Monday, 11 October 2010

1000-1100 Light, Sound and Rock

So this notation gives us a strong idea of the Gregorian Chant but really the notation needed some tweeking for music to get going a bit. The guiding light to take us out of the Dark Ages is sparked by Guido of Arezzi. The pre- 1000 example in my last posting lacked  the lines on which the notes sit. In about 1026, with his ‘Micrologus’ Guido created the stave so that the notes had a clear relation from one to another which could be recognisable across the regions and through the ages to the present day.

Here's what it looked like:-

‘Let there be light, sound, drums, guitar, let there be rock’. (AC/DC)

With these immortal and quite spiritual words from the greatest composers of classical rock of all time we can give thanks to Guido, for it is down to him that we have some of these gifts back in the day.

We’ve got the light in a sense and with it came the sound. Guido’s form of notation luminates what would otherwise have been left, forgotten in the darkness – and that is the sound of music. The drums were not up to scratch yet, nor was the guitar but the rock...... well the best rock of this time would be found in the foundations and walls of the Romanesque churches and later it was carved into the great Gothic cathedrals which were to provide a magnificently affective stimulus to the chanting of the church men.

So where did the chanting come from? The anonymity of its authors adds to the sense that it might originate from God or some suprapersonal entity. The effect of the unaccompanied human voice, with so few phonetics, wandering freely and with fluidity, echoing against the stone is powerfully sensuous even to our modern day ears. Its lack of complication and disassociation with instrumentation and lack of rhythm renders it timeless in more than one sense, and more so than any other period of music.

With these chants becoming properly notated they could then be passed from one church more easily and from one generation to the next. It also greatly helped the churchmen develop the plain chant. Firstly they introduced a second voice (or set of voices) singing exactly the same thing a fourth or a fifth note or an octave (eight note) above the main voice.

This is the birth of polyphony, that is more than one note being sung or played at the same time. Most music since then is polyphonic. An exception might be a solo unaccompanied violin (unless two strings were played at the same time) or more probably say a flute piece which of course is monophonic or monodic because that instrument, like the voice, cannot play more than one note at a time. This second (the first being the plain chant) polyphonic type of Gregorian Chant is known as Organum.

And so where are we with everything else in this century?

Society generally? Life was becoming more peaceful in Europe but this was perhaps because the crusades began and the fighting was elsewhere. In 1066 William the Conqueror crossed the channel from Normandy to defeat king Harry at the battle of Hastings but no major wars to get in the way of the churchmen chanting in their churches on the continent. This is a good time in Western Europe at least– a time of less fighting than there had been in the preceding centuries and church reform. Things are improving from the Dark Ages – social stability meant more mobility meant urban centres began to emerge meant populations begin to increase again. Even the climate becomes warmer during the period 1000 to 1250 which helped (excuse another pun) agriculture to grow.

And in technology? The new iron plough helped agriculture spread across Europe into vast areas that had been wilderness. The improved climate was an added bonus.

And in art? As with music most of the art from the period which has survived is religious. The Barons and feudal lords had not been bothered about destroying art in each other’s castle’s but they treated religious art with far more respect. The Bayeaux Tapestry is an exception but that is because it was kept in a church. The art’s primary purpose was to convey the content and message of a biblical story. Like the music it was very simplistic compared to later times and its main concern was to convey the message of God.

And in literature? Again there was more religious literature than anything else at this time but a theme of courtly love began to emerge in secular literature. Like music most surviving work is by an anonymous author. Also not unlike the passing down of chants, much of the literature consisted of stories that were being retold and simply embellished by new generations. With the French speaking Norman aristocracy in charge having come to the throne with William the Conqueror there is very little literature in the English language from this time.

And in architecture? An unprecedented number of churches are beginning to be built during this century and they are all in the Romanesque style whose most characteristic feature is the semi-circular arch (see example below). There are very few churches still around in Europe that were built before this time.

And in philosophy? St Anselm helps the church reform by coming up with, albeit a slightly fishy argument for the existence of God. He reasoned that, if "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" existed only in the intellect(i.e. God), it would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived", since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. It follows, according to Anselm, that "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" must exist in reality....hmmmm.

Philosophy, music, art and architecture – they are all on the same page resonating with the presence of God.

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