[Smt-talk] Movable-Do subculture in the Romance tradition?

Robert O Gjerdingen r-gjerdingen at northwestern.edu
Fri Jul 13 18:46:30 PDT 2012

On Jul 12, 2012, at 12:23 PM, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:

The solmisation syllables have long been used, in the French tradition, as ...solmisation syllables. The conversion to fixed-do solfège, in France, was not performed before the middle or the second half of the 18th century. Movable-do remained in (diminishing) usage at least until the creation of the Paris Conservatoire around 1798.

Nicolas is correct about the situation in France, but for American readers there may be some confusion in his particular use of the term "moveable do."  In Anglo-American contexts, this usually means the systems developed in Victorian England, where "do" equals "tonic."  Various earlier, continental systems going back to Guido himself moved "Do" (or Ut), and note-names reflected that fluidity until the middle of the nineteenth century in many places within the "Romance tradition." But in those systems "Do" did not equal "tonic." "Mi," for instance, was not "3"; it meant a tone with a half-step above it and a whole-step below it. So almost every sharped tone was a "Mi" regardless of scale degree.

I assume that several subsequent messages will be triggered by the lure of talking about solfège systems. It may be worth mentioning that the flavor of a solfège system may matter less than the age of the student to whom it is applied. College-age students are "adult learners," which is why they may have considerable difficulty learning any type of second language. Adult learners of solfège (of any system) become about as proficient in solfège as adult learners of beginning violin become as violinists (which is to say, not very proficient). On the other hand, almost any system taught to receptive children over a period of many years will produce truly impressive results.

Best wishes,
Bob Gjerdingen
Northwestern Univ.

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