9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Classifying and Representing the Tuoni Ecclesiastici: An Epistemological Quandary for Seicento Music Theorists

Michael Dodds

The tuoni ecclesiastici are a set of tonalities arising in the late sixteenth century from the harmonization and transposition of the eight plainchant psalm tones—themselves often called tuoni ecclesiastici—in the Roman Catholic Offices. Because these tonalities arose from the interaction of liturgical conventions and practical constraints rather than purely theoretical considerations, not all late Renaissance and Baroque musicians recognized them as modal categories in their own right. A significant number did, however, regarding them as the "tones according to the modern use" or as a reduction of Zarlino's twelve modes.

Among Italian Baroque music theorists recognizing the tuoni ecclesiastici as modal categories in their own right (including Banchieri, Angleria, Penna, and Tevo) or as a subset of the twelve modes (including most notably Bononcini), some present them with, and others without, reference to the specific psalm-tone cantus firmi from which they derive. Writers who present them in the context of the psalm tones usually represent them as a set of signatures and finals (crucial cues to transposition level and psalm-tone termination for an organist accompanying or alternating with psalmody), as well as common interior cadential degrees. Theorists who address the tuoni ecclesiastici quite apart from psalmody, however, typically adopt the apparatus of traditional modal theory, namely mediated octave species. These differences in representation echo a tension between concepts of tonus and modus extending back to the Middle Ages and highlight the role of the tuoni ecclesiastici in mediating between vocal and instrumental ways of organizing tonal space.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita