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

Eytan Agmon agmonz at 012.net.il
Mon Jul 16 04:39:50 PDT 2012

“Moveable Do” syllables are (melodic) scale degrees, that is, intervals from
the tonic (reduced modulo the octave). The “tonic Sol-Fa method” was
codified and disseminated by John Curwen in the 19th century. However, the
idea dates back to the “octave species” of medieval modal theory (and
ultimately Greek theory). 


Eytan Agmon

Bar-Ilan University 


From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org
[mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Robert O
Sent: Saturday, July 14, 2012 4:47 AM
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Movable-Do subculture in the Romance tradition?



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


Best wishes,

Bob Gjerdingen

Northwestern Univ.



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