Music Appreciation
Guided Explorations in eight sessions.
Class 2 of 8.
Our "Blisteringly-Fast" History of Music.
 

I. The Beginings ...everything before 1450.

[Play a chant selection softly as background while the group reads below.]
 

Evidence of pre-Christian music exists where ruins or artifacts of a culture have survived with images of people holding what appear to be instruments - in some cases they could be weapons - you know, musicians have always been notorious for having to hold down "two" jobs.  Most notable are the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks.  The Greeks apparently had a written music notation of letters of the Greek alphabet, resting in various positions, with brackets placed under the letters to indicate duration of pitch. Sorry, no tapes or CD's exist from a "Bacchanalia" of the period - was that a "Bach" pun?

Around 600 a.d. Pope Gregory was responsible for collecting the initial body of music we now call "Gregorian" chant.  The oldest existing piece of sheet is a partial fragment of a hymn in praise of the Trinity, written in Greek notation and Greek words which dates from the third century, discovered at the Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchos in 1922.  The language of Gregorian chant though was Latin, the language of the Church, except - yes you know - "Kyrie Eleison" - and that's "Greek" to us!

Gregorian chant and secular song flourished through the middle ages. Interestingly the pipe organ began tip-toeing into the church as earily as the sixth century - well actually it was more with the gracefulness of a ship's fog horn than tippy-toeing in.  It was a loud raucous affair that was more appropriate for public gatherings, and the offical Churhc word was that Church singing was to be un-accompanied. It took until the thirteenth century for the organ to become "domesticated" and widely  accepted for accompaning the choir and the people.

Minstriels were the purveyors of secular song from the tenth century onward. They were men and women who wandered singly or in groups, from place to place, eeking out a living by performing music and ..."exhibiting trained animals". See, this is why we musicians have had a somewhat "seedy" image even from the very begining.

On a more serious note, a monumental human being, who lived from 1098 to 1179 (12th century), was Hildegard von Bingen, was one of the most important figures of the Middle Ages.  She was recognized as a true prophet by Pope Eugenius III. In her life she completed three books of visions, thirteen works of theology, medicine, and the physical sciences, and over 300 letters.  Musically she composed almost 80 vocal compositions, instrumental compositions, works of poetry and a musical drama. We will hear two selections of hers:  "O splendidissima gemma" and an instrumental piece.

By the thirteenth centry things were beginning to really start cooking.  Buzzy and hooty Medieval instruments had proliferated. Western Music was becoming something that would be recognizable to our present day ears.  The stage was set for the Renaissance - even though it wasn't universally proclaimed at midnight, December 31st, 1449.

Listening time - I:

"Sequentia" CD: "Ancient Music for a Modern Age" - tracks 10, 11, 12: Hildegard von Bingen; "O splendissima gemma"; instrumental piece, "Symphoniae: Spiritula Songs"; Anonymous; Vox Iberica III - El Sabio - "Sobelos fondos do mar" from a collection of three song celebrating the Virgin Mary to King Alfonso X "the Learned" of Spain.
 
 

II. The Renaissance ( ..or "ree-nay-sance" if you prefer).





Music historians generally consider 1450 to 1600 as the Renaissance.  "Renaissance" means re-birth.  To the artists of the period it was viewed as an artistic rebirth of the ideals of  Greek and Roman thought - while keeping the present day musical technology that had evolved over the intervening centuries.  This was the age of Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and ..Machiavelli.  The printing press had been invented, Columbus had rediscovered America, ...and the "American Express" Card was only a scant four hundred years away.

Before we progress any farther, three observations need to be made concerning the study of history that puts thing into a better perspective.  1.) For each of these periods into which Western artistic history has been divided, there were a myrid of wonderful composers who collectively wrote thousands of compositions. In the brief time alotted for our class sessions, predominently focused on a 600 year window, we can't begin to note all of the worthy composers and their contributions.  2.) Another consideration is that music historians are usually creating  their terminology and organizing facts about a time period long after the composers have gone on to their eternal reward.  3.) Last but not least, one major time period dosn't end at the stroke of midnight on New Year's eve, and a new time period begin at 12:01 a.m.  Cultural transition is continuous and minimally perceptable in most cases.  ...Now we return you to your regularly scheduled programing.

Andrea Gabrieli (Italy; 1515-1586, uncle) and Giovanni Gabrieli (Italy; 1555-1612, nephew) were both organists, at different times,  at St. Marks in Venice.  Giovanni composed much glorious music for choir, organ and brass. St Marks had two antiphonal choir lofts, threrfore his work sometimes reflects the presence of two choirs.  Wow, two choir lofts,  ....and this was before "walkie-talkies" were invented!

Giovanni da Palestrina (Italy; 1525-1594) and Josquin des Pres (France; 1440-1521) and William Byrd (England; 1543-1623) and Thomas Tallis (England; 1505-1585) were "sina qua non" models of renassiance choral music.
 

Listening time - II:

Selections from Return of the Pipers; the Philedelphia Renaissance Wind Band.  Andrea Gabrieli instrumental piece. Giovani Gabrieli - O Magnam Mysterium.  Palestrina; Ave Regina Caelorum.  William Byrd; Mass for five voices (Tallis Scholars CD). ]
 

What are you  intuitively hearing  as we progress through of all of these selections?

Gregorian Chant:  We hear that chant is text wedded to melody. The melody has no adjacent notes ("harmony") occuring at the same time along with the melody. The melody is text driven - that is to say that the music is subserviant to the words - historically in the Latin language.  The text is scriptural or scripturally derived antiphons, settings of the Mass ordinary, or otherwise related to the Mass or other liturgical rites.

Pre-Rennasiance:  We can still see a strong influence of chant on a melody line.  A second, or third,  instrumental or vocal part is a sustained pitch while the melody is played. The accompaniment notes are sometimes drone-like.  In non-sacred (secular) music the rhythmic presence of dance rhythms and the non sacred text become the most obvious differentiating characteristics.

Rennasiance:  Choral music is still the revered medium. Much instrumental music seems, in many instances, to be choral music without words written for instruments. To make an intuitive generalization - "Poly-phonic" (many "melodied") music has as the emphasis on simultaneous horizontal lines of melody with a secondary focus on how the sounds add vertically (harmony) at a point in time.  Musical elaboration ("ornamentation") is seen appearing in instrumental parts - running lines of notes and brief figures that hover around the tonal center of a piece.
 

Next stop  ...the Baroque period;
and as we have always been taught,
"when something isn't "baroque", don't fix it." (...aaargh!)
 
 
 

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