Sunday, 10 October 2010

Dawn of Time to 1000AD

Before I get going I forgot to mention that this is really going to be a Hitstory of 'Western' music. The subject matter is broad enough as it is, much as I would love to find out what was going on in the East.  Having said that, if I do find parallels and links between the East, Far East and Western civilisations I will include them.

(Oh and one other thing.... If I am in breach of anyone's copyright or I make an error of fact (or grammar) please let me know so that I can correct or remove the offending material).

Well that is enough of the preliminaries and let's get started.

First we have the big bang (a good percussive start), then planet earth is formed about 4.5 billion years ago. Only about 150,000 years ago the earliest humans evolve and it takes about 140,000 years, say to broadly about 10,000BC  for the earliest signs of human civilisation. 

Well we can skip on through about 10,000 years, past the various Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations which takes us to about the year 500 AD around the end of the time of the Roman Empire and when we land up at the start of the Dark Ages which were to last until about 1000AD. We can do this because through various depictions, writings and archeological findings we know music was made but we have no real idea of what it would have sounded like. This is because there was no form of writing or recording music from this time that has survived. So that was easy.

The Dark Ages were dark because relatively little is known about the period basically due to a lack of records. They were also viewed as dark because there seems to have been little development in such things as the arts, literature, technology, architecture and philosophy.  There was also a pause in the growth of the human population which perhaps reflects the lack of development in human culture. Stuck in a rut one might say - and so it was with music. This will begin to change, however, following the coronation by the Pope of King Charlemagne of Germany as the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800. The formulation of a Holy Roman Empire was the first step back towards a more unified civilisation across Western Europe and an attempt to get back to the good old days of the Romans.

At this stage there is virtually nothing we know about the sound of music outside the church. Inside the Christian church there had been various different chants sung that varied according to region that had passed down the ages. Charlemagne banned regional styles of chant and imposed the Roman style on the churches across the Holy Roman Empire which is now Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Eastern France, Northern Italy. It came to be labelled by the church as the Gregorian Chant after Pope Gregory, a highly popular historical figure from 550. The church allowed the myth to grow that God had whispered these chants into Pope Gregory’s ear as the music became virtually universal across the region.

We know about the Gregorian chant because in about the year 850, the first of four great advances to aid the development of music making is made. Number two is the printing press in c.1441. Three is the phonograph making the recording of sound possible in 1877. Four is our very own internet, which I think, due to the ease of which music can be accessed now, is going to be looked on as an advance comparable to the advance made by the printing press which had such an impact on the spread of written music.

The first great advance though is the creation of musical notation. This notation has evolved since then (c.850) as you can see from the dots and dashes above but it gives us an idea for the first time in history of what we need to know – and that is what the music sounded like at this time.


For an example of this, the earliest music known to man have a listen to Mass for the Octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Sanctus: 'Benedictus Mariae filius' (mode VIII) (men of king's college choir/stephen Cleobury) found on itunes or try introitus laudate deum which can be found on an album called 'Discover the Classics' on Spotify.

This earliest type of chant is known as plainsong or plainchant. The chant consists of a single note following a melody that rarely ranges further than five notes away from where it begins or jumps more than two notes apart. There is no rythym and no harmony, no instruments, just one note from one (or more than one voice but chanting the same thing) unified voice which is known as monody, but this was to provide the foundation of everything that was to follow – a good place to start.......

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