restricted access 6. Aifreann Eoin na Croise: Motivic Analysis
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6 Aifreann Eoin na Croise: Motivic Analysis 192 Introduction T he analysis of Aifreann Eoin na Croise contained in chapter five maintained the more general approach already adopted for Ceol an aifrinn and Aifreann 2, and allowed for a consideration of textual and liturgical aspects as well as musical questions. In terms of the continuum of the three mass settings under discussion, we saw earlier how the prose settings of Ceol an aifrinn were largely sustained by the recitational principle, with very few instances of thematic migration. Aifreann 2, which drew primarily on the sustaining power of a particular modal structure, relied more on motivic repetition, but mainly within individual pieces where it was frequently employed in a static manner to accompany litany-type text repetitions. The scale and pervasive nature of motivic repetition observed in Aifreann Eoin na Croise, however, signal a new departure and a markedly different compositional approach, the significance of which will ultimately be seen to be applicable to the larger generative questions pertaining to the possible development of a modern-day ‘vernacular chant’. Following an introduction to some relevant aspects of the term ‘motif’, and with the aid of a motivic chart of the mass setting, this chapter proceeds with a detailed examination of the musical nature, distribution and categorisation of its constituent motifs. The overall compositional picture emerging from this initial analysis is first of all interpreted through the lens of orality as applied in the disciplines of literature, ethnomusicology and plainchant scholarship. A second line of inquiry returns to John Stevens’ concept of the ‘non-relationship’ of words and music, as it considers the free nature of the interplay between melodic motifs and the accentual and syntactic properties of the text. As a means of summarising the findings of both lines of inquiry (motivic composition and text/music relationships) in the analysis of Aifreann Eoin na Croise, a specific chant setting from within the Roman liturgical tradition, Gloria VIII, is advanced as an aesthetically and structurally cognate example of music/text composition. A final section in this chapter, devoted to motivic analysis, brings the discussion beyond the more purely utilitarian aspects of motifs and their composition and application, to questions surrounding the nature, content, origins and ultimate meaning of these culturally grounded, elemental musical ‘sayings’. 193 Motivic Analysis A motif may be of any size, and is most commonly regarded as the shortest subdivision of a theme or phrase that still maintains its identity as an idea. (William Drabkin)1 I n his New Grove article, Drabkin proceeds to draw attention to the ‘elemental’ and ‘incomplete’ nature of the motif, and also to its consequences for the shape and structure of the larger composition in which it functions. Peter Jeffery, writing from the combined perspectives of plainchant and ethnomusicology, and using the parallel term ‘formula’, begins by focusing on the question of repetition: The most obvious attribute of formulas – their stereotyped character which is the reason for calling them ‘formulas’ – was captured in one way by a scholar who opted for a strictly notational definition, defining a formula as ‘a recurrent sequence of neumes, i.e. a string of signs which occurs several times in the material’.2 Having identified repetition or recurrence of a pattern of notes as a basic characteristic of formulas or, as we shall call them, ‘motifs’, Jeffery goes on to develop his attempted definition in terms of motivic flexibility, not just in purely melodic terms (i.e. straddling the gamut from motivic adaptation to motivic ‘transformation’),3 but also in the chant-related context of application of motifs to the liturgical text: ‘One type of flexibility, of course, is seen when the “same” formula is applied to different texts, with different numbers of syllables or patterns of accentuation …’.4 This text/ music relationship question is further developed in a section which relates melodic motifs with the broader considerations of textual syntax: ‘The most venerable approach to the study of melodic formulas in Christian chant … involves cataloguing them according to their apparent function in marking syntactical divisions in the text.’5 My initial analysis of Aifreann Eoin na Croise revealed a total of seven distinct motivic categories. In trying to assess the relative importance of each motif, given that recurrence is the sine qua non of the genre,6 Jeffery’s broader focus on motivic adaptation, but perhaps more importantly on AIFREANN EOIN NA CROISE: MOTIVIC ANALYSIS THE MASSES OF SEÁN AND PEADAR Ó RIADA 194 questions surrounding motif...


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