Monday, 18 October 2010

1200-1300 Trashy Troubadours

With Leonin the religious chanting had become rhythmic but that is not to say that rhythm was a completely foreign element to music at this time. It already existed outside the church but to put it bluntly music outside the church was not really up to scratch. Unlike the church, secular music used instruments but the instrument (earlier versions of the violin (fiddle) or guitar (lyre) or recorder) would just play the same notes as those sung by the singer and it sounds pretty horrible. Some drums and bells would have bashed about a bit crudely matching the rhythm of the song  - no back beat to this music. Unlike the enchanting sound coming from the church, this is really a bit of a racket to most modern day ears. The songs were often quite satirical and of a rude nature. The musicians would also perform tricks which suggests a little bit that no great worth was attached to this music by the musicians or their listeners.

The troubadours who emerged in Southern France were noblemen and much more of their music survives (as opposed to the travelling minstrels before them). The troubadours songs were of chivalry and unrequited love. This longing for a beloved was something they had in common with the church music. Perhaps the reason the music of the troubadours has survived is that it was not so frowned upon by the church. It may be too that being noblemen they had the resources and literacy to record it in writing (paper was not cheap).

The troubadours are at their most popular in this century. As with church music, polyphony is heard in their music. Much like Leonin’s chant had an upper voice moving freely and a lower voice holding more steady notes, you can hear how the Lyre strums a single string while the recorder holds the tune in ‘instrumental sur Merchi Amours’ by Adam De La Halle (c1237-88) who was the most famous of all the troubadours.  This is the best of this type of music that I can find – I’m not keen on the singing of any secular music at this time but I do quite like this instrumental piece. In many ways the secular music was more advanced than the church chanting because its rhythm and melody were more intricate.

The more lyrical and rhythmic secular music would merge with the church chant and create a new form of music called the motet. The motet is less chanting and more singing. The poetry of the troubadours is brought in to the church and indeed as we will see in the next century the churchmen themselves begin to write their own secular motets.

With plainchant and organum the lyrical content basically consisted of things like ‘Lord have Mercy, Christ have mercy’ sung in latin over again very slowly. The new thing about the ‘motet’ was that much greater lyrical content was brought into the music and it was not only sung in latin but in the local vernacular.

And everything else in this century? The Mongols all the way from the far east were attacking Hungary and Poland. England and France continued to make war upon each other as usual. The crusades continued. Following the fall of Constantinople (modern day Instanbul) in 1204 many scholars came to Europe with a flood of new ideas such as arab numerical figures, algebra, waterwheels, chemistry and irrigation. Universities that had been established in Bologna, Paris and  Oxford were now joined by universities in Palencia 1208, Cambridge 1209, Salamanca (Spain) 1218, Padua 1222 Naples 1224 Montpellier 1220 and Toulouse 1229.The university of Paris  was now the intellectual centre of the Western World.

It was Venice that benefited the most from the fall of Constantinople as this city now dominated trade and became the most prosperous city in Europe. Palaces and squares were built in the city which rivalled ancient Greece in their grandeur. Venice was the main  gateway for Western Europe to the East. Decorative silk and decorative glass, skills learnt from the arabs became hugely successful manufacturing industries for the city. The first bank had been established in Venice in 1171 which helped lay the foundation for it to become the centre of European trade and commerce. In fact through out the towns of mainland Europe this was a period of commercial revolution. France became the wealthiest country with the trade fairs in the Champagne region becoming the centre of local and international commerce, providing the center for land-based trade over the Alps from northern Italy, bearing goods from afar.

Across Europe a change in political structure gradually took place as this new merchant class, the bourgoisie, drew power away from the aristocratic class who had benefited from the feudal system whereby rural and small urban communities would owe personal duties to the nearest castle owning baron or landlord. Instead of the personal duties of the tenants to the baron landlord it was money that came to represent the economic value in land. Kings began to find the towns far more reliable allies than the fickle aristocracy.

Technology?  In 1200 we have the first glass mirrors in Venice. Towards the end of this century evidence suggests the mechanical clock must have been invented though none have survived. They were installed in the churches. Between 1280 and 1300 spectacles were invented in Europe.

Architecture? This was the century of building the magnificent gothic (pointed arches, airy and bright, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, large stained glass windows, ornaments and pinnacles) cathedrals in France reaching new heights that we know today. Cathedrals had been started in Notre Damme 1163 Chartres 1194-1224 Rheims 1212 (see picture below), Amiens 1220 Beavais 1225 and St Chappelle(Paris) 1243 among many other places. The previous Romanesque style by comparison looked heavy and grim. This architecture reflects Frances’s new standing as the wealthiest country in Europe in this century.

Art? – Art was mainly focused on the giant cathedrals. Sculpture was the new thing which began to be included more and more in the cathedrals, doing a great job of bringing the stone to life. The painters were illuminating the church manuscripts but they still never painted from life and just rearranged pictures and drew the figures in the same old way. I know I sound disparaging but when you compare the painting in this period with the later renaissance it seems very primitive.

Philosophy? St Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274 used Aristotle’s logical ideas to prove the existence of God in his ‘five ways’ as follows: 1 change cannot exist without a cause and as change exists, so a cause must exist and that cause must be God. 2 causes always operate in a series but there must be a first cause which must be God (similar to 1!) 3 there cannot be a time when nothing existed because something (i.e. the world) cannot come from nothing. 4 just as you get some things that are more or less hot  or  cold for example, so you have things that are more or less good. There is the hottest thing and there is the most good thing, if there is a most good thing, well that has to be God. 5 All things in nature aim towards some goal or have some purpose. To have a purpose means you must have something directing you to try to achieve it and so what else can that something be but God. These arguments were a great improvement on St Anselm and very much helped the church. This must have made a lot of sense to lots of people at the time and though these ideas have held strong for many they were later rejected by modern philosophers.

In literature? St Francis of Assisi wrote the first works of Italian literature but other than that not a great deal to note.

The church needed the majesty of cathedrals and the help of the brainy Italian St. Thomas Aquinas because the power of the Holy Roman Empire would start to weaken due to the pope falling out with the increasingly powerful Italian city states such as Venice and its new wealthy merchant class.

The best piece of music I can find for my greatest hitstory in this century out of not very much good to choose from is...... 

Adam De La Halle instrumental sur Merchi Amours’ from De la Halle: D'Amoureus Cuer Voel Chanter -  itunes  

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