Talk:O bone Jesu (Robert Parsons)

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I've thought about your change of 5vv to 6vv and changed it back, while attempting to clarify the situation with the note about the Bass gimell. I absolutely see your point - if 5 solo singers got together to perform this piece, they'd find themselves a man down - but it is still a "5-part" piece; i.e. it's contained in 5 partbooks. I think if we tried to reflect every division when specifying the overall number of voices, we'd get into difficulties - some of White's psalm-motets, while in 5 parts, have multiple gimells that would take the overall number of voices up to 8 or 10, enough to make any choir director's heart sink at the sight. And what about those not infrequent cases in earlier 16th-century polyphony where a voice-part divides only at a final chord - would we want to specify two voice-parts throughout? So many pieces from this period are distinguished by their number of voices that I think we perhaps need to retain the "traditional" designation. (I don't think there are in fact any gimells in White's 5-part Lamentations, but if there were, we'd be calling them the 6-part Lamentations, to the endless confusion of users looking for the "real", much less well-known, 6-part ones.) I think that categorising a piece such as O bone Jesu as AATTBB is right and necessary for users searching for specific voicings, but I'd still like somehow to retain a mention of the actual number of voice-parts. My initial attempt is far from perfect, so please feel free to have a better idea.--DaveF 16:28, 8 May 2010 (UTC)


This reminds me of the Tallis Gaude gloriosa Dei Mater, which is nominally for SATTBarB (6 parts), but has gymels for S, A, and B, so would require a total of 9 soloists. I gave the voicing for it as SATTBB and point out the divisi in the Description.

Reply by: Vaarky 16:49, 9 May 2010 (UTC)


I strongly feel that the searchable voicing should indicate the minimum voicing needed to sing the piece without omitting any notes. I disagree with the voicing on the Gaude Gloriosa too, btw.

The broader question is what the voicing category is for. Is it not for people to know what forces they need to perform a piece? Keeping this as a 5-part piece when it requires 6 mouths that can sing independently defeats the main purpose of this categorization. Putting it in the 5-part category creates the misleading impression that 5 people can sing it. If every piece that was mostly 4 part and had a brief divisi in every part to 8 voices categorized itself as 4 part, it would render searching by voicing largely useless in terms of noise to signal ratio. Even using multi-voicing to list it under both 4 and 8 voices makes search worthless because of all the pieces a group that can't handle the divisi has to wade through.

If one wants to indicate that this is essentially a 5-part piece with a brief gimel, then that is what should be indicated elsewhere than the categorization. The description, even the title, might be better places than categorizing it as searchable in the 5-voice category rather than 6.

Reply by: Chucktalk Giffen 15:38, 10 May 2010 (UTC)


I believe I selected the voicing of the Tallis based on the choral tutti sections and not on the 9 soli (or semichorus) parts (including the gymels for S, A, B that bring the number up to 9) scattered throughout the score. As is typical in much Renaissance choral music, there are parts/sections that are, at least in our present day interpretation, intended as soli, while other parts/sections seem to be for more than one on a part, ie. tutti. Indeed it is with the appearance of gymels that we ascertain that choral music of the period was indeed (by then) generally sung with more than one singer to a part.

I sense that David was trying to be true to the actual 5-part layout of the Parsons, and I note that (here at least) the Bass gymel is, in fact, a canon at the unison (as specified in the partbook) and hence requires only one stave (the second part simply waits until reaching the starting sign in the partbook).

Does this mean that the Parsons or the Tallis should be performed by at least 2 on a part (minimum of 10 or 12 singers respectively)? I don't know, but I tend to think that would be my performance preference. Yes, these works can be performed with only 6 or 9 singers respectively. I know of only a very few groups (outside of those which sing primarily madrigals) which look for music with the intent that there will be only one singer to a part. For such groups, Vaarky's comments do make sense, but I think such groups are the exception rather than the rule.

This brings me to another point, which is that voicing alone cannot possibly describe adequately the minimum number of singers required to sing a work. For example: While the Taverner Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas can (barely) be sung with 6 singers, I cannot imagine it being sung (performed) with fewer than a dozen singers, because of its many drawn-out cantus firmus sections (in varying parts) and the way the obvious tutti sections contrast with the soli sections. Or, how can one expect the Pérotin Viderunt to be sung with just 4 singers, since the one drone part has notes that are held over an extraordinary length of time and thus require two or more singers using staggered breathing?

And what about pieces (generally post classical era) which are, say, four-part until the final cadence, in which one or two parts might divide (eg. for an octave doubling of the final bass note)? Does such a piece become a five- or six-part piece because of this? My guess is that most would say it does not, but I don't know what the best approach is. Do we need a mechanism for informing people that informs them the Parsons requires a minimum of 6 singers, the Tallis a minimum of 9 singers, the Pérotin a minimum of how many(?) singers, etc. And should this be a part of the Voicing (which I think is one thing) or perhaps another aspect (something like minimum number of singers designation)?

In light of the principles given in the various voicing categories, such as 4-part choral music, this needs more discussion.

Reply by: DaveF


Perhaps it's as well to consider what "gimell" actually means, i.e. gemelli - twins, i.e. a twofold division of a single voice-part, rather than the addition of a new part. As in most respects, this Parsons piece is unusual in that the gimell occurs within a "full", 5-part section rather than in one for reduced voices as is generally the case. One would hope (I'm always hopeful) that a choir director approaching a piece by Parsons (or White, Tye, Mundy, any of that gang) would already be aware of early Elizabethan performance practice - that scoring is generally varied between full and solo sections with frequent gimells in the latter - and not look to perform their works one to a part. But am I right in thinking that the number of voices - i.e. the description "5vv" etc. - that appears on works pages isn't actually searchable (other than a text search on "5vv" or whatever) - what is actually searchable is the categorisation AATTBB? (Even that's not too helpful if you're thinking of doing the piece transposed.) In which case, is my suggestion of keeping the "5vv" description for a piece such as White's Manus tuae, while categorising it as AATTTTBB or whatever to cover all the gimells, in fact the best way to do it? As regards the description "5vv", both contemporary sources and modern editions insist on including it in lists of 5-voice compositions, so it would seem strange to do otherwise. (Reply added at the same time as Chuck's immediately above, so may not follow logically from it.) --DaveF 15:49, 10 May 2010 (UTC)