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Transcript of Medieval Music
Evolution of Western Music
Sacred Vocal Music of the Middle Ages
Instrumental Music in the Middle Ages
By Mandy and Christine
What is the meaning of music? Is it the chirping of birds on a summer day or is it your brother singing in the shower? Is it the beautiful melody played on the piano or the many songs blasted through on the radio?
According to the dictionary music is “vocal or instrumental sounds combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion”. But in reality something that is music to one’s ears may not be to another’s. What does music mean to you?
Many theories regard when and where music began. Some believe that music has been around on earth since the beginning of time, even before humans existed. The first known study of music being seen as a form of art was during 500 B.C, when Pythagoras experimented with mathematical relationships between tones. He and many others established scales made up of whole notes and half notes. With the establishment of these scales, the evolution of Western Music finally began.
Through hundreds of years, historians realize that music can be split into 6 different periods that vary with different styles. These 6 different styles have contributed significantly to the music of today. These periods include the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque era, Classical Era, Romantic Era and of course the Modern Era.
One of the most important eras of musical development is the Medieval Period roughly spanning from 500 to 1400 A.D. Developments that were produced in the Middle Ages have shaped the foundation of Western European Culture. Although there was no way to notate the music that was created, many works of the time had been passed on through generations.
Through superstitious fear, many people that had lived through the dark ages began to fall under early Catholic leaders’ influence. The power of the Roman Catholic Church during this era had a strong influence on all aspects of European life including music. They had the ability to have control over the progress of the arts and employment of musicians, artists and scribes. Music was practically the property of the Church. Because of this, scared music, or religious music was the more dominant musical genre. First beginning with plain chant, sacred music developed into the famous monophonic Gregorian chant and then to the polyphonic music named organum.
Secular music or non-religious music including vocal and instrumental genres was performed at the hands of French troubadours.
The Plain Chant is the earliest known music in the Middle Ages. It was sung in unison, at a slow pace without any harmony. It followed the natural rhythm of the words and was easy to learn. The Gregorian Chant is only one form of plainchant.
What you’re listening to now is Haec dies, which is an example of The Gregorian Chant. It was sung during the early Middle Ages. The Gregorian Chant is a genre of music, developing from plain chant, and represents one of the most earliest attempts to document music. This picture shows the original notation of this music .
It is named after Pope Gregory the Great, since the chant was organized and coded during his reign. Sacred music in this era was associated with the Roman Catholic Church's’ beliefs. The Gregorian Chant was performed in church worship services along with the Mass, which was the most important service in the church.
It was not the harmony or rhythm that was most important about the music then, but was rather the text itself. The lacking of rhythms actually emphasized the text and made it more significant. If you listen closely, you can see that Haec dies is simply a male ensemble singing in unison, with no accompaniment at all.
Musicians in the church such as monks often sung the same chant over and over for months on end. They were due to experiment with the chants sooner or later, adding harmonies and rhythm. This experimenting eventually lead to the single most important development of Western music: Polyphony.
While the Gregorian Chant was monophonic and had only one line of melody, the Organum was polyphonic, and simultaneously combined two or more lines of melody. The organum was the earliest form of polyphony in Western art music. What you’re listening to now is also named Haec Dies in organum form. The rhythm is much more elaborate and it is not sung in unison. If you have played in band or an instrument such as the piano, you will understand that with everyone playing the same melody with the same rhythm over and over makes the music sound very boring.
Secular Vocal Music
of the Middle Ages
Although we have only been talking about scared music, music made outside the church also known as secular music was also an essential part of medieval life. Church musicians saw themselves as the center of rich music tradition and so secular music was not preserved on the same level as sacred music. Notating the music was not required for the troubadour musicians, resulting in a small amount of primary sources. Usually, only the poems or the text of the music survived. If the music was notated, only some pitches were recorded, because rhythm was not yet standardized.
The Monophonic Chanson flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries, growing from troubadour traditions. Troubadours were aristocratic poet musicians whose job was to compose love poems and songs. This song, Ce fut en mai offers a glimpse into the Medieval Society. Although it was written hundreds of years ago, the feeling of love expressed in the song is similar to the songs of today.
In the 14th century, Church- centered life was shifted to a more secular, non-religious society. The secular chanson Puis qu’en oubli embraced the growing polyphonic art and reflects the emerging secular society. This is another song about love where the narrator complains to the person he still loves but who has rejected him, He complains he will never again experience love or joy.
Instrumental music was often performed by people were not as educated as the people of the church. They never saw the need to preserve the music they created for future generations. It was also not documented for various reasons- instruments were not standardized, instrumental music was passed down orally, notating music consumed time etc.
Instruments was seen by the church as part of the secular world, and was not encouraged to be used. Although instrumental music was not documented, it still fulfilled many specific roles and functions in medieval society- providing dance music, providing music for military campaigns and accompanying singers.
As most of you know, instruments of today are categorized by the material they are made up of. This was not the case in the Middle Ages. They were categorized according to practically taking into consideration their volume and tone quality as “indoor” and “outdoor” instruments. Although the categories are opposing, it was not unusual to put outdoor and indoor instruments in the same performance.Some instruments of the middle ages include:
Lute- ancestor of guitar
rebec- outdoor instrument
cornetto- ancestor of trumpet
sackbut- ancestor of trombone
shawm- ancestor of oboe
Medieval pipe- ancestor of flute
Dance Music is considered a starting point for tracing developments of instrumental music in the music of today. The music that is playing is named “Royal Estampie No. 4” and is one of the earliest notated dance genres. It is a majestic dance involving elaborate spirited choreography.
If not for the developments of music that took place in the middle ages, we would not have any of the music we hear from the radio today. We should learn to appreciate what we have and marvel at how much music has developed from being just a religious matter into a way of expressing our feelings.
Medieval Music - Works Cited
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