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Unification and «varietas» in the «Sine nomine» mass from Dufay to Tinctoris

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Communications And The Arts - Music
  • Musicology


Sine nomine (without name) is a term applied by modern scholars to refer to freely composed musical settings of the Mass Ordinary that do not borrow a cantus prius factus. I examine the intellectual context into which the fifteenth-century sine nomine Mass was born and I investigate organizational strategies for the cyclic Mass outside of cantus prius factus borrowing. I present a new interpretation of varietas based on links between ancient rhetoric treatises and Johannes Tinctoris's Liber de arte contrapuncti, and argue that Tinctoris's conception of varietas can help to understand procedures of motivic repetition and variation in the fifteenth-century sine nomine Mass. As the earliest type of Mass cycle, the sine nomine Mass played a crucial role in the history of the cyclic Mass. Fifteenth-century composers unified their sine nomine Masses with mottos and motives that assumed the form of multi-voice blocks. These blocks were repeated in contrapuntally varied forms (Constellations) and contrapuntally repeated forms (Modules). I trace the genesis and development of the motto and the multi-voice motivic block over the course of the fifteenth century and devise a new analytical vocabulary that clarifies how and where mottos and motives are structured, positioned, repeated, and varied. Most pre-1450 sine nomine Masses feature Constellations, which almost always undergo melodic, rhythmic, and contrapuntal variation. Later in the century, when mottos and motives assume a more straightforward and literal form, the Constellation is replaced by the Module. I conduct analytical case studies on the Continental and English origins of the sine nomine Mass for works by Reson, Dufay, Lymburgia, Pullois, Benet, and Bedingham. Further developments in sine nomine Mass composition are traced through later works, including the anonymous Missa Fa-ut, sine nomine Masses by Barbingant and Bassere, the Missa Quinti toni by Ockeghem, and Tinctoris's four-voice Missa sine nomine. This

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