Oswald quoting Oswald: Crossing the Border to Polyphony

It is a well established fact that Oswald’s musical work features a plenitude of contrafacts, musical borrowings and melodic intertextuality. Oswald was clearly not only taking over complete melodies or polyphonic settings from other composers, he was not only writing contrafacts on his own compositions, but was also re-using and re-assembling melodic bits and pieces from his own material to create new songs.

The free interchange of phrases or whole melodic parts within Oswald’s monophonic oeuvre has long been known (e.g. the refrain of “Es seusst dort her von orient” (Kl 20) provides also the refrain for “Ich spür ain lufft” (Kl 16)[1] and certain phrases of “Ain jetterin” (Kl 83) can be found in “Gelück und hail” (Kl 61) amongst other pieces).

Organum-Like Polyphony

One case of such self-borrowing, which has not been discussed in musical scholarship up to now, sheds new light on the interrelationship between Oswald’s monophonic and polyphonic output. Not only does that show the interrelation between monophony and polyphony (traditionally treated separately within musicology), but it also strongly suggests that Oswald himself—or someone he was closely working with—was responsible for those compositions in two voices, which I like to refer to as “organum-like”.[2]

The contrapuntal structure of this special group of pieces within Oswald’s polyphonic oeuvre does not conform to the latest contemporaneous discantus manuals. The compositions are all two-voiced without exception and seem to have been built on improvisational techniques that go back to an archaic tradition of free organum, which even if outdated was still in practice in some regions of Oswald’s time.[3]

Characteristic features of his organum-like pieces are an abundant use of parallel motion in perfect intervals (mainly in fifths, but occasionally also in octaves and in unison), unusual melodic jumps, simultaneous declamation in both voices, an absence of clear metre, an unregulated use of dissonances and an apparent equivalence of fifths and sixths in parallel motion. The last is a conundrum that could point to a local tradition of polyphonic improvisation. In any case, these observations confirm that the practice behind those compositions differs significantly from current discantus practices of the time and that certain intervals fulfill radically different functions in this style: imperfect consonances are not used as directed progressions,[4] but are merely there for polyphonic effect, and the established hierarchy of contrapuntal intervals does not apply—at least not wholly. It is noteworthy that no parallel transmissions for compositions from this group have yet been found.

Typical examples of organum-like pieces in Oswald’s oeuvre are: “Des himels trone” (Kl 37) in the polyphonic version of MS A (A-Wn 2777, fol. 34v-35r), “Wol auff, wol an” (Kl 75), “Ain graserin” (Kl 76) and “Ach senliches leiden” (Kl 51).

Another group of pieces occupies a middle ground between Oswald’s contrafacts of French or Italian chansons (most of which are proven contrafacts of “mainstream” compositions and all of which conform to contemporaneous discantus techniques) and the organum-like pieces: They use the effects of the free organum style, but occasionally apply regular metre as well as a typical build-up towards a cadence, which appear to quote the standard discantus rules. I tend to sort the pieces of the “mixed group” together with the organum-like pieces because they share the most significant features. Typical examples are: “Wach auff, mein hort” (Kl 101), “Wol auff wir wellen slauffen” (Kl 84) and “Lieb, dein verlangen” (Kl 94).

Since no contrafacts could be found within the “mixed” group either, it stands to reason to assume that Oswald’s own creativity was at work in the counterpoint of these organum-like (and related) compositions. Their seemingly rudimentary or at least irregular contrapuntal structure also suits the notion that Oswald—who most certainly was not a fully trained composer—might have fallen back on a simpler and more traditional approach to improvising polyphony, while occasionally intermingling his style with quotations from “Western counterpoint” known to him through his work with contrafacts.

The aforementioned case of a hitherto unnoticed internal borrowing strengthens this argument and supports the idea that the organum-like pieces are actually Oswald’s own compositions and unique to his oeuvre:

“Lieb, dein verlangen” (Kl 94) vs. “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” (Kl 13)

While “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” (Kl 13) became one of the most popular monophonic pieces by Oswald von Wolkenstein[5] the two voice “Lieb, dein verlangen” (Kl 94) is probably one of the least performed pieces from his sources. This is surely owing to the fact that there is still no satisfying edition of the piece. MS B only gives a tenor line but has an empty musical stave above it, which indicates that a second voice was planned. Unlike a handful of songs in Oswald’s sources, which appear to have existed in a monophonic as well as a polyphonic arrangement (such as “Ain gút geboren edel man” (Kl 43)), “Lieb, dein verlangen” must have been genuinely intended for two voices, not least for the fact that a hoquetus passage is indicated by the rests:

"Lieb, dein verlangen", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS B, A-Iu s.s., fol. 38v)

“Lieb, dein verlangen”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS B, A-Iu s.s., fol. 38v)

The transmission in MS A (a later addition by scribe number 6, identified as the Viennese Oswald Holer) verifies that a cantus line and a hoquetus passage indeed existed:

"Lieb, dein verlangen", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 18r)

“Lieb, dein verlangen”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 18r)

However, neither counterpoint nor rhythm add up. The piece clearly does not work as notated. Corrections need to be made. Furthermore, the composition seems almost crammed into too little space at the bottom of a page, which is already swarming with stray and partly unmarked voices from other pieces—sort of like the book version of “lost-and-found” or a “miscellaneous leftovers” page. In short: the manuscript’s context does not add credibility to the notation of this song. An attempt at transcription shows that the notation is at least as messed up as it is for the cantus line of “Fröleichen so well wir” (Kl 47—a contrafact on Martinus Fabri’s “[Bien] ay je cause”) immediately preceding the beginning of the “Discantus huius lieb etc”. There seems to have been a great amount of confusion around the notation of the piece, which apparently could not be resolved when the later B-manuscript was assembled. I suppose that the scribe waited for the notational mess to be cleared up before notating the cantus line, which obviously never happened. This leaves us to make decisions for a working version. Part of the solution must be an error of transposition or a wrong choice of clef, because the intervals are in desperate need of correction for at least part of the piece. An internal borrowing gives clues to guide this decision-making process. When comparing the initial melisma (including the first few texted notes) of “Lieb, dein verlangen” with that of the monophonic “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet”, one can immediately see that it is essentially the same (left column: “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet”, right column: “Lieb, dein verlangen”, top row: MS B, bottom row: MS A):

"Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS B, A-Iu s.s., fol. 5v)—initial melism

“Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS B, A-Iu s.s., fol. 5v)—initial melisma

"Lieb, dein verlangen", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS B, A-Iu s.s., fol. 38v)—initial melism

“Lieb, dein verlangen”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS B, A-Iu s.s., fol. 38v)—initial melisma

"Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 4v)—initial melism

“Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 4v)—initial melisma

"Lieb, dein verlangen", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 18r)—initial melism

“Lieb, dein verlangen”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 18r)—initial melisma

Even the choice of ligated notes is almost identical. The only difference is the pitch level: “Lieb, dein verlangen” is in C, while “Wer ist die da durchleuchtet” stands in d. Experience with studying pieces from Oswald’s organum-like group teaches us that errors in transposition or choice of key are quite common. For example, the modality of the famous “Wach auff, mein hort” (Kl 101) is faulty in both voices of both manuscripts and not only in regard to pitch level, but also relative to each other. Since most of these mistakes can only be corrected by transposing it by a second or by applying musica ficta, the error cannot be explained with a mere slip of the pen, which would have lead to the typical mistake of a transposition by a third. With this example in mind I would like to suggest that Oswald re-used the initial melisma from “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” for the beginning of “Lieb, dein verlangen”. I therefore postulate that the former was composed before the latter. Werner Marold assumed that “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” was written in 1416 on stylistic grounds. “Lieb, dein verlangen” cannot be provided with a specific date but since it is a later addition to MS A, it appears that it was composed sometime after the first layer was written down in 1425.[6] I furthermore conclude that “Lieb, dein verlangen” was meant to be in the Dorian mode, just like “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” and would like to suggest the following solution as a transcription:
Amended transcription by Marc Lewon of "Lieb, dein verlangen", Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 18r)

Amended transcription by Marc Lewon of “Lieb, dein verlangen”, Oswald von Wolkenstein (MS A, A-Wn 2777, fol. 18r)—the corrections are too numerous to be marked.

If the counterpoint of my transcription is anywhere near to what Oswald had intended when he had conceived the piece, it would turn out to belong to the group of “mixed” pieces: somewhere between standard counterpoint and organum-like compositions. The fairly clear rhythmical structure as well as the hoquetus passage would point to contemporaneous discantus practice, while the contrapuntal framework, which tends to favour parallel motion in perfect consonances, appears somewhat archaic.

Conclusion: Oswald Composed Polyphony / Polyphony was composed for Oswald

The comparison of the initial melisma of the earlier, monophonic and unmensurated “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” with the later, polyphonic (two-voice) and mensurated “Lieb, dein verlangen” shows that musical intertextuality in Oswald’s oeuvre crossed the border from monophony to polyphony. Since Oswald’s monophonic songs are believed to be largely his own compositions and his organum-like pieces do not appear anywhere outside his own manuscripts, and since we find the initial melisma of one of his monophonic songs in one of his two-voice organum-like compositions, I conclude that Oswald himself (or someone working directly for or with him) composed at least some of his organum-like songs. I furthermore conclude that a composed or improvised embellishment of a genuinely monophonic song was within the realms of possibility, since it was apparently feasible for Oswald to conceive a new, mensurated voice upon a melodic line, which up to then was only part of an unmeasured, monophonic song. The fact that such a procedure was within Oswald’s means is substantiated by the organum-like, polyphonic “Des himels trone” (MS A, fol. 34v-35r), which is notated as a monophonic song in MS B (fol. 15v-16r).

Marc Lewon

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[1] For an analysis see Tammen, Björn R.: “Es seusst dort her von orient… (Kl. 20). Versuch über das Phrygische bei Oswald von Wolkenstein”, in: Berger, Christian (ed.): Oswald von Wolkenstein. Die Rezeption eines internationalen Liedrepertoires im deutschen Sprachbereich um 1400. Mit einer Edition elf ausgewählter Lieder, Freiburg i. Fr., Berlin, Wien (Rombach Verlag) 2011 (Rombach Wissenschaften. Reihe Voces, vol. 14), pp. 57-83, esp. pp. 71-76.

[2] See Lewon, Marc: “Oswald von Wolkenstein: Die mehrstimmigen Lieder”, in: Müller, Ulrich and Margarete Springeth (ed.): Oswald von Wolkenstein. Leben – Werk – Rezeption, Berlin, New York (Walter de Gruyter) 2011, pp. 168-191, esp. pp. 182-184.

[3] For more some interesting findings see: Staehelin, Martin: “The constitution of the fifteenth-century German tenor lied: drafting the history of a musical genre”, in: Kmetz, John (ed.): Music in the German Renaissance: Sources, Styles and Contexts, Cambridge 1994, pp. 174-81 and especially Gozzi, Marco: „The Abbey of Novacella and Local Polyphonic Traditions“, in: Berger, Christian (ed.): Oswald von Wolkenstein. Die Rezeption eines internationalen Liedrepertoires im deutschen Sprachbereich um 1400. Mit einer Edition elf ausgewählter Lieder, Freiburg i. Fr., Berlin, Wien (Rombach Verlag) 2011 (Rombach Wissenschaften. Reihe Voces, vol. 14), pp. 17-32.

[4] For a definition of the directed progression see Fuller, Sarah: “On Sonority in Fourteenth-Century Polyphony: Some Preliminary Reflections”, in: Journal of Music Theory 30 (1986), pp. 35-70 and Fuller, Sarah: “Tendencies and Resolutions: The Directed Progression in Ars Nova Music”, in: Journal of Music Theory 362 (1992), pp. 229-257.

[5] See latest recording of “Wer ist, die da durchleuchtet” by Ensemble Leones on the CD “The Cosmopolitan – Songs by Oswald von Wolkenstein“, Christophorus Label 2014, Track 12, performed by Miriam Andersén (voice & harp):

Ensemble Leones: The Cosmopolitan—Songs by Oswald von Wolkenstein (Christophorus 2014)

Ensemble Leones: The Cosmopolitan—Songs by Oswald von Wolkenstein (Christophorus 2014)

Tracklist

Ensemble Leones: The Cosmopolitan—Songs by Oswald von Wolkenstein (click to enlarge)

 

[6] Marold, Werner: Kommentar zu den Liedern Oswalds von Wolkenstein, ed. by Alan Robertshaw, Innsbruck 1995 (Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft. Germanistische Reihe, vol. 52), p. 29, 35 and 235.

2 thoughts on “Oswald quoting Oswald: Crossing the Border to Polyphony

  1. Besonders interessant im Anschluss an den letzten Kurs in Schwäbisch-Hall. Da werde ich mir die Stücke noch mal genauer anschauen müssen.

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