CNP Feedback - Octavo Labels
by Gary D. Penkala
The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians.
From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.
Q. Dear CNP:
What is the difference between 3-part and SATB ?
A. Dear Confused Chorister:
I'll try to sort out some of the confusion in labeling choral anthems.
Although there is not absolute uniformity, there is a certain degree of consistency in the way publishers label octavos regarding the choral forces necessary to sing them.
Occasionally some of the precise description may be left off in a catalog; the notation may only read: Three-part.
In this case, one should assume Three-part Equal Voices because Three-part Mixed Voices would more likely be described SAB.
- Unison means that there is only one voice part, and it is intended to be sung by all the voices together.
This usually implies either children - or - women - or - men, but occasionally a composer intends mixed voices (women & men) to sing in "unison," (which is really singing in "octaves," since the men sing one octave lower than the women).
The text or context may make the intention clear.
- Unison with Descant means a single line for all the voices to sing, which will at some point (usually at the end) contain a descant line for higher voices (usually soprano).
- Two-part Equal Voices means there will be two vocal lines, meant to be sung by similar voices (i.e. both parts sung by children, or both parts sung by women, or both parts sung by men).
Technically, this music is not intended to be sung by mixed voices (i.e. women on one part, men on the other), although in an "emergency" that may be possible.
- SA means there will be two voice parts, one sung by sopranos (either children or women), one sung by altos (either children or women).
This is the similar to Two-part Equal Voices, but more specific, as the composer has specified treble voices.
- TB means there will be two voice parts, one sung by tenors, the other sung by basses.
This is the similar to Two-part Equal Voices, but more specific, as the composer has specified men's voices.
- Two-part Mixed Voices means there will be two vocal lines, one sung by women (or children), one sung by men.
- Three-part Equal Voices means there will be three vocal lines, meant to be sung by similar voices (i.e. all parts sung by children/women or all parts
sung by men).
Technically, this music is not intended to be sung by mixed voices (i.e. women/children on two parts, men on the other), although in an "emergency" that may be possible.
- SSA means there will be three vocal lines; the sopranos need to be divided into two groups (Soprano 1 and Soprano 2), singing the top two lines.
The altos sing the third line.
Other options are possible (SAA, SSS, AAA), but are very rare.
Corresponding labels exist in music for men's voices (TTB), with the same rare variants: TBB, TTT, BBB.
- SAB means there will be three vocal lines, two sung by women (Sopranos and Altos) and one sung by all the men (Bass).
Other options are possible (SAT, STB, ATB, or even SST, SSB, ATT, SBB, etc), but are very rare.
- SATB represents the traditional voicing for most full choirs.
Four vocal lines will be found in the score (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass).
Many variations on this are possible; for example: SSATB, SATBB, SSAATTBB (eight-part choir), SATB/SATB (double choir).
If there are a few measures (or a few notes) where one voice part (like the soprano line) divides into two notes (to be sung by high sopranos and low sopranos), the publisher may indicate "div" (meaning divisi) in the label.
An octavo labeled S(div)ATB means that there are a few places that call for two soprano groups, whereas an octavo labeled SSATB means that there are
two soprano parts (and two soprano groups singing) throughout the piece.
I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion.
See CNP's Indices for Unison Choir, Two-part Choir, Three-part Choir, SATB Choir