The Cookie and the Quads
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The "firm" in cantus firmus implies that this preexisting melody is not to be toyed with. For the melody to be recognized, its pitches and rhythms must be intact. The cantus firmus may be segmented, however, and passed from voice to voice. It may also be ornamented or presented in longer note values. The cartoon above represented the cantus firmus as a cookie being fed to quadruplets (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). The following is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it does represent common techniques for presenting the cantus firmus.
Long Cookie: This technique involves statement of the cantus firmus in long notes, usually in the soprano.
Decorated Cookie: A decorated cantus firmus appears in one voice, usually the soprano.
Cookie in Canon: The cantus firmus appears in canon between two voices.
Cookie Cutter: The cantus firmus is distributed among all voices. The melody may be in long notes, or it may be short with imitative counterpoint in the remaining voices.
Cookie with Cream: The cantus firmus is accompanied by obbligato or ritornelli.
Cookie with Crumbs: Here one voice states the cantus firmus in long notes, with the remaining voices gobbling fragments (crumbs) of the melody in imitative counterpoint. The "crumbs" are like an invention with the beginning pitches of each phrase becoming the invention's motive. Sometimes these imitative sections are mini-fugues. Nun Danket Alle Gott (p. 101 of Stein's Anthology) is an example of "cookie with crumbs." Stein calls this type of setting "Chorale with invention or fugue."
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©1996 Timothy A. Smith
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