“Portare” or “Sustinere”?
A verb, a tenor and its cross

Alberto Rizzuti
Università di Torino. Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici


The tenors of medieval motets are occasionally variable, turning up with ab- breviated or modified labels or, rarely, entirely different labels. This article examines two labels alternatively used to name a single tune, namely the im- perfect synonyms “sustinere” and “portare.” Differing slightly in their mean- ing, the two labels are connected to a melody (Ludwig’s M22) that functions as a tenor in a clausula, two hockets, and seventeen motets. Although the manuscript dissemination of these pieces has led to a sense of equivalence and interchangeability in musicological literature, an inquiry into the liturgi- cal contexts from which the two verbs derive discloses a shift from “sustinere” to “portare” occurring in a time span of fewer than two decades. While the motets whose tenors share this tune are normally considered members of the “Portare”-family, the “Sustinere” label played a significant role in the earliest phases of this tenor’s history. This article is devoted to the identification of the historical and cultural factors that lead to the irreversible replacement of “Sustinere” with “Portare” for a single tenor melody that took place in the second half of the thirteenth century. 

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