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Explain the melody in Josquin Desprez classic Ave Maria...Virgo Serena in one paragraph.

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The melody in the 15th century religious motet Ave Maria … virgo serena (first dated in copy as 1484) by Josquin Des Prez is for four voices. The fundamental voice for melody is the tenor, which combines with the three upper voices. Duos and trios in different choral voices result in melodic variations and may shift dupal meter to triple meter. Contrapuntal technique creates polyphonic tonal and melodic lines, with melodic climaxes occurring at cadences ending melodic phrases. Reiterative melodic phrases, also called "syntactic imitations," are set for all voices throughout all strophes.

Melody: The combination of sound pitches with duration (rhythm) that conveys the dominant theme throughout all variations.

Polyphonic: Consisting of two or more tonal or melodic lines. Polyphony is a European musical innovation and motets are an early representation of polyphony.

Contrapuntal: Combination of two or more separate and distinct melody lines. Counterpoint is another characteristically European music form. Counterpoint is the musical technique that creates polyphonic elements. Counterpoint consists of a vertical relationship between harmonies whereby harmonies unite and a horizontal independence between melodic lines whereby melody lines differentiate.

Cadence: A two-chord progression at the end of a musical phrase. In a motet, the imitative lines come together climatically at a cadence.

Syntactic Imitation: A contemporary term for reiterative, imitative phrases of text and melody. In a motet, the words (text) for the fundamental tenor voice are "arranged in a [melodic] pattern of reiterated rhythmic configurations" (Oxford Music Online) and the upper voices imitate the fundamental patterns. The imitative iterations of a motet may be at a faster rate and in a different language from the fundamental iterative configurations. Some speculate that mot, French for "word," is perhaps the origin of the name "motet" because a key element of a motet is the combination of different languages in the reiterative phrases.

Image: Josquin Des Prez. Wikimedia Commons.

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The melody Ave Marina Virgo Serena is what they call a "motet for 4 steps" or a piece of melody that has a lot of different movements and instruments within playin at the same time, broken into several parts, and also uses voice and lyrics. It was the most famous composition Josquin and it was composed during the height of the Italian Renaissance (just a few years after Columbus discovered America!) in 1495.

This piece, being that it uses voice, has high pitches which correspond to specific words on the phrases it is reciting, which is very typical of High Renaissance, and it is commonly referred to as a "syntactic imitation." It is also called that because the text is repeated throughout exactly in the same way. You see this in the first four verses and they are all balanced in terms of length, and intensity, so it is a balanced melody. There are also elements of heaven and earthly resonnance, and they are both mentioned in the lyrics. In. all, it convincingly conveys the message of worship and chanting that was typical of the Gregorian monks but gives it a special placing given that it is a hymn dedicated to the Virgin Mary.


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