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A note on the motet »Beata dei genitrix« by Dunstable or Binchois

It is thinkable that the three-part motet »Beata dei genitrix« ascribed to Dunstable as well as to Binchois originally was notated in fa-clefs (see further ‘On chansons notated in fa-clefs’). It appears without letter clefs in the tenor and contratenor voices in the MSS Bologna, Civio museo bibliografico musicale, MS Q15, ff. 282v-283 (311v-312): Binchois; and Modena, Biblioteca Estense, MS A.X.1.11, ff. 133v-134 (136v-137): Dunstable. Other sources in normal notation ascribe it to “Anglicus” (Aosta, Biblioteca del seminario maggiore, MS A.1.D19, ff. 167v-168) and to Dunstable (München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Codex lat.mon. 14274 (Codex St Emmeran), ff. 7v-8v). In the anonymous version in Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio, Monumenti e Collezioni Provinciali, Ms. 90 (1377), ff. 335v-337, the motet appears without key signatures and with wrongly placed clefs. (1)

The disposition of the key signatures could indicate that the motet originally was notated in fa-clefs only, namely in superius: fas2, fa4, and in tenor and contratenor: fa1, fas2, fas4, which offers an obvious reading with one flat in every voice in the letter clefs C1, C3, C3 – in the range f-d''. The fa-clefs can of course also be read as key signatures, as four sources do, with two flats, C3, F3, F3, and in the range B-flat - g'. A default reading of the interlocked fa-clefs in fifth-fourth formation (as f'-c' / c'-f-c) produces a motet in C without flats and a range of c-a'.

Maybe the idea that fa-clefs do not designate key signatures lies behind the version without flats and the wrongly placed clefs in Trento 90. The single b-flat signature (fas4) in the first staff on f. 337 suggests that the scribe’s exemplar was in fa-clefs, which he tried to interpret with an inadequate result. The other scribes succeeded by just interpreting the signs as key signatures and providing letter clefs.

PWCH February 2010


1) Cf. Bologna Q15. The Making and Remaking of a Musical Manuscript. Introductory Study and Facsimile Edition by Margaret Bent, Lucca 2008, Vol. 1, 232; the motet is edited in John Dunstable (Manfred Bukofzer, ed.), Complete Works, (Musica Britannica VII) London 1953, no. 41, and Gilles Binchois (Philip Kaye, ed.), The sacred music of Gilles Binchois, Oxford 1992, no. 56.