Musica ficta

Musica ficta (from Latin, 'false', 'feigned', or 'contrived' music) was a term used in European music theory from the late 12th century to about 1600 to describe any pitches, whether notated or to be added by performers in accordance with their training, that lie outside the system of musica recta or musica vera ('correct' or 'true' music) as defined by the hexachord system of Guido of Arezzo. In modern usage, the term is often loosely applied to all unnotated inflections (whether properly recta or ficta) that must be inferred from the musical context and added either by an editor or by the performers themselves (Bent and Silbiger 2001).

One common (though not exclusive) use of ficta was to avoid harsh harmonic or melodic intervals such as the tritone, for example the use of a E instead of a E to avoid dissonance with a B in another part. In modern transcriptions of medieval and Renaissance music, ficta are usually indicated by an "accidental" sign appearing above the note. (In modern notation, accidentals are written before the note, not above.) Editors provide these ficta for modern singers, whereas the kind of training given to singers of that time may have made such indications unnecessary.[citation needed]

Medieval and Renaissance singers were trained in a system of hexachords, six-note scales in which each note was given a name - in ascending order: ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la. A hexachord contained only one half-step interval, between mi and fa. The 11th century theorist Guido of Arezzo had designated three types of hexachord: molle ("soft") starting on F, with a half-step between A (mi) and B♭ (fa); naturale starting on C, with a half-step between E (mi) and F (fa); and durum ("hard") starting on G, with a half-step between B (mi) and C (fa).[citation needed] The ficta hexachords were those having a note other than A, E, or B as "mi". For example, a raised F (in modern terms, F-sharp), indicated by adding the sign, created a ficta hexachord starting on D (D E F G A B) that would be operative until that part mutated into another hexachord where the raised F was no longer desired. Likewise a sign applied to any note other than B would indicate that it was "fa" in a ficta hexachord; or, when applied to B, that the hexachord was molle rather than durum.[citation needed] Unfortunately, the use of the signs was by no means consistent: it was assumed that a good singer "knew his mi's and fa's," so that the signs were typically only added if the scribe anticipated that singers would be likely to interpret differently otherwise.[citation needed]

The exact performance practice of musica ficta - where and when they were used - is a matter of intense investigation and controversy among musicologists and is likely to remain so for a long time to come.[citation needed] Music theorists from Odo of Cluny in the 10th century to Zarlino in the 16th gave highly different rules and situations for the application of ficta. Thus the controversy is not only among contemporary musicologists; theorists of the Late Middle Ages were never in agreement on the rules of ficta either. Johannes de Garlandia (13th century) and Philippe de Vitry (14th century) both wrote that ficta were essential in singing polyphony because of the necessity of forestalling certain dissonances and properly arranging cadences; but they resisted their use in plainchant. The early 14th century theorist Jacques de Liège, on the other hand, insisted that notes in plainchant needed to be altered with judicious application of musica ficta.[citation needed]!

Contrapuntal treatises of the Renaissance, such as Johannes Tinctoris's Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477) and Gioseffe Zarlino's Le istituzioni harmonice (1588), described resolution at cadences through a major sixth into the octave or the inversion, a minor third closing to a unison, which, unless the other voice already descends by a semitone, necessitates the rising voice to add a sharp (see dyadic counterpoint) (Tinctoris 1961,[page needed]; Zarlino 1968, 144–45). At such points, accidentals were in fact sometimes notated throughout this period of history.[citation needed]


  • Bent, Margaret. 1972. "Musica Recta and Musica Ficta". Musica Disciplina 26:73–100.
  • Bent, Margaret, and Alexander Silbiger. 2001. "Musica Ficta [Musica Falsa]". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers; New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music.
  • Tinctoris, Johannes. 1961. The Art of Counterpoint (Liber de arte contrapuncti), translated by Albert Seay. Musicological Studies and Documents, 5. [N.p.]: American Institute of Musicology.
  • Zarlino, Gioseffo. 1968. The Art of Counterpoint: Part Three of Le istitutioni harmoniche, 1558, translated by Guy A. Marco and Claude V. Palisca. Music Theory in Translation 2. New Haven: Yale University Press. Reprinted 1976, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Further reading

  • Allaire, Gaston G. 1972. The Theory of Hexachords, Solmization and the Modal System: A Practical Approach. Musicological Studies and Documents 24. [N.p.]: American Institute of Musicology.
  • Arlettaz, Vincent. 2000. "Musica ficta, une histoire des sensibles du XIIIe au XVIe siècle". Liège: Mardaga. ISBN 2-87009-721-1. English summary online:
  • Article "Musica Ficta," 1980. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vols. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Bent, Margaret. 1984. "Diatonic 'Ficta'". Early Music History 4:1–48.
  • Coussemaker, Charles Edmond Henri de (ed.). 1864–76. Scriptorum de musica medii aevi nova seriem a Gerbertina alteram. 4 vols. Paris: A. Durand. Reprinted, Milan: Bollettino bibliografico musicale, 1931.
  • Hoppin, Richard H. 1978. Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.. ISBN 0-393-09090-6
  • Johannes de Garlandia. 1972. De mensurabili musica, critical edition with commentary and interpretation by Erich Reimer. 2 vols. Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 10 & 11. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner.
  • Randel, Don (ed.). 1986. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Musica Ficta — On parle de musica ficta, par opposition à la musica recta, dans le cadre de la théorie des hexacordes et de la solmisation décrite par Guido d Arezzo Sommaire 1 Les deux définitions de la musica ficta 2 De la musica recta à la musica ficta 2.1 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Musica ficta — Musica fịcta   [lateinisch »künstlich gebildete Musik«], Musica fạlsa [lateinisch »falsche Musik«], in der Musiktheorie des 13. 16. Jahrhunderts gebräuchliche Bezeichnung für Töne, die im System der Hexachorde nicht enthalten sind und nur unter …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Música ficta — Para otros usos de este término, véase Musica ficta (desambiguación). La musica ficta (de latín, música “falsa”, “fingida” o “ideada”) era un término usado en teoría de la música europea a partir de finales del siglo XII hasta cerca de 1600 para… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Musica ficta — On parle de musica ficta, par opposition à la musica recta, dans le cadre de la théorie des hexacordes et de la solmisation décrite par Guido d Arezzo Sommaire 1 Les deux définitions de la musica ficta 2 De la musica recta à la musica ficta 2.1… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Música Ficta — Disambiguation: See musica ficta for the Latin musical term, feigned music. There are five early music ensembles with a similar name: Musica Ficta (Argentina) founded 1975 by Rubén Soifer. Musica Ficta (Colombia) founded in 1988 the subject of… …   Wikipedia

  • musica ficta — /myooh zi keuh fik teuh/; Lat. /mooh si kah fik tah/ the use of chromatically altered tones in the contrapuntal music of the 10th to the 16th centuries. Also, musica falsa /myooh zi keuh fawl seuh/; Lat. /mooh si kah fahl sah/. [1795 1805; < ML… …   Universalium

  • Musica ficta — Als Musica ficta (von lat. fingere, PPP fictum „gestalten, (um)formen“; auch Musica falsa von lat. falsus „nachgemacht, unecht“; dt. etwa „abweichender Ton“) wurden in der Musiktheorie ab dem Beginn des 13. Jahrhunderts diejenigen Töne bezeichnet …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Musica Ficta — (Lat. false music )    The performance practice of adding accidentals to written diatonic pitches, chiefly in medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque music. The specifics of the tradition are inconsistent in both musical and theoretical sources… …   Historical dictionary of sacred music

  • música ficta — (latín; música fingida .) En la música medieval y renacentista, la práctica de insertar notas cromáticas (ver cromatismo) no escritas durante las ejecuciones. De acuerdo con los tratados de la época sobre la materia, se dejaba que los ejecutantes …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • musica ficta — noun the use of chromatically altered tones in the contrapuntal music of the 10th to the 16th centuries. Syn: musica falsa …   Wiktionary

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