Zarlinian Modality in Claude Le Jeune’s Dodecacorde

Jessica Herdman


Beyond the religious-political discourse of Le Jeune’s musical publications, current academics regard his work as a key to elements of sixteenth-century compositional practice in the twelve-mode system. Le Jeune was highly regarded among his contemporaries for his modal compositions – a reputation that he purposefully exploited through the publication of modally-organized works.

In the current discourse on the theory and practice of mode during the Renaissance, scholars frequently cite Le Jeune’s Dodecacorde as an example of the Zarlinian theoretical-practical mixture of modal theory. An explicit analysis of Le Jeune’s application of Zarlinian dodecacordal theory, however, has not yet appeared in the academic literature. A comparison of excerpts from the Dodecacorde with polyphonic examples from Zarlino’s Institutione will illustrate the specific ways that Le Jeune adapts these modal practices. In attempting such a study, this paper will not only present a perspective on the concreteness of Zarlino’s modal conceits, but it will also clarify the degree to which these regulations were practically (i.e., how or whether they could be applied to contemporary composition) or speculatively based.

While not examining the broader relevance of Le Jeune’s application of the Zarlinian system in his psalm-settings, this paper will initiate the theoretical study of modality in the Dodecacorde in relation to Zarlino’s practical-speculative theory. This will hopefully allow for more in-depth forays into this area in the future.

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