The Role of Mode as a Structural Force in Lasso's "Si bona suscepimus"

Greg Decker, Florida State University

The difficulty of developing an appropriately nuanced yet flexible understanding of pitch organization, or "tonal coherence," in sixteenth-century polyphonic music arises from the related issues of the applicability of modal theory, whose roots are in monophonic chant, to imitative polyphony and the understanding of mode as a pre-compositional resource versus a tool for categorization. Cristle Collins Judd and Miguel Roig-Francolí have developed separate understandings of mode as an organizational force for both local and long-range pitch structure, focusing respectively on modal implications for elaborated melodic structure and the resulting counterpoint and on modally prescribed surface characteristics such as intervals of imitation and cadence tones. In this paper, I borrow aspects of both authors' work to examine how characteristics of several different modes might give a piece of music its particular shape and pitch structure. In Orlando di Lasso's motet Si bona suscepimus, for example, modal elements are blended together by the overlapping of phrases, which inform the opening and closing of those phrases, and by the simultaneous use of characteristic melodic intervals from different modes. A consideration of surface events (i.e., points of imitation and cadential arrivals), melodic lines of all voices, and contrapuntal interaction reveals a more comprehensive picture of the role of mode as a structural force in shaping the work.