You are on page 1of 3

A&H195 LIBRARY TASK 2 THE MEANING AND ORIGINS OF FAUXBOURDON

1
The Meaning and Origins of Fauxbourdon
Joris van Doorn
Methods
As a starting point the course book was used (Burholder, Grout, & Palisca,
2014). This proofed to be useful for the style characteristics of the fauxbourdon, but it did not
give much insight of the origins. A quick search on Wikipedia was even more useful.
Although Wikipedia itself might not always be reliable, every page has its own references
list. This list provided two helpful books that were both available in the library (Besseler,
1950) (Atlas, 1998). Especially Besselers book was valuable. Most of the other books
referred back to Besselers work. However, Besselers Bourdon und Fauxbourdon was also
the hardest book to analyse, because it was written in German. Furthermore a trip to section
783 of the Middelburg library ended up being surprisingly useful. In this section about music
and music history a music dictionary was found (Sadie, 2001). This dictionary contained a lot
of essential information. Finally, a book about the Falsobordone was used. This book was
obtained through interactions with fellow students at the library.
Results
The fauxbourdon is a continental polyphonic music style inspired on the English
faburdun (Burholder, Grout, & Palisca, 2014, p. 168). This music form was used by
composers of the second quarter of the fifteenth century, of whom Guillaume Du Fay (ca.
1397-1474). Although both styles have a lot in common, the fauxbourdon differs from the
faburdun in that only the cantus and tenor were written out. A third, unwritten voice sang in
exact parallel a fourth below the cantus (Atlas, 1998, pp. 10-11). Besseler found two
fundamental asspects of the fauxbourdon: The pieces need to have two voices, a cantus and a
tenor and must be completed with a counter tenor. Secondly, the only consonances allowed

A&H195 LIBRARY TASK 2 THE MEANING AND ORIGINS OF FAUXBOURDON

2
are sextets, fifths and octaves (Besseler, 1950, p. 2). The technique was used for simpler
Office chants like hymns, antiphons, psalms and canticles (Burholder, Grout, & Palisca,
2014, pp. 179-180).
The origins of the fauxbourdon remains a difficult question. Based on the same
sources two studies from 1936 and 1937 came to two different conclusions. Manfred
Bukofzer claims that the fauxbourdon is a reaction the English Diskants, while Thrasybulos
Georgiades states that the fauxbourdon just gradually spread as a continental form (Besseler,
1950, p. 1). In the falsobordone Gnther Schmidt argues that the origins of this chordal
declamation can be traced back to at least the 14th century and might even originate from the
very first examples of Western polyphony in the 9th century Musica Enchiriadis (Bradshaw,
1978, p. 32).
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol. 8 also refers to Besseler. The
book states that Vos qui secuti estis me, the closing item in Du Fays Missa Sancti Jacobi may
well be the first composition to use the term faux bourdon (Sadie, 2001, p. 616). According
to the same book the name fauxbourdon might originate from St. Jamess bourdon or staff,
although later the book refutes this. Other modern attempts to explain fauxbourdon rely on
bourdon meaning a low-voice part in early 15th century French, however, for this is no proof.
An earlier explanation by G. B. Rossi advanced that fauxbourdon is a hybrid form between
canto fermo and canto figurato. Other alternatives include bourdon meaning bee and
fauxbourdon meaning false bass. Significant was that in early French literature the term
fauxbourdon played on the idea of something lacking, a deceptive omission. These are all
good attempts, but a lack of evidence prevents a more accurate explanation (Sadie, 2001, pp.
616-617).

A&H195 LIBRARY TASK 2 THE MEANING AND ORIGINS OF FAUXBOURDON

3
All sources seem to conclude that fauxbourdon and relate terms, names and styles
heavily depend on the chronological and geographical context, but the true origins seems to
be lost in the lack of evidence of the development of early western polyphony.
References
Atlas, A. W. (1998). Renaissance Music (First ed.). United States of America: W. W. Norton
& Company, Inc.
Besseler, H. (1950). Bourdon und Fauxbourdon (First ed.). Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hrtel.
Bradshaw, M. C. (1978). The Falsobordone (First ed.). United States of America: American
Institute of Musicology.
Burholder, P., Grout, D. J. & Palisca, C. V. (2014). A History of Western Music (Ninth ed.).
New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Sadie, S. (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Second ed., Vol. 8).
London: Macmillan Publishers.