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Music in the Middle Ages
Transcript of Music in the Middle Ages
ca. 450 - 1450...an overview
of genre, style, and historical perspective
Division of society into three distinct classes: Nobles, Peasants, Clergy.
Roman Catholic Church is the center of literacy, and becomes increasingly powerful through political and economic resources after Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Rome in 410.
Prevailing focus is on basic survival, and religious subjects and ideals, little attention paid to secular issues (including the arts).
Traditionally viewed as a "stagnant" period, but that view is too simplistic.
As Europe begins to recover economically and socially, the knowledge in books recovered in various Crusades is translated and disseminated by the monasteries, which established the first universities.
A Musical Perspective...
There is the beginning of teaching music, what we
know as "solfege."
The first written system of notating
music (neumatic notation) to replace
oral tradition, and to indicate approximate
The goal of church leaders was to establish a "universal music" which could be used in a standardized worship format for everyone, everywhere in the world to experience at the same time (Mass).
The view of Music as utilitarian in scope, for use in the worship service.
Music expresses universal religious
ideals, and is NOT a vehicle for personal expression
or artistic statements.
Example: "Puer Natis in Bethlehem"
Text: Puer Natis in Bethlehem,
alleluia; unde gaidet Jerusalem, alleluia, alleluia; in cordis jubilo, Christum natum adoremus cum novo cantico.
Sound: Vocal music, one individual line
(monophony), can be sung in call-response,
Harmony: strictly speaking,
there is none.
Melody: Usually syllabic within a limited
range, with florid passages of music
for expressive text.
Rhythm: "Free Rhythm," little sense of a regular
pulse (shapes of phrases or spaces between neumes may suggest a gently rhythmic "spacing").
Growth: Free Form (through-composed)
Almost all plainchant is anonymous.
Codification process started by Pope Gregory I (r. 590 - 604).
Its genesis is the Jewish liturgical tradition of psalm singing in the synagogue. Many different regional styles exist, each particular to its area in Europe.
Very difficult to ascertain what is historically accurate in terms of performance tradition.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179)
First known composer in Western Art Music, and a female one at that (!).
A mystic and philosopher, she wrote treatises and wrote down her religious visions and experiences.
Her style is unique for its compositional individuality; wide melodic ranges, use of leaps for expression, some use of drone voices and echoes for added textural elements (possibly a hint at an accepted performance practice).
Example: "O virtus sapientae" (You, Power of Wisdom)
Secular Music...it DID exist...outside of the church!
Much of what has survived is music from the French
troubadors and trouveres; songs of courtly love
and bravery in battle, dances played on harps,
lutes, vihuelas, fiddles, pipes.
This is personal and entertainment
music, often meant for dancing.
Steady rhythmic meter, usually in triple time, a common trait of folk music, which differentiates this music from chant.
Surviving written examples show only
a single notated melody; no instrument(s)
Medieval Polyphony (Organum)
Polyphony = "many sounds"
Begins as a simple doubling
of the chant melody at the
octave and/or the fifth, moving
in parallel motion.
Around 900 - 1200, the added voice becomes more independent, moving in contrary and oblique motion, sometimes even improvised.
Eventually, the chant melody becomes drawn out in
long note values, the "added" voice moves in faster rhythm to make it more musically interesting, becoming the dominant melody in the texture.
Example: "Congaudeant Catholici"
(This is a conductus, it is the first known written
example of music in 3-voice texture)
Food for thought...the chant carries the religious message, and now it is being "obscured" or relegated to a diminished role within the musical texture.
Or...is it being "enhanced" and made more beautiful and pleasing to God with the additional voice(s)?
Sound: Vocal, sometimes an instrumental
accompaniment (organ or drone).
Harmony: Open intervals due to
doubling and parallel motion, follows
Melody: Chant melody is used as a foundation
for a more rapid, higher voice of music.
Rhythm: Early organum is in free rhythm, but eventually becomes more steady. *The addition of extra voices requires aural reference points*
Growth: Uses original form of chant as a template, but
forms become more complex as, for the first time, compositional decisions about melody and pitch relationships are now having to be made.
The Notre Dame School
Leonin and Perotin, choirmasters of
Notre Dame cathedral, assigned time values
to pitches, establishing measured rhythm.
The historian Anonymous IV states that they were great composers and compiled the "Magnus Liber Organi," but connecting one to a specific work within that volume is sometimes spurious.
Common practice was to put the chant melody in the bottom voice in long note values, leaving upper voices more freedom to move quickly.
Rhythmic values were usually in groups of threes,
to represent the Holy Trinity.
Example: "Sederunt principes," Perotin
Ars Nova..."The New Art"
14th century ushers in great changes in musical
style and artistic convention that mirror societal changes.
The development of polyphony is too tempting not to explore compositionally, both inside AND outside of church walls.
Composers begin to produce more secular music because of the availability of more texts (mainly poetry), and follow stylistic cues from Italy and France.
A more modern music notation is needed and evolves, allowing composers to specify multiple rhythmic patterns so performers can clearly understand what is wanted.
Syncopation (short-long-short) becomes widely used as a rhythmic device (borrowed from secular
Phillipe de Vitry writes his treatise, "Ars Nova," extolling the virtues
of the new art and philosophy of music, and points the way towards
Composers begin to become "known" for their works,
instead of choosing to remain anonymous.
Guillame de Machaut (c. 1300 - 1377)
A priest, musician,
military man, and poet
First known composer to set the entire Mass Ordinary in polyphonic style ("Missa de Notre Dame"), which is regarded as the highest example of the Ars Nova, and one of the great compositions of ANY age.
Established the four voice texture still common
today (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). His mastery of rhythm and form are incredibly advanced for his time...one of the first true geniuses of music.
Perhaps the first composer of Western art music to be fully
aware of his artistic achievements in his time: he made sure his
music was copied accurately and in many volumes so it could be
preserved for posterity.
Example: "Agnus Dei" from "Missa de Notre Dame"