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date: 17 February 2020

Alternatim (Lat.: ‘alternately’)locked

  • Edward Higginbottom


(Lat.: ‘alternately’)

A term commonly used to describe the manner in which alternate sections of certain liturgical items were performed by distinct and normally dissimilar forces. The practice had its roots in the antiphonal psalmody of the early Western church. One of its first characteristic manifestations was in the performance of responsorial chants (e.g. gradual, alleluia) where the soloists (cantores) alternated with the choir (schola) (see Psalm §II, and Responsory, §4). In the organum settings of these texts in the Notre Dame repertory, the soloists sang polyphonically the sections normally reserved for the cantor, while the choir sang its sections in plainchant. Some Renaissance settings of responsorial texts show the same alternation of polyphony with plainchant (e.g. the settings of Audivi vocem de caelo by Taverner and Tallis).

The practice of alternatim, however, was not restricted to liturgical texts that were responsorial in character, nor to the opposition of plainchant to polyphony: psalms, canticles, hymns, sequences and the Ordinary of the Mass were also set in this fashion, one verse alternating with the next; and the alternation of organ with choir, or fauxbourdon with plainchant, rapidly gained currency during the 15th century. The introduction of the organ as a partner in ...

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Rivista internazionale di musica sacra
Music Review
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Early Music