenor part – more often the latter, especially in the earlier years, perhaps because the tenor directed the ensemble; it might also appear in both parts, or elsewhere on the page. It signalled the fact that the two given voices had been so composed – essentially by using a framework of 6ths and octaves – that the performer or performers could add a third and eventually a fourth part to them by following certain strictly formulaic procedures. The earliest method was to derive a contratenor altus from the written discantus by singing the same notes simultaneously at the 4th below, which produced essentially a chain of what would now be called 6-3 chords, varied and punctuated by single 8-5 chords, though with some decorative passing notes and suspensions, particularly at cadences, and on occasion more licentious dissonances. This was still regarded as the ‘classic’ manner by most music theorists of the late 15th century and has become known in musical literature as the ‘6th-chord’ or ‘fauxbourdon’ style. But around 1450, or even before, composers and performers started to use a contratenor bassus, derived not from the discantus but from the tenor, beneath which they sang alternate 3rds and 5ths, beginning and ending with a unison or octave, and with the cadential octave preceded by a 5th; to the resulting tricinium a new kind of contratenor altus might also be added, by singing alternate 3rds and 4ths above the tenor, beginning and ending with a 5th, and with the cadential 5th preceded by a 4th (see exx.3 and 4 below).

‘Faux bourdon’, though not in itself a mandatory canonic instruction, is therefore a kind of trademark that tells the performers that they may increase the sonority of the music by adding one or two canonically derived parts. Trumble, the latest and most thorough historian of fauxbourdon, assumed that this might not be done in the absence of the trademark, even though there are 37 cases where a composition inscribed ‘faux bourdon’ in one source lacks the designation in another. He thus excluded from consideration (a) a fairly high number of two-part compositions which with the addition of the missing tag would be indistinguishable from his ‘true’ fauxbourdons (25 in Trent MS 93 alone); and (b) a smaller number of pieces realized as three-voice compositions, either as lightly ornamented fauxbourdons or as fauxbourdon bicinia to which an unlabelled, freely composed ‘contratenor sine fauxbourdon’ has been added (8 in Trent 93). A ‘gymel’ in 6ths and octaves in Guilielmus Monachus’s more restricted use of the term (he also allows 10ths) would of course have made sense on its own; but it cannot be proved, and seems unlikely, that singers confronted by such a gymel were actually precluded from adding a canonic contratenor altus by the omission, which might have been accidental, of the tag ‘faux bourdon’. The term ‘gymel’ is almost unknown in continental sources and was not used as a prescriptive tag; on the other hand, it is surely significant that of the many ‘gymels’ in the Trent manuscripts, most of them embedded in longer three-voice compositions, not one bears the designation ‘duo’ which is otherwise used to distinguish duets; this suggests that they were not intended as such. Guilielmus (c1480) also showed how both a gymel and a fauxbourdon might be turned into a four-voice piece, a licence which seems to have been left entirely to the discretion of the performers, since no musical manuscript is known to contain directions deliberately prescribing its application.


2. Fauxbourdon extemporized from plainchant.

Besseler and Trumble have given a very full picture of fauxbourdon as a res facta in the form of compositions labelled ‘faux bourdon’ in musical manuscripts. Their surveys have sorted out much of the confusion created by earlier historians, who had relied too heavily on the rather late evidence afforded by the writings of music theorists; the collection and categorization of all the known fauxbourdon pieces has also served to clarify many of the theorists’ ambiguities and obscurities. But it is possible that the resulting emphasis on fauxbourdon as a technique of written composition may lead us to neglect the likelihood that fauxbourdon was used quite early in its history, like faburden, as a simple means of harmonizing a plainchant super librum. This was certainly the case later on, although there is no direct evidence for the early years. Tinctoris’s specimen of fauxbourdon (1477), Lauda Sion, is written in a succession of equal breves, nearer to plainchant than to the rhythm of most surviving fauxbourdon compositions; curiously, it places the chant in the tenor, a practice unknown in music manuscripts.

The earliest Spanish reference to ‘fabordón’ is also suggestive. Juan de Lucena’s Libro de vida beata (probably mostly 1452–3, drafted by 1463) mentioned ‘fabordón’ as a traditional way of singing ‘por uso’, which he contrasted unfavourably with the more skilled singing ‘por razon’ of ‘músicos’. Referring plainly to the relationship between the two upper parts of three-voice faburden or fauxbourdon, Lucena found the technique contradictory and inharmonious: ‘one [singer] is in the flat [hexachord] and the other in the natural; one on a line, the other in a space’ (the passage is not present in Lucena’s model, the De humanae vitae felicitate liber of B. Fazio). There are no surviving written fabordones from this early period. A German poem published in 1447 described Conrad Paumann playing the organ – therefore presumably extemporizing – and ‘tenoring, with Contratenor, Faberdon and Primitonus’ (Hanns Rosenplüt, Spruchgedichten, Nuremberg; see Bukofzer, 1936, p.123); there are among the compositions of Paumann’s Fundamenta organisandi in the Buxheimer Orgelbuch and the Lochamer Liederbuch pieces which do indeed seem to employ the sonorities of faburden or fauxbourdon (Trowell, 1977, pp.47–8). A century later, two German organs had ‘Faberthon’ stops which sounded the 5th and octave above the played note, doubtless intended to facilitate the performance of fauxbourdon in the classic 6th-chord manner (see I. Rücker: Die deutsche Orgel am Oberrhein um 1500, Freiburg, 1940, pp.121, 157). A search among liturgical books and choirmasters’ indentures from northern France and Burgundy would perhaps produce early evidence of extemporized fauxbourdon. This could have been achieved by simple directions akin to those for Faburden or for Guilielmus Monachus’s fauxbourdon: two singers would have transposed the plainchant up an octave and a 5th respectively, while another sang unisons with and 3rds above its written pitch. The octave transposition of English treble sight (see Sight, sighting) was known to several continental theorists at the end of the 15th century; Burtius (1487) said, for example, that it was extensively practised among ‘ultramontane singers … in princely chapels’ for extemporizing over a plainchant (see Bukofzer, 1936, pp.156ff). There is one written fauxbourdon (a Magnificat in I-TRmp 87, no.85) whose discantus must be read in transposition at the upper octave and 5th, a device also used in a set of harmonized psalm tones in the St Emmeram manuscript (D-Mbs Clm 14274) which are not, however, labelled ‘faux bourdon’ (see Trumble, 1959, p.45). Late evidence of the apparently extempore application of fabordón – which the scribe equates with the French technique, ‘faulxbourdon (ut sic dicam)’ – to a wide range of liturgical types and occasions may be found in the constitutions of Charles V’s chapel, said to replicate those of the Netherlandish chapel of Philip the Fair (d 1506). They include psalms (even-numbered verses), a processional psalm, masses, versicles and responses, antiphons, responsories, litanies, and a lesson, the second of three; the fauxbourdon is distinguished from written music in the regulation that no-one must start singing until the phonascus or his deputy has given the note, ‘tam in faulxbourdon … quam in musicis’ (Vander StraetenMPB).


3. Typology, distribution and nationality of written fauxbourdon.

At the latest count there appear to be 29 continental manuscripts containing a total of 175 compositions labelled ‘faux bourdon’ in one or more of their sources – 172 if we subtract three instances where Du Fay used the same music for different texts. They are listed in Trumble (1959), to which subsequent research adds four more: Mikołaj Radomski’s Magnificat primi toni in PL-Wn Krasiński 52 (bearing the designation ‘per bardunum’ and a canon), apparently a very early specimen, as must be the Kyrie by Grossin – a composer older than Du Fay – duplicated but transposed in the same manuscript, with the direction [contratenor] ‘a discantu’ (facs. and edn in AMP, xiii–xiv, nos.12–13); the anonymous sequence Eya recolamus in I-TRmd 93, no.1751; Busnoys’ Magnificat [6ti toni] in B-Br 5557 (ed. in Masters and Monuments of the Renaissance, v, 1990, pp.111–24; a similarly structured anonymous Magnificat [8vi toni] from I-Rvat S Pietro B80 which, however, lacks the tag ‘faux bourdon’, is printed ibid., 193–207); and the very late example of the Sanctus in Isaac’s six-voice Missa paschalis, where the ‘Pleni sunt celi’ calls for fauxbourdon in the two discantus and alto (or tenor) in dialogue with the lower voices (ed. in CMM, lxv/1, 20–22, from D-Ju 30, D-Bsb 40013 and I-Rvat C.S.160) (see Trumble, 1960, 1990; Elders, 1977). In 154 of these 172 compositions the plainchant has been transposed in the discantus to the upper octave (though if a contratenor altus is supplied it will also present the plainchant, transposed to the upper 5th). Five pieces appear to have no cantus firmus; in five the chant is in the discantus at the upper 4th (as in faburden), in three at the upper 5th, in one at its original pitch, in one at the upper 7th and in one at the lower 2nd; there are three cases of migrant cantus firmus (Trumble, 1960, p.20). All the compositions are sacred except two: Du Fay’s fragmentary Juvenis qui puellam, a lawsuit set to music that wittily parodies liturgical recitation; and Busnoys’ Terrible dame, where the two lower voices, in ‘empty’ and unsatisfied gymel, represent the lover who complains that he is dying ‘par deffaut’, while his lady, characterized by the top two voices with a third in fauxbourdon, asks ‘Que vous fault?’ (‘What do you lack?’), after which the four voices mesh contentedly together for four beats in four-voice fauxbourdon. Among the 170 sacred compositions employing fauxbourdon (and in those ‘gymels’ where the tag is missing), most use it for short passages alternating with sections composed in traditional ways, or with plainchant. There are 43 different settings of hymn melodies and 12 sequences. There are 14 Kyries, where the alternatim mode proved attractive, and nine other mass movements. Psalmodic recitation was a popular field (this was probably also a natural home for fauxbourdon super librum): there are 31 psalms and canticles, with 22 Magnificat settings; the 19 introits often favour the technique for their psalm verses. 12 of the 14 antiphons, on the other hand, are set to fauxbourdon throughout. Among the six miscellaneous items it is not surprising to find short forms such as the versicle with response, the preface, two communions and a sectional Passion. More unexpected is perhaps the most famous use of the technique, in Du Fay’s isorhythmic motet Supremum est mortalibus bonum (1433): here there is no cantus firmus, but the instantly recognizable texture of fauxbourdon is used as a colouristic device to articulate the structure.

Of the 21 composers known to have written fauxbourdons (counting C. and N. de Merques as the same man), at least 15 were Franco-Burgundian; they composed no fewer than 68 of the 79 ascribed pieces, as against 93 anonymous compositions. Du Fay alone composed 24 (excluding duplications), almost as many as Merques (7), Binchois (6), Brassart (6) and Roullet (6) put together; Johannes de Lymburgia composed five, Benoit, Busnoys, Feragut, Liebert and Sarto two each, and Fede, Grossin, ‘Ray. de Lan’ (see Lantins, de) and Johannes Martini one. The other composers are ‘Arnulphus’ (1), Antonius Janue (5), Hermann Edlerawer (2), Cristofferus Anthonii (1), Isaac (1) and Mikołaj Radomski (1).

The striking preponderance of French-speaking composers would suggest that the origins of fauxbourdon are to be sought in France and Burgundy, where, however, the musical manuscripts have largely perished; the fact that the bulk of the repertory survives in north Italian manuscripts (21 sources out of 29) is hardly in itself conclusive evidence of Italian origin. The term ‘faux bourdon’ is French (a unique case of such a vernacular tag in Latin sacred music of the time). Even Besseler, a strong advocate of Italian origin, suggested (AcM, 1948; 1950) that the first fauxbourdon was composed by Du Fay as part of a mass then thought to have been intended for St Jacques-de-la-Boucherie in Paris. Many Franco-Burgundian composers of fauxbourdon apparently never worked in Italy, including Binchois; his six pieces are in an unusually simple, almost mechanical style, very different from Du Fay’s, which may perhaps reflect extempore practice (he also wrote a number of fully realized three-voice pieces composed in a rather similar manner). It is striking that no English composer ever wrote a fauxbourdon piece or used the standard two-voice notation or the term ‘faux bourdon’, although the French term is adduced by Scottish Anonymous – in 1558 or later – as equivalent to ‘faburdoun’ (f.54: see S. Allenson, ML, lxx, 1989, pp.1–45, esp. 11).


4. The first fauxbourdons; explanations of the term.

The two earliest known examples of fauxbourdon appear in the older section of I-Bc Q15. First in the manuscript, and bearing an explanatory canon in Latin, is the communion Vos qui secuti estis me, the closing item in Du Fay’s Missa Sancti Jacobi. It may well be the first composition to use the term ‘faux bourdon’, as Besseler maintained. The mysterious words are fittingly taken as a punning allusion to St James’s bourdon or staff, shown in the miniature at the head of the mass. (Explanations of the term as meaning ‘false staff’ have not however won acceptance: Adler, 1881, referred it to the tenor, as having no cantus firmus or true independence from the discantus, Ficker, 1951, to the unwritten contratenor, as a ‘false support’ for the discantus.) Most other modern attempts to explain the term ‘faux bourdon’ rely on the idea that bourdon meant a low-voice part in early 15th-century French, for which there is no proof, although burdoun had had this meaning in English and Anglo-Norman French since before 1300 (see Faburden, §2); Adam von Fulda (c1490) referred to the ‘feigning’ in the octave transposition of the cantus firmus, which however would only really make sense if the discantus were being extemporized straight from the chant by using treble sight (fictus visus). Trumble (1954) advanced the ingenious but unprovable explanation that the strong resultant tones from the consecutive 4ths in the upper parts produced a ghostly ‘fictus bardunus’ an octave lower, in the register of Arnaut de Zwolle’s organ-pipe ‘barduni’.

G.B. Rossi (1618, probably written by 1585) advanced the notion that fauxbourdon was a hybrid form between canto fermo and canto figurato, a bastardized ‘sport’ whose name must derive from burdo (‘mule’) – a derivation related to Vogel’s claim, in our own time, that fauxbourdon meant ‘mule’s larynx’, or bagpipe. For Burmeister (1606: see F. Feldmann, AMw, 1958, pp.123–43, esp. 137–8), with his interest in rhetoric, it was a catachresis (a solecism, a perversion of a figure or trope). Praetorius (1618) offered a number of explanations besides the idea of the ‘false bass’ that has been taken up in various senses by several later writers, especially Besseler. He also pointed to bourdon meaning ‘bee’, an idea further explored by Elders (1989), whose theory, though apt and ingenious in its quest for symbolic meaning, fails to allow for the necessary distinction between the honey-gathering Apostles of Du Fay’s communion, seen as worker bees, and the laziness of a drone bee (a meaning of ‘fauxbourdon’ not apparently attested before Littré’s dictionary of 1863). Praetorius fancifully likened what he saw as the false cadences of fauxbourdon to the back-turned, parallel hem on a garment; he alluded to bourdon as ‘prop’ or ‘support’ (a meaning adduced by Ficker, 1951 and Wallin, 1953) and also as ‘St James’s staff’ or ‘pilgrim’s staff’. This reminds us that the English King Henry VIII, at his death in 1547, owned a set of ‘Shalmes … v … pipes caulled pilgrim staves’ (F.W. Galpin: Old English Instruments of Music, 1910, pp.122, 219), which surface again in Mersenne (Harmonie universelle, ii, 299, propositio xxxii) as a kind of courtaut, fagot or short bassoon resembling a large stick or staff: ‘de la vient que quelques-uns en font de grands bourdons semblables à ceux des Pelerins de sainct Jacques’ (see also Faburden, §2, for Harrison’s derivation of the English voice-name ‘burdoun’ from burdo: ‘shawm’). The pilgrim’s staff, hollowed to make a shawm, might equally conceal a weapon: Thomas Thomas’s Latin–English dictionary of 1588 defines dolo as ‘a great sparre or staffe with a small head of iron and a sword within it: a Iacobs staffe’ (Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘Jacob’s staff’, 3). Here is yet another sense in which a ‘bourdon’ might be ‘false’, the visible outer structure (discantus and tenor) concealing a hidden element (the unwritten contra). It is perhaps significant that the earliest French literary uses of the term ‘fauxbourdon’ play on the idea of something lacking, a deceptive omission. Busnoys’ Terrible dame (see above) turns on the emptiness of the two outer parts without the middle one; and in a still earlier rondeau dating from 1459–60 by the musically inclined Charles d’Orléans (which, ironically, lacks its music) the poet speaks of ‘Musique notée par fainte / Avec faulxbourdon de Maleur’; the ‘new singer’, asked who he is, replies ‘Je ne tiens contre ne teneur’. It is curious that ‘bourdon’ emerged much later on in 1690 as printer’s jargon for a passage omitted in error, and that a ‘coquille’ or cockle, St James’s other symbol, came to be used to mean a jumble of letters: was the saint the patron of a printers’ confraternity? And do these terms go back further to the scriveners of the Rue des Ecrivains, which ran alongside the church of St Jacques-de-la-Boucherie in Paris, where Du Fay’s friend Robert Auclou, whose name and position form an acrostic in Du Fay’s motet Rite maiorem, was curate? It is no longer generally believed that Du Fay composed or assembled the Missa Sancti Iacobi, which contains what may be the first fauxbourdon, for his friend’s church; but ‘fauxbourdon’, or rather ‘faubourdon’, strangely unites their two names, since ‘fau’ is a variant of ‘fou’, ‘fay’ or fagus (‘beech’, whence du Fay) and ‘bourdon’ may also mean a flat-headed nail (au Clou).

The significance of the name ‘fauxbourdon’ had plainly been lost by the time the first theorists wrote about the technique, hence their conflicting opinions. In the absence of early evidence we shall probably get no further. Since the word is not Latin, it is likely that the term had little or nothing directly to do with techniques of composition, for which a perfectly good Latin vocabulary existed. If, as Flasdieck (1953) thought plausible, its first user or users were imitating the sound of the English word ‘faburden’ (a term which does permit of a technical explanation), they nevertheless would probably have had some French rationale in mind, whether serious or humorous.


5. Technical characteristics and applications.

The canon appended to Du Fay’s communion, translated, says: ‘if you desire a threefold piece, take the notes from the top [part] and begin simultaneously, going down a 4th’. The canon in Nicolaus de Radom’s Magnificat, thrice repeated in much the same form, runs: ‘per bardunum: Hic recipe in quinta [or ‘tercia’] et fiet contratenor’ (the first two entries muddle up ‘quinta’ and ‘tercia’). The realization of Du Fay’s canon, in Vos qui secuti estis, produces a piece curiously unlike the traditional image of the genre. Many early fauxbourdons, from I-Bc Q15 and elsewhere, seem to struggle against the logic of parallel movement; it is as if the composers were taking up a new and revolutionary idea but adapting it to late Gothic taste by making the discantus (with its derived contratenor) as different as possible from the tenor, within the limits of the style. The tenor is textless and looks like an instrumental part, while both the upper parts are presumably to be sung by soloists: this would throw the unusual parallel 4ths into sharp relief. The chant is at times quite heavily ornamented and rhythmicized in chanson style with frequent melismas and strong dissonances over the slower-moving tenor; octaves, producing contrary motion, frequently interrupt the flow of 6ths; the rhythm of the tenor is surprisingly independent, with overlapping phrase lengths, anticipations and syncopations. Ex.1 is the opening of Du Fay’s communion (the notes taken from the chant are marked with asterisks).

The other fauxbourdon in the earlier part of I-Bc Q15, Johannes de Lymburgia’s antiphon Regina celi letare (ex.2), is a much simpler composition with none of Du Fay’s rhythmic and contrapuntal ingenuity; in spite of the composer’s frequent introduction of octaves, the impression is very much nearer to note-against-note movement.

Johannes de Lymburgia’s Magnificat secundi toni, one of the 17 fauxbourdons in the later part of I-Bc Q15, is the only such piece in the manuscript in which an extended text is given to the tenor as well as the discantus, and must be one of the first examples of entirely vocal fauxbourdon. Binchois’ fauxbourdons resemble Johannes de Lymburgia’s in their simplicity, and one of them, the hymn Ut queant laxis, occurs in a manuscript only slightly later than I-Bc Q15 and in a deviant notation: the contratenor is given, and the discantus must be supplied at the 4th above (I-Vnm IX 145; the piece also survives in normal notation in D-Mbs Clm 14274). For historians who believe that fauxbourdon was the model for English faburden, Johannes de Lymburgia was simply a clumsy composer and Binchois’ hymn was copied by an ignorant scribe (though he also managed to copy Benoit’s hymn Tibi Christe in normal fauxbourdon notation). For those who believe that fauxbourdon was an interpretation of English faburden, the simpler and more vocal of the two styles of early fauxbourdon reflects the sonority of vocalized faburden, and the unusual notation of Ut queant laxis reflects its technical derivation, in which the cantus firmus was thought of as the middle voice.

The difficulties involved in determining the relationship between fauxbourdon and faburden are discussed under Faburden. Whatever the truth of the matter, both techniques represented important technical advances in 15th-century music. In each, the cantus firmus is moved from the low tenor into the upper voice or voices; in faburden the chant seems to have been declaimed very plainly in note-against-note style; in fauxbourdon, the Gothic and contrapuntal early manner of Du Fay existed alongside a simpler manner employed by Johannes de Lymburgia and Binchois, which Kirkman (1990) has rightly related to the genre of chant involved; later on, vocal performance with simultaneous declamation became the rule. Both faburden and fauxbourdon rejoiced in the use of continuous parallel 4ths between the upper voices (still found ‘offensive’ by Adam von Fulda in 1490), provided they were made good by the lowest voice; long sequences of parallel 6ths were also legitimized, and the traditional insistence on contrary motion in discant and counterpoint was for a time denied in the interests of sensuous euphony. Both devices brought a feeling for vertical harmony into European music at a time when the new medium of choral polyphony was looking for appropriate new techniques. The Gothic ideals of disparate colours and rhythmically differentiated, frequently overlapping lines were giving way to Renaissance ideals of the blending of similar colours and rhythms in a smooth and carefully stratified texture. Probably the most important innovation in faburden and fauxbourdon was the notion of part-writing in which the separate strands never overlapped. This remained the case in four-voice fauxbourdon as well, when the tenor, though itself tied to the movement of the upper voice, gave birth to a functional bass line; the new bass supported a logically spaced harmony which was to become a model for simple four-part writing in ‘familiar style’ (and continuo chording) that endured for centuries. (Korth, however, whose study of 1988 offers valuable technical insights, would attribute these innovations to more general trends rather than to fauxbourdon.)

The characteristic sonority of fauxbourdon was almost never thought tolerable in long compositions. The fauxbourdons in I-Bc Q15 are nearly all short, and most of them are strophic hymn and Magnificat settings. In many of these, a verse in fauxbourdon alternates with monophonic plainchant. Sometimes an independent contrapuntal setting of the chant is included as a further alternatim element. This may also be achieved by providing a new three-voice setting of the original fauxbourdon discantus with two quite different lower voices; or by leaving the fauxbourdon discantus and tenor intact, but writing a new and independent ‘contratenor sine fauxbourdon’ which may cross beneath the tenor or sing a unison with it so that the parallelism of the original bicinium is less apparent. Fauxbourdon was early recognized as a highly distinctive sonority which could play a valued part in successive contrasts of colour. Of the specimens in I-Bc Q15 only the Magnificat settings of Feragut and Johannes de Lymburgia and the latter’s Regina celi letare offer long stretches of uninterrupted fauxbourdon.

During the 1430s fauxbourdon started to appear in northern Italian and central European manuscript repertories, principally Trent manuscripts 87 and 92, with 45 pieces, and the Aosta manuscript with 13; here it is used more extensively in the Ordinary of the mass, especially for alternatim Kyries, and for the first time in alternate verses of sequences and in introits. Fauxbourdon from this time also appears in the German St Emmeram manuscript (D-Mbs Clm 14274), whose later fascicles apply fauxbourdon to an unparalleled variety of liturgical contexts.


6. Later developments.

Trumble identified a major change in style solidifying during the 1440s, pointing to the Ferrarese manuscript I-MOe α.X.1.11, which contains 17 fauxbourdons and moves more firmly into the realm of entirely vocalized fauxbourdon with fully texted tenor parts. The tenor is more and more adapted to the rhythm of the discantus, and the melismatic style gives way to simple functional declamation, simultaneous in all voices, moving more slowly and in duple time: in earlier fauxbourdons, tempus perfectum had predominated. Some of these ‘new’ characteristics, however, are due simply to the application of fauxbourdon to less melismatic types of chant. The new manner also makes itself felt in Trent manuscripts 90 and 93 (20 and 23 pieces respectively, with 17 in common) and in I-Fn Magl.XIX 112bis (12 pieces). The latter source includes a new phenomenon, made possible by the increasing homogeneity of discantus and tenor: fauxbourdon with contratenor bassus replacing the contratenor altus. The Italian Antonius Janue’s hymn Gloria laus has an alternative contratenor which is mostly in alternate 5ths and 3rds beneath the tenor (there are also a few upper 5ths and consecutive 5ths). Ex.3 shows how the passage begins.

Though clumsily executed here, this type of contratenor bassus points the way to the improvised four-voice gymel and fauxbourdon described some 30 years later by Guilielmus Monachus and so fruitfully investigated by Trumble, who found other compositions to illustrate the theorist’s remarks. Ex.4 is a condensed version of one of Guilielmus’s examples in Trumble’s interpretation: (a) can be performed either as a gymel in 6ths and octaves or, with the small notes, as three-voice fauxbourdon with contratenor altus; (b) shows how the same bicinium may be performed either as three-voice fauxbourdon with contratenor bassus or, with the small notes, as four-voice fauxbourdon with contratenor altus as well (Trumble, 1959, pp.60–61).

These techniques may also be traced in the last large collection of fauxbourdon with a character of its own, a pair of Ferrarese choirbooks (I-MOe Lat.454–5), which contain 28 fauxbourdons; 24 of them are psalms arranged for two choirs in a tradition that points to the polychoral style of 16th-century Venice (see Trumble, 1959, pp.41ff); there are also many 6th–octave gymels. Besides the psalms there are three Magnificat settings and a St Matthew Passion. All the works are unique and anonymous except a Magnificat by Martini which also appears in I-Rvat C.S.15 (a largely retrospective collection of 18 fauxbourdons). The psalms of the Modena choirbook, though often simple and functional to the point of dullness, use a variety of techniques which allowed Trumble to demonstrate convincingly how four-voice fauxbourdon came to lose its technical identity in the varied practices of 16th-century Italian Falsobordone and Spanish fabordón. (It is curious that the original technique of three-voice fauxbourdon was nevertheless still known to Doni in the second quarter of the 17th century: he recommended that theatrical choruses should be declaimed ‘in falso Bordone, cioè in seste divise da una voce di mezzo’). To Trumble’s survey of the sources for the latter should be added the manuscripts I-Rvat C.S.60, 63 and 343 and the long, testy and instructive (but doubtless also inventive) footnote in Baini (1828), as well as the passage in Martini (1757) to which Baini took such exception, containing a valuable list of theorists who discussed fauxbourdon. The allegedly 14th-century ‘fogli laceri’ that Baini speaks of as containing fauxbourdons are no longer to be found in the archives of the Cappella Sistina and presumably never existed or were wrongly dated, although Buck (revising Wooldridge, OHM, i, 2/1929, pp.298–329) believed him; the Spanish Enciclopedia universal ilustrada cites a 15th-century three-voice fauxbourdon psalm tone emanating from Baini, to which he added a free soprano part.



early theorists

PraetoriusSM, iii, 9ff

J. de Lucena: Libro de vida beata (?1452–3); ed. in Opúsculos literarios de los siglos XIV. á XVI. (Madrid, 1892), 157

Anon. MS (1476, D-Rp 98 th.4°), 345

J. Tinctoris: Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477); ed. in CoussemakerS, iv, 76–153

Guilielmus Monachus: De preceptis artis musicae (c1480); ed. in CSM, xi (1965), 29–30, 38ff; ed. E. Park: De preceptis artis musicae of Guilielmus Monachus (diss., Ohio State U., 1993)

Adam von Fulda: De musica (1490); ed. in GerbertS, iii, 329–81, esp. 352

Florentius de Faxolis: Liber musices (1495–6); selection ed. A. Seay, Musik und Geschichte: Leo Schrade zum sechzigsten Geburtstag (Cologne, 1963), 71–95

F. Gaffurius: Practica musice (Milan, 1496/R), iii, chaps.5–6, ff.DD 3v–4v

P. Aaron: Libri tres de institutione harmonica (Bologna, 1516/R), iii, chap.xvi

J. Galliculus: Isagoge de compositione cantus (Leipzig, 1520)

G.M. Lanfranco: Scintille di musica (Brescia, 1533/R), 117

O. Luscinius: Musurgia (Strasbourg, 1536), 91ff

H. Faber: Musica poetica (MS, 1548, D–Z), chap.iii, ‘De dissonantiis’; ed. C. Stroux (Port Elizabeth, 1976)

A.P. Coclico: Compendium musices (Nuremberg, 1552/R1954 in DM, 1st ser., Druckschriften-Faksimiles, ix), ff.L iii ff

G. Zarlino: Le istitutioni harmoniche (Venice, 1558/R, 3/1573/R), iii, chap.lxi, 61

J. Burmeister: Music poetica (Rostock, 1606/R)

G.B. Rossi: Organo de cantori (Venice, 1618/R), 79

J. Thuringus: Opusculum bipartitum de primordiis musicis (Berlin, 1624, 2/1625); see F. Feldmann, AMw, xv (1958), 123–43

G.B. Doni: Trattato della musica scenica, chap.xxxv, ed. A.F. Gori and G.B. Passeri, Lyra barberina amphicordos (Florence, 1763/R), ii, 101

studies on fauxbourdon

RiemannL12 (R. Brinkmann)

WaltherML (‘Falsobordone’)

‘Fabordón’, Enciclopedia universal ilustrada europeo-americana (Barcelona, 1905–30)

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

H. Besseler: ‘Der Ursprung des Fauxbourdons’, Mf, i (1948), 106–12

H. Besseler: ‘Dufay, Schöpfer des Fauxbourdons’, AcM, xx (1948), 26–45

H. Besseler: Bourdon und Fauxbourdon (Leipzig, 1950, rev., enlarged 2/1974 by P. Gülke); see also review by N.L. Wallin, Mf, vi (1953), 7 only

R. von Ficker: ‘Zur Schöpfungsgeschichte des Fauxbourdon’, AcM, xxiii (1951), 93–123

M.F. Bukofzer: ‘Fauxbourdon Revisited’, MQ, xxxviii (1952), 22–47

H. Besseler: ‘Tonalharmonik und Vollklang: eine Antwort an Rudolf von Ficker’, AcM, xxiv (1952), 131–46

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

R. von Ficker: ‘Epilog zum Faburdon’, AcM, xxv (1953), 127–31

N.L. Wallin: ‘Zur Deutung der Begriffe Faburden-Fauxbourdon’, GfMKB: Bamberg 1953, 120–24

G. Kirchner: ‘Französisch fauxbourdon und frühneuenglisch faburden (H.M. Flasdieck); Epilog zum Faburdon (R. v. Ficker): eine Erwiderung’, AcM, xxvi (1954), 85–7

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

H. Besseler: ‘Das Ergebnis der Diskussion über “Fauxbourdon”’, AcM, xxix (1957), 185–8

S. Clercx: ‘Aux origines du faux-bourdon’, RdM, xxxix–xl (1957), 151–65

G. Schmidt: ‘Über den Fauxbourdon: ein Literaturbericht’, JbLH, iv (1958–9), 146–51

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

E. Trumble: Fauxbourdon: an Historical Survey (Brooklyn, NY, 1959)

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

E. Apfel: ‘Nochmals zum Fauxbourdon (Faburden) bei Guilielmus Monachus’, Mf, xix (1966), 284–8

M. Vogel: ‘Musica falsa und falso bordone’, Festschrift für Walter Wiora, ed. L. Finscher and C.-H. Mahling (Kassel, 1967), 170–76

D. Hoffmann-Axthelm: Tenor/Contratenor und Bourdon/Fauxbourdon (diss., U. of Freiburg, 1970)

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

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

M.C. Bradshaw: The Falsobordone: a Study in Renaissance and Baroque Music, MSD, xxxiv (1978), esp. 32–49

K. Ruhland: Der mehrstimmige Psalmvortrag im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert: Studien zur Psalmodie auf der Grundlage von Faburdon, Fauxbourdon und Falsobordone (diss., U. of Munich, 1978)

A. Kirkman: The Style and Context of Early Fauxbourdon: Bologna, Civico Museo, Bibliografico Musicale MS Q15 and Modena, Biblioteca Estense MS α x 1.11 (thesis, U. of London, 1985)

H.-O. Korth: ‘Der Fauxbourdon in seinem musikgeschichtlichen Umfeld’, Guillaume Dufay, Musik-Konzepte, no.60 (1988), 74–96

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

W. Elders: ‘Guillaume Dufay’s Concept of Faux-bourdon’, RBM, xliii (1989), 173–95; repr. in idem: Symbolic Scores: Studies in the Music of the Renaissance (Leiden, 1994), 17–41

A. Kirkman: ‘Some Early Fifteenth-Century Fauxbourdons by Dufay and his Contemporaries: a Study in Liturgically-Motivated Musical Style’, TVNM, xl/1 (1990), 3–35

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

AmbrosGM, esp. ii, 344ff



MGG1 (‘Dreiklang’, J. Handschin; ‘Dufay’, H. Besseler)


RiemannG, chap.7


Vander StraetenMPB, vii, 181–6

G.B. Martini: Storia della musica, i (Bologna, 1761) [dated 1757], 194ff

G. Baini: Memorie storico-critiche della vita e delle opere di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (Rome, 1828/R), i, 256–60

G. Adler: Studie zur Geschichte der Harmonie (Vienna, 1881)

T. Kroyer: ‘Die threnodische Bedeutung der Quart in der Mensuralmusik’, Musikwissenschaftlicher Kongress: Basle 1924, 231–42

W. Korte: Die Harmonik des frühen XV. Jahrhunderts in ihrem Zusammenhang mit der Formtechnik (Münster, 1929)

C. Mahrenholz: Die Orgelregister: ihre Geschichte und ihr Bau (Kassel, 1930, 2/1944/R), 247

H. Besseler: Die Musik des Mittelalters und der Renaissance (Potsdam, 1931/R)

O. Ursprung: Die katholische Kirchenmusik (Potsdam, 1931/R)

J. Handschin: Musikgeschichte im Überblick (Lucerne, 1948, rev. 3/1981/R by F. Brenn), 223ff

J. Handschin: ‘Eine umstrittene Stelle bei Guilelmus Monachus’, IMSCR IV: Basle 1949, 145–9

A. Schmitz: ‘Die Figurenlehre in den theoretischen Werken J.G. Walthers’, AMw, ix (1952), 79–100

H. Besseler: ‘Das Neue in der Musik des 15. Jahrhunderts’, AcM, xxvi (1954), 75–85

F. Feldmann: ‘Untersuchungen zum Wort-Ton-Verhältnis in den Gloria-Credo-Sätzen von Dufay bis Josquin’, MD, viii (1954), 141–71

E. Trumble: Early Renaissance Harmony (diss., Indiana U., 1954)

W. Gurlitt: ‘Canon sine pausis’, Mélanges d’histoire et d’esthétique musicales offerts à Paul-Marie Masson (Paris, 1955), i, 117–23; Ger. orig. in Musikgeschichte in Gegenwart, ed. H.H. Eggebrecht (Wiesbaden, 1966), 105–10

R. Gerber: ‘Zur italienischen Hymnenkomposition im 15. Jahrhundert’, AcM, xxviii (1956), 75–86

H. Besseler: ‘Dufay in Rom’, AMw, xv (1958), 1–19

B. Meier: ‘Alter und neuer Stil in lateinisch textierten Werken von Orlando di Lasso’, AMw, xv (1958), 151–61, esp. 153, 157

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

R. Bockholdt: Die frühen Messenkompositionen von Guillaume Dufay (Tutzing, 1960)

M.F. Bukofzer: ‘English Church Music of the Fifteenth Century’, NOHM, iii (1960), 165–213, esp. 176–7

R. von Ficker: ‘The Transition on the Continent’, NOHM, iii (1960), 134–64, esp. 162–3

C. Dahlhaus: ‘Miszellen zur Musiktheorie des 15. Jahrhunderts’, JbSIM 1970, 21–31

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

E. Gerson-Kiwi: ‘Drone and Dyaphonia basilica’, YIFMC, iv (1972), 9–22

A.E. Planchart: ‘Guillaume Dufay’s Masses: a View of the Manuscript Traditions’, Dufay Conference: Brooklyn, NY, 1974, 26–60

W. Elders: ‘Humanism and Music in the Early Renaissance’, IMSCR XII: Berkeley 1977, 883–7 [discussion, 888–93]

D.P. Walker: ‘The Expressive Value of Intervals and the Problem of the Fourth’, Studies in Musical Science in the Late Renaissance (London, 1978), 71–80

C. Wright: ‘Performance Practices at the Cathedral of Cambrai, 1475–1550’, MQ, lxiv (1978), 295–328, esp. 313–22

K.-J. Sachs: ‘Arten improvisierter Mehrstimmigkeit nach Lehrtexten des 14. bis 16. Jahrhunderts’, Basler Jb für historische Musikpraxis, vii (1983), 166–83

For further bibliography see Faburden; Falsobordone; and Gymel.

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