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Music Of The Middle Ages Essay Research

СОДЕРЖАНИЕ: Music Of The Middle Ages Essay, Research Paper Music has been a great influence in the lives of many people for many years and is constantly changing. Music has been divided into six periods: Medieval,

Music Of The Middle Ages Essay, Research Paper

Music has been a great influence in the lives of many people for many years

and 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 musical

history and consists of almost a millennium?s worth of music. To examine the

music of this period we must first look at the influences or dominating factors

of medieval life.

In a political sense, as well as a spiritual sense, the Roman Catholic Church

was very much the focal point of a Medieval man’s life. Between the collapse of

control of the Roman Empire around 500 A.D. and the Renaissance in the middle

1400s, the Church remained the most continuously powerful organization in


The great gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages help demonstrate how religion

had become the focus of the times. The thousands and thousands of hours of

labour, the tremendous cost involved, the extraordinary and detailed

craftsmanship without the use of cranes or power tools must give us an idea of

the effects of religion and the power of the Church. To worship God through

one’s craft was the highest artistic ideal of the times. While some of the great

secular classic literature of the past was well known to many, it was considered

to be only a teaching tool to assist in the understanding of the Bible.

Music has always been an integral part of religious celebrations throughout

history, and for the Catholic Church of antiquity, it was a vital element.

The music of the Catholic Church absorbed Greek, Jewish, and Syrian

influences among others, through the teachings of :

Pythagoras 6th ? 5th BCE, a Greek mathematician and a musical theorist who

believed that there were perfect intervals in music and introduced the 8ve, 5th,

4th, whole tone. Pythagoras? ideas gave music scientific credibility through

numbers and allowed it to be introduced as one of the sciences.

Plato 427 ? 347 BCE / Aristotle 384-322 BCE, Greek philosopher?s whose

teachings introduced the idea that music is ethical. Plato believed that music

could generate ethical space and could have an effect on the moral fibre of a

person. The power to cleanse, to create an ?ethos?. He believed that the

idea is created by the thinkers (Speclatores) and that it?s interpretation is

a mirror of the idea (Speclum), and that the representation was carried out by

the doers, the musicians, artists etc (Cantores). Plato believed that thinkers

were more important than doers. Music was seen as one of the sciences and

therefore was controlled by the theorists (Speculatores) who decreed that music

should be good to transmit good things lest it should introduce impure thoughts.

Music in it?s 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 the

Tetrachord (4-note). Aristoxenus wrote books on both listening to and making

music and playing instruments. He examined the nature of rhythm (strong vs weak)

and supported division into 3 as perfect, and into 2 as imperfect using

Pythagoras? ideas on number perfection.

Emperor Constantine 306 ? 337 AD, became the emperor of Rome in 306, and

was the most powerful person in his part of the world. His conversion to

Christianity had far reaching effects on the common practice of the religion and

on all the factions of Christianity that are present today. His conversion

happened during a war with his brother-in-law and co-emperor, Maxentius.

According to the historian Eusebius , Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, before

the crucial battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine was convinced that he needed

divine assistance. While he was praying for such assistance, God sent him a

vision of a cross of light at midday, bearing the inscription "in hoc signo

vinces " ("in this sign you will be victorious"). That night he

had a dream that reaffirmed his earlier vision. God told him to use the sign he

had been given as a safeguard in all of his battles. Thus, Constantine converted

to Christianity and ordered the symbol of his Savior’s name (the intersection of

the Greek letter chi and rho) to represent his army. Constantine was victorious

in the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and he continued to wear the symbol for

Christ against every hostile power he faced.

At around 350 AD, the Schola Cantorum (singing school) was founded. This was

an idea picked up from the Jewish synagogues where the Levittes had special

training and took on the role of temple musicians.

St Augustine of Hippo 354-430 AD, was a very influential and great

philosopher/theologian. Saint Augustine is one of the most important of the

Latin Church Fathers. His works, especially his De Musica, Confessions and City

of God, helped distinguish the Church in Western Europe from the Church as it

developed elsewhere. He decreed that music should not be too tuneful and that

there should be no metre/rhythm, which led to church leaders being beset by

fears of musical pleasures and thus continuing the ideas of the Greek

Philosophers. ?I wept at the beauty of your hymns and the canticles?the

sounds poured into my ears and the truth distilled in my heart?-from

Confessions. This encapsulates the feeling and mood of the church at this time

? that the ?bad? feelings produced by the music had to be distilled.

A preference for sacred vocal music was developed and pagan secular music and

instruments were rejected. Instruments were not appropriate because of the links

with pagan rituals and Roman arenas. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan introduced hymn

singing. 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 and

temples still existed. Justinian decreed that the studying of all pagan beliefs

should be outlawed. Latin was firmly established as the language of the church.

Also around this time St. Benedict founded the Benedictine Rule at Monte

Casino. Monasteries were established all over Europe and the Benedictines become

very powerful and influential people.

The leaders of the Church decided to organise and codify the thousands of

pieces of music used in worship. Gregory I, Pope from 590 to 604, is usually

given the credit for getting the effort started.

Codified all the church chants (Antiphonar) and set course to make the Roman

Rite pre-eminent across western Europe using Gregorian Chant, the Mass and the

Daily (monastic) Office as it?s base. Legend has it that a Dove from God sat

on Gregory?s shoulder and whispered the chants to him. He founded the Schola

Cantorum in Rome.

He produced sacramentary rubrics (red rules), that brought together all the

ideas and formalised the ?order of services?, Gregory used the first Canon

of Euchology, standardised the chants and started to make use of the Schola

Cantorums. He sent emissaries all over Europe to teach the Roman style and was

responsible (mainly by his promotion by the Franks 300 yrs later through the

reign of Charlemagne 768 ? 814) for standardisation of Masses all over Europe.

768 ? 814

While some sources suggest that he composed many of the melodies, there is

little 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 music

included, consisted of one dominant, unaccompanied melody line. This texture,

called monophonic still dominates much non-western music today, including Far

Eastern, Indian, and Arabic cultures–at least those that haven’t become

corrupted by Western practices yet!

Gregorian chant, sometimes known as "plainchant" consists solely of

a melody, sung unaccompanied in Latin, with very free rhythms. It is one of the

few types of music in Western civilisation without a feeling of meter. Gregorian

chant conveys a disembodied, ethereal, spiritual sound, certainly not focusing

on anything that might inspire physical pleasure. These chants made use of

scales other than the major and minor ones familiar to us. Instead they used the

different "modes" such as Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc.

Starting around the year 1000, the practice of using polyphony began to enter

into Western music. Polyphony is the use of independent lines within a piece of

music. This multi-layered texture gave music a new expressive intensity, almost

literally giving it another dimension. Perhaps not a coincidence, the use of

perspective in painting was evolving at about the same time, expressing a

parallel expansion in the visual medium. The first polyphony (called ‘organum’)

consisted of two voices moving in parallel motion. Later as harmony became a

little more sophisticated, the voices began taking on a little more independence

from each other.

Considering all these factors it is not really surprising that the vast

majority of music that survives from the Middle Ages is sacred music. There are

a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, the key word in the above statement is survives. In European

civilisation following the collapse of the Roman empire, literacy fell to an all

time low during the Middle Ages. Even though modern scholars are revising their

opinions of culture in the Medieval times upward, the average peasant simply

couldn’t read or write. That special talent was passed along by the church

through its religious orders.

This included the special talents of reading and writing music. And of

course, the monks whose duty it was to notate and copy music would have a

tremendous bias toward the sacred music.

A second reason is that there really was a great deal of sacred music

composed. Again, it was considered the highest form of art to be able to use

one’s talent to praise God. Life had become more and more dangerous and

uncertain for the inhabitant of the Middle Ages. Without science to illuminate

physical laws, without bacteriology to allow the understanding of diseases and

plagues, fear and superstition became the method of explaining the unknown. Our

earthly existence was ultimately looked upon as a dangerous, misery filled

prelude to a blissful afterlife. The Church represented the hopes of the better

world to come.

Sacred music of the Middle Ages centred around two primary areas, the Office

and 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 during

the day from Matins (just after midnight) to Vespers (just before the evening

meal) and Compline (at dusk). These times were known as the Hours of the Divine


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 parts

called the Ordinary, and the Proper.

The Proper of the Mass was the part that changed from day to day, as the

readings were geared for specific feast days and occasions. The Ordinary of the

Mass was the text that remained consistent throughout the church year. The five

parts of the Ordinary were the ones most commonly set to music in Medieval and

later times.

Below is a list of the parts of the Mass. The parts of the Ordinary are in

bold typeface.







Alleluia (or Tract in certain seasons)







Lord’s Prayer

Agnus Dei


Post–Communion prayers

Ite Missa Est

In addition to the regular Mass, a Requiem Mass was a common liturgy. Meaning

"rest", the Requiem Mass was the "Mass for the Dead", used

at funerals.

The earliest settings of this music were strictly monophonic. Through the

Middle Ages, polyphony became an important stylistic element in music. Not

surprisingly, the greatest composers of the time put their best energies into

the mass. "Missa Notre Dame" by Guillaume de Machaut represented the

first polyphonic ordinary done by a single composer. Leonin, Perotin, Dufay, and

Machaut were the leading composers of the earliest sacred polyphonic music. Many

other leading composers of the Middle Ages remain anonymous–this was not yet an

age of musical personalities.

Guido D’Arezzo, a monk who lived in the early 11th century devised a version

of the staff that is the precursor of today’s staff. Some of his practices also

contributed to "sight-singing"–the reading of music at sight. He also

started the practice of using the Latin syllables of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc. to

symbolise pitches.

Travelling minstrel singers, often known as troubadours, trouveres, and

minnesingers, were the secular musicians. Generally their music was a monophonic

line which they accompanied on the lute or harp, probably using one of the

Church modes. These poet/musicians sang of nature, of love, of knightly legends,

and of the sense of the mystical that pervaded their lives. Mysticism and

superstition were the only tools available to explain the stars, the seasons,

the randomness of weather patterns, diseases, etc.–and these tools played a

great part in the lives of Medieval citizens as they struggled to understand the

world around them.

Common types of secular music were the Rondeau, Virelai, the Frottola (many

of which today we would simply lump under the heading "ballad"), and

the motet. Coming from the French "mot" meaning ‘word’, the motet

often had several lines of music and text, sung in different languages. Often

the different melodies were on completely different subjects, occasionally

pairing a sacred text with a very bawdy one!


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