In about 1100 a new form of Organum emerged known as Florid Organum whereby the second voice that before had run in parallel with the first now departed on a course of it’s own. The easiest way to achieve this was for the lower voice, a drone, to maintain a single note changing less frequently while the higher voice was given more range to wander about. The upper voice had now become more prominent while the lower voice would provide the bass foundation and this is a characteristic that has remained with Western music to the present day.
So the Gregorian Chant developed to Organum and then Florid Organum but before we leave Plainchant altogether, there is one great proponent of the form whose light shines brightly to us down through the ages. She is the most famous woman of her time. She is the Abbess Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179). From her convent near Bingen in Germany Hildegard composed mostly Plainchant from the 1140s through to the early 1170s, characterized by the wide range of notes they covered. This was a time when the downward curves of the Romanesque architecture would very soon give way to the new Gothic style with its upward pointing arches in great cathedrals scaling new heights and basically trying to reach the heavens. Listen to Hodie Aperuit and you will here her chant ranging between 12 notes (from D through the octave to A). She was doing the same as those cathedrals would do a little later. She was trying to reach as high as she could with her melody, reaching for God.
The Gregorian chant has a mystical association to it. The question of whether the Gregorian Chant came directly from God must have been quite real at the time. Nowhere is this mystical association more evident than with Hildegard who was said to have begun composing her chants after experiencing a series of religious visions in 1141.
Aside from her contribution to plainchant Hildegard also wrote a morality play with words and music more than 100 years before anything else like it was known to have been written. Her ability as a composer and also poet, can be added to her contributions to theology, natural history and medicine – she was one clever cookie.
Right, back to Organum. It was the cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris, begun in 1163 that was to facilitate the next steps for organum with the music of two composers, Leonin (c.1135-c.1201) and his pupil Perotin (c.1155-c.1210) composing from the 1150s to the early 1200s. With Leonin we hear the perfection of the style known as Florid Organum and born out of necessity to synchronise the two voices rhythm is introduced to the chant. A nice example of this is heard in Viderunt Omnes (I) (track 3). With the introduction of rhythm, the timeless nature that plainchant had, the way it wandered without meter, is now replaced with a new notion that time must be recognised and mastered in this music.
Perotin improved and developed the chanting to include three and then four voices. Have a listen to the uplifting and quite lively sound of Alleluja Nativitas. It was as if this music was inspired by the construction work going on at Notre Dame and needed to expand to fill the space as the cathedral took shape around it. This must have sounded completely amazing at the time and if you want to get an idea of that I suggest listening to plainchant for a bit and then put on Perotin and that should help recreate a bit of the impact it must have had on the 12th Century congregation. If you happen to be strolling around Notre Dame with headphones on, all the better!
Perotin was pushing the boundaries of recording technology to the maximum, just like the Beatles did. The height of recording technology at that time being a feathered quill pen and paper, the latter being the new thing following the introduction of paper mills in France and Italy during the second half of this century. For Abbey Road think Notre Dame, an amazing new Gothic Cathedral recording studio with vastly new improved sound quality to inspire its recording artists. Quite seriously though, I know my linking to 1960s pop music might be a little tenuous here but music like this had not been possible before the emergence of notation because of how it helped Leonin and Perotin to compose. In the previous century the notation had been used really to record what had already been created whereas now notation would start to be used as a tool to create music. With Leonin and Perotin we have the beginning of the idea of the composer 'writing' music.
The music of Leonin and Perotin left such a lasting mark and was sung over again in the decades following the death of those composers before disappearing until being rediscovered in the 19th Century. As far as we know nothing as ambitious was written for over hundred more years.