Peter Urquhart. Sound and Sense in Franco-Flemish Music of the Renaissance: Sharps, Flats and the Problem of Musica Ficta

Book review by Tim Daly

University of New England

Context 48 (2022): 103–5.

Published online: 31 Jan. 2023


Renaissance vocal music has an editorial problem. Performers and editors of pre-Baroque repertoire are unable simply to realise the music on the page but instead must decide whether the notation means what it says it means: manuscripts require interpretation. This obligation arises from the widely accepted idea that the surviving compositions were not chromatically precise and that certain types of inflection—what today we would call accidentals—were omitted in writing but applied in performance. There are several well-known ‘rules’ that govern the creation of these inflections,1 but this is where the consensus ends. Every scholar’s particular application of these rules is slightly different, and consequently, no two recordingsof a Josquin mass or a Mouton motet sound identical. As Peter Urquhart observes in his weighty contribution to the topic, even the term used to describe these problems, musica ficta, is ambiguous. […]

Download PDF