Contratenor altus (Lat.: ‘high [part] against the tenor’)
- Owen Jander
(Lat.: ‘high [part] against the tenor’)
A line in polyphony lying just above the tenor. In the 15th century, as music came to be written in four rather than only three voices, composers approached the addition of the fourth voice by an extension of earlier compositional procedure. The most common arrangement of three voices had been superius (or cantus), tenor and Contratenor; in the new four-voice texture the composer used two contratenor parts, a contratenor bassus and a contratenor altus. The original method of writing these two voice parts is still evident in Pietro Aaron’s Il Thoscanello de la musica (1523), where ten rules set out ‘the method of composing the controbasso and the controalto, after the tenor and canto’ (bk 2, chap.21). In Italy ‘contratenorbassus’ was abbreviated to ‘bassus’, ‘controbasso’ or ‘basso’; ‘contratenor altus’ became ‘altus’, ‘controalto’, ‘contr’alto’, ‘contralto’ or ‘alto’. In France the term became Haute-contre. English usage was complicated because even in the late 16th century (by which time the word ‘contratenor’ had long been obsolete on the Continent) an alto part might also be called a meane, a contra, a counter or a ...