Music has been a great influence in the lives of many people for many yearsand is constantly changing. Music has been divided into six periods: Medieval,Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Twentieth Century.

The Medieval period was the longest and most distant period of musicalhistory and consists of almost a millenniums worth of music. To examine themusic of this period we must first look at the influences or dominating factorsof medieval life.In a political sense, as well as a spiritual sense, the Roman Catholic Churchwas very much the focal point of a Medieval man’s life. Between the collapse ofcontrol of the Roman Empire around 500 A.D. and the Renaissance in the middle1400s, the Church remained the most continuously powerful organization inEurope.The great gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages help demonstrate how religionhad become the focus of the times.

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The thousands and thousands of hours oflabour, the tremendous cost involved, the extraordinary and detailedcraftsmanship without the use of cranes or power tools must give us an idea ofthe effects of religion and the power of the Church. To worship God throughone’s craft was the highest artistic ideal of the times. While some of the greatsecular classic literature of the past was well known to many, it was consideredto be only a teaching tool to assist in the understanding of the Bible.Music has always been an integral part of religious celebrations throughouthistory, and for the Catholic Church of antiquity, it was a vital element.The music of the Catholic Church absorbed Greek, Jewish, and Syrianinfluences among others, through the teachings of :Pythagoras 6th 5th BCE, a Greek mathematician and a musical theorist whobelieved that there were perfect intervals in music and introduced the 8ve, 5th,4th, whole tone. Pythagoras ideas gave music scientific credibility throughnumbers and allowed it to be introduced as one of the sciences.

Plato 427 347 BCE / Aristotle 384-322 BCE, Greek philosophers whoseteachings introduced the idea that music is ethical. Plato believed that musiccould generate ethical space and could have an effect on the moral fibre of aperson. The power to cleanse, to create an ethos. He believed that theidea is created by the thinkers (Speclatores) and that its interpretation isa mirror of the idea (Speclum), and that the representation was carried out bythe doers, the musicians, artists etc (Cantores).

Plato believed that thinkerswere more important than doers. Music was seen as one of the sciences andtherefore was controlled by the theorists (Speculatores) who decreed that musicshould be good to transmit good things lest it should introduce impure thoughts.Music in its most superior form could not be heard. Only by mirroring(Speculum) could it be heard.Aristoxenus 375 BCE, student of Xenophilus and Aristotle researched pitch,intervals, scales, keys, modulation and constructed melodies.

He introduced theTetrachord (4-note). Aristoxenus wrote books on both listening to and makingmusic and playing instruments. He examined the nature of rhythm (strong vs weak)and supported division into 3 as perfect, and into 2 as imperfect usingPythagoras ideas on number perfection.Emperor Constantine 306 337 AD, became the emperor of Rome in 306, andwas the most powerful person in his part of the world. His conversion toChristianity had far reaching effects on the common practice of the religion andon all the factions of Christianity that are present today.

His conversionhappened during a war with his brother-in-law and co-emperor, Maxentius.According to the historian Eusebius , Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, beforethe crucial battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine was convinced that he neededdivine assistance. While he was praying for such assistance, God sent him avision of a cross of light at midday, bearing the inscription “in hoc signovinces ” (“in this sign you will be victorious”). That night hehad a dream that reaffirmed his earlier vision. God told him to use the sign hehad been given as a safeguard in all of his battles. Thus, Constantine convertedto Christianity and ordered the symbol of his Savior’s name (the intersection ofthe Greek letter chi and rho) to represent his army.

Constantine was victoriousin the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and he continued to wear the symbol forChrist against every hostile power he faced.At around 350 AD, the Schola Cantorum (singing school) was founded. This wasan idea picked up from the Jewish synagogues where the Levittes had specialtraining and took on the role of temple musicians.St Augustine of Hippo 354-430 AD, was a very influential and greatphilosopher/theologian. Saint Augustine is one of the most important of theLatin Church Fathers.

His works, especially his De Musica, Confessions and Cityof God, helped distinguish the Church in Western Europe from the Church as itdeveloped elsewhere. He decreed that music should not be too tuneful and thatthere should be no metre/rhythm, which led to church leaders being beset byfears of musical pleasures and thus continuing the ideas of the GreekPhilosophers. I wept at the beauty of your hymns and the canticlesthesounds poured into my ears and the truth distilled in my heart-fromConfessions. This encapsulates the feeling and mood of the church at this timethat the bad feelings produced by the music had to be distilled.A preference for sacred vocal music was developed and pagan secular music andinstruments were rejected.

Instruments were not appropriate because of the linkswith pagan rituals and Roman arenas. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan introduced hymnsinging. The hymn, St. Ambrosia, is a tuneful/ornate link with secular music.Justinian I was crowned in 527.

Up until this time pagan rituals, statues andtemples still existed. Justinian decreed that the studying of all pagan beliefsshould be outlawed. Latin was firmly established as the language of the church.Also around this time St. Benedict founded the Benedictine Rule at MonteCasino.

Monasteries were established all over Europe and the Benedictines becomevery powerful and influential people.The leaders of the Church decided to organise and codify the thousands ofpieces of music used in worship. Gregory I, Pope from 590 to 604, is usuallygiven the credit for getting the effort started.

Codified all the church chants (Antiphonar) and set course to make the RomanRite pre-eminent across western Europe using Gregorian Chant, the Mass and theDaily (monastic) Office as its base. Legend has it that a Dove from God saton Gregorys shoulder and whispered the chants to him. He founded the ScholaCantorum in Rome.

He produced sacramentary rubrics (red rules), that brought together all theideas and formalised the order of services, Gregory used the first Canonof Euchology, standardised the chants and started to make use of the ScholaCantorums. He sent emissaries all over Europe to teach the Roman style and wasresponsible (mainly by his promotion by the Franks 300 yrs later through thereign of Charlemagne 768 814) for standardisation of Masses all over Europe.768 814While some sources suggest that he composed many of the melodies, there islittle to authenticate this. Nevertheless, this music grew to be called”Gregorian Chant” in his honour.Prior to around the year 1000 AD, virtually all music, Western musicincluded, consisted of one dominant, unaccompanied melody line.

This texture,called monophonic still dominates much non-western music today, including FarEastern, Indian, and Arabic cultures–at least those that haven’t becomecorrupted by Western practices yet!Gregorian chant, sometimes known as “plainchant” consists solely ofa melody, sung unaccompanied in Latin, with very free rhythms. It is one of thefew types of music in Western civilisation without a feeling of meter. Gregorianchant conveys a disembodied, ethereal, spiritual sound, certainly not focusingon anything that might inspire physical pleasure. These chants made use ofscales other than the major and minor ones familiar to us. Instead they used thedifferent “modes” such as Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc.

Starting around the year 1000, the practice of using polyphony began to enterinto Western music. Polyphony is the use of independent lines within a piece ofmusic. This multi-layered texture gave music a new expressive intensity, almostliterally giving it another dimension. Perhaps not a coincidence, the use ofperspective in painting was evolving at about the same time, expressing aparallel expansion in the visual medium. The first polyphony (called ‘organum’)consisted of two voices moving in parallel motion. Later as harmony became alittle more sophisticated, the voices began taking on a little more independencefrom each other.Considering all these factors it is not really surprising that the vastmajority of music that survives from the Middle Ages is sacred music.

There area couple of reasons for this.Firstly, the key word in the above statement is survives. In Europeancivilisation following the collapse of the Roman empire, literacy fell to an alltime low during the Middle Ages.

Even though modern scholars are revising theiropinions of culture in the Medieval times upward, the average peasant simplycouldn’t read or write. That special talent was passed along by the churchthrough its religious orders.This included the special talents of reading and writing music.

And ofcourse, the monks whose duty it was to notate and copy music would have atremendous bias toward the sacred music.A second reason is that there really was a great deal of sacred musiccomposed. Again, it was considered the highest form of art to be able to useone’s talent to praise God. Life had become more and more dangerous anduncertain for the inhabitant of the Middle Ages.

Without science to illuminatephysical laws, without bacteriology to allow the understanding of diseases andplagues, fear and superstition became the method of explaining the unknown. Ourearthly existence was ultimately looked upon as a dangerous, misery filledprelude to a blissful afterlife. The Church represented the hopes of the betterworld to come.Sacred music of the Middle Ages centred around two primary areas, the Officeand the Mass.

Virtually all sacred music at that time was sung in Latin.Monks were expected to sing, pray, and read the scripture eight times duringthe day from Matins (just after midnight) to Vespers (just before the eveningmeal) and Compline (at dusk). These times were known as the Hours of the DivineOffice.The most important musical event in the Roman Catholic Liturgy was the Mass.

Wrapped around the sacrament of Holy Communion, the Mass consisted of two partscalled the Ordinary, and the Proper.The Proper of the Mass was the part that changed from day to day, as thereadings were geared for specific feast days and occasions. The Ordinary of theMass was the text that remained consistent throughout the church year.

The fiveparts of the Ordinary were the ones most commonly set to music in Medieval andlater times.Below is a list of the parts of the Mass. The parts of the Ordinary are inbold typeface.IntroitKyrieGloriaCollectsEpistleGradualAlleluia (or Tract in certain seasons)GospelCredoOffertoryPrefaceSanctus/BenedictusCanonLord’s PrayerAgnus DeiCommunionPost–Communion prayersIte Missa EstIn addition to the regular Mass, a Requiem Mass was a common liturgy.

Meaning”rest”, the Requiem Mass was the “Mass for the Dead”, usedat funerals.The earliest settings of this music were strictly monophonic. Through theMiddle Ages, polyphony became an important stylistic element in music. Notsurprisingly, the greatest composers of the time put their best energies intothe mass. “Missa Notre Dame” by Guillaume de Machaut represented thefirst polyphonic ordinary done by a single composer.

Leonin, Perotin, Dufay, andMachaut were the leading composers of the earliest sacred polyphonic music. Manyother leading composers of the Middle Ages remain anonymous–this was not yet anage of musical personalities.Guido D’Arezzo, a monk who lived in the early 11th century devised a versionof the staff that is the precursor of today’s staff. Some of his practices alsocontributed to “sight-singing”–the reading of music at sight. He alsostarted the practice of using the Latin syllables of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc.

tosymbolise pitches.Travelling minstrel singers, often known as troubadours, trouveres, andminnesingers, were the secular musicians. Generally their music was a monophonicline which they accompanied on the lute or harp, probably using one of theChurch modes. These poet/musicians sang of nature, of love, of knightly legends,and of the sense of the mystical that pervaded their lives.

Mysticism andsuperstition were the only tools available to explain the stars, the seasons,the randomness of weather patterns, diseases, etc.–and these tools played agreat part in the lives of Medieval citizens as they struggled to understand theworld around them.Common types of secular music were the Rondeau, Virelai, the Frottola (manyof which today we would simply lump under the heading “ballad”), andthe motet. Coming from the French “mot” meaning ‘word’, the motetoften had several lines of music and text, sung in different languages. Oftenthe different melodies were on completely different subjects, occasionallypairing a sacred text with a very bawdy one!Category: Music and Movies


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