Carol: Salve, sancta parens
Anonymous, 15th century
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 2 Track 13
Practice before theory and improvisation before practice. Triads were useful to composers long before they appeared in theory books and well constructed tunes like this one need no author. We all have a handful of tunes that we know, not knowing their source too well. And we add to this repertoire in small increments. One might be overheard changing the text a little or adding a cadenza as one walks down the street absently singing a tune whose title is forgotten. Unknowingly, we develop a language that surreptitiously conveys issues too elusive or weighty for words.
Sadly, most improvisations vanish into the air from whence they came. Some, fortunately, have ended up under the careful eye of Claude Palisca and other worthy musicologists. Looking at the score provided for this carol, we find, what appears to be, a carefully composed piece. For example, the melody makes good use of register as it generally rises to its highest and climatic note. The rhythm of the tune, which is a typical example of the period, is intelligent and effective. And the counterpoint is controlled and carries the text well.
What I like about the rendition on this recording is the moment when the number of singers increases from two to three. The three singers start on the same pitch and then slightly stager their departures from that point. In this way, the number of voices is disguised before it is changed.