CHAPTER 7: ANTIQUITY THROUGH THE MIDDLE AGES
Dr. N. Boumpani
ANTIQUITY, HOW FAR BACK CAN WE GO?
Archeologists have unearthed civilizations going back thousands of years. Unfortunately, the more we seem to know about the past, the more questions arise. All over the world there sit ancient megaliths where stones that way hundreds of tons have been set on top of each other and cut so precisely that a piece of paper can't fit between them. What is more confusing is that these stones were sometimes quarried many miles away and moved to the building locations, some of which are on mountains. There seems to be no written record of who built these, or why, let alone how they were built. So, it should be no surprise that we really have little knowledge of how music may have sounded thousands of years ago. What we do know is that every ancient civilization left behind proof of some kind of music. Instruments, like bone flutes or stringed instruments, have been unearthed in many places. There are also carvings of people playing instruments. What historical records we do have indicate that music was a part of every culture that has been discovered. The Bible records music going back to approximately 6000 years ago.
Until the past century, researchers believed that music had been an art form that was taught by rote from teacher to learner without any notational system. The first historical accounts of written music date to around 700-900 AD. Then, in the 1950's, in the ruins of the city of Ugarit in Syria, clay tablets were excavated that turned out to be written music. These clay tablets date back almost 3500 years to around 1400 BC! One table contained a complete musical work along with instructions on how to play the work on a 9-string lyre. The tablets also explain how to tune the lyre! This work has been titled Hurrian Hymn #6 and was a work dedicated to the goddess Nikkal. Nikkal Was the Canaanite Goddess of fruits and fertility.
EXAMPLE: Hurrian Hymn #6 YouTube
ASSIGNMENT: After you listen to the Hurrian Hymn, write a paragraph or two
and explain what you hear. Does it sound, in any way, familiar to any other music you have heard? How is it different from anything you ever heard? PLEASE listen carefully.
Although we may not know what the music of most of the ancient cultures sounded like, we do know that the functions of music then were much like those today. There was music for worship, dancing and entertaining. There was even music that we might compare to movie music! The ancient Greeks put on plays that were accompanied with music. Much later, in the late 1500's, in Florence, Italy, a group known as the Camerata was formed in an attempt to revive the idea of Greek drama and music. The result of their efforts was the birth of opera. Opera music would later heavily influence early film composers, as we will discuss later.
INSTRUMENTS OF ANTIQUITY
Among the archeological finding, we do know something about ancient instruments. In the tomb of the Pharaoh King Tutankhamun were found metal trumpets that are over 3000 years old. It was believed that these trumpets had the power to summon troops for war. In 1939, these trumpets were actually played in England and, in September of that year, WWII broke out. Superstitious people might believe that these trumpets had magical powers; however, most people knew that war was inevitable as Hitler continued to build his military and annex land from other countries.
In Jiahu, in the Yellow River Valley of China, archeologists found flutes made from the wing bones of Red-Crown Crane. Of the 33 flutes found, 20 are intact and 6 are still playable! Below is a picture of some of these flutes along with audio clips of a performance. What is even more incredible is that the scale system used by the ancient Chinese is very close to the scale system developed in the Western world that evolved into our modern major scale. In France, flutes made from the bones of the Vulture are estimated to be 20,000 years old and were found in the Isturitz Cave in France. Similar flutes have been found in Germany, and in Cerkno, Slovenia. In the Geisenklösterle Cave, in Blaubeuren, Germany, flutes made from mammoth and swans were found.
Listen to this 1-minute video before going on.
EXAMPLE: The lithophone
This video featured a lithophone. Lithophones have been found in various areas of the world, from places like England to Vietnam. Lithophones are instruments made from rocks of various sizes that were chiseled to specific sizes for different pitches. These instruments date back thousands of years. Percussion instruments, including various types of drums and cymbals, have also been found throughout the world. There are records of drums being used in war to signal troops. The modern-day orchestra timpani were adapted from war drums. In Africa drums have been used for centuries as part of everyday life and communication. African villages have used drumming to coordinate the daily work and also for dancing and entertainment. The constant rhythm of the drums helps villagers work to a steady beat and, in the process, work more efficiently through the day. This idea has not been lost in the west where, for many years, this African idea has been used in music to improve workplace efficiency.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
To understand the music of the Middle Ages, it is important to understand the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Ancient legend claims that Romulus and Remus, twin sons of the god Mars, founded Rome in 753 BC. What historians can agree on is that the birth of Rome as a Republic can be dated to 509 BC after the death of the 7th king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus. Over the next few centuries, they would use military might to conquer much of the known Western world. In the last 2 centuries BC, Rome conquered Greece and incorporated much of the Greek culture into the culture of Rome. It is believed that the arts in Rome, including music, were mainly based on the culture of Greece.
Around 31 BC, the Roman Empire grew too large to be governed under a republican form of government and the Emperors began control over the Empire. Sometime during the third century AD, Rome began its decline. Constant war and political instability undermined the security of the Empire. Until the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD, Christians had been severely persecuted. Constantine's conversion, whether genuine or for political reasons, changed the course of European history for centuries. The Catholic Church (which actually means “universal church”) was founded in Rome and, when Rome fell, the Church essentially took over the political control of what was left of the empire.
To understand how the Catholic Church regulated music after Rome fell, it is important to understand music’s place in Roman society in the 4th century AD. As Christianity grew in Rome, great music festivals were held that attracted virtuoso musicians and the festivals would sometimes last for days. These festivals were often accompanied by drunkenness and orgies on the part of many Romans and participants from all over the empire. When Rome fell, the Catholic Church was the only semblance of order left in the Empire and people looked to the church, and the Pope for answers. The Church saw the opportunity to try and “sanitize” music by putting limits on music in the church. In many ways, these limitations extended to secular music was well.
DISCUSSION: At the time, the Church leaders believed that they had to censor music. This concept has been talked about for centuries. Knowing how powerful music is, do you think there should be some limitations on music in the US today? After you post, respond to at least 1 other post.
With the fall of Rome, people were forced to do whatever they could to survive. Because of this education became almost non-existent. The only truly educated individuals for almost 1000 years after the fall of Rome were in the clergy. During this time there were basically three classes of people in the Western world: the clergy, the nobility, and the serfs. The nobility were those military leaders who still commanded the loyalty of their men, or those with enough wealth to create alliances. The majority of society became serfs who tended the fields or the livestock and would work for the nobility in exchange for the security of the army. There was simply no time for education nor weas there interest in it. For the next 1000 years there were no options for the serf class; therefore, there was little need for education. The only way one could become educated was through the Catholic Church.
ROOTS OF WESTERN MUSIC
After Rome fell, people looked to the Church for direction. The Church controlled the masses with their claims that God put the church in the place of leadership, as well as holding the fear of excommunication over the people. Those who dared to oppose the teachings of the Church would be excommunicated, which would mean that they were destined to spend eternity in hell. Therefore, the Catholic Church claimed to have the “truth” about everything. Remembering how the music of the Roman festivals created an atmosphere of sin, the Church created strict rules on the proper use of music. These rules were mirrored in much of the folk music as well.
Around the 5th century AD, Pope Gregory ordered the organization of the Catholic Mass. (The Catholic Mass is the reenactment of the last supper of Jesus Christ and His disciples.) For regular worship, the Mass was divided into 5 sections. This was called the Ordinary. These 5 sections, the Kyrie, the Gloria, The Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei were each represented by special chants. For special occasions there were masses called Proper. These masses celebrated feasts and holidays. Because of his work in organizing the mass, the chants were named Gregorian Chants; however, Pope Gregory was not a composer and did not write any chants.
GREGORIAN CHANT AND THE LITERGY
As the Church spread over the continent of Europe, it established its basic liturgy. A liturgy is a set of specific actions that frame communal worship time. In the monasteries that were founded, the monks and nuns lived their lives around a daily rendering of worship in the church. There were, and are still, eight of these worship services called offices, and a ninth service, the chief service, called the Mass. All services had as their basis readings from the Bible, weekly recitation of the Psalms, and regular prayers. Over time these texts were sung, rather than simply recited. This singing was most likely an outgrowth of the society in which early Christians found themselves, with influences from Hebrew and Middle Eastern cultures. Scholars debate how the melodies for these texts, referred to as Gregorian chant, plainsong, or plainchant, came into being. (All three of these terms refer to the same thing.) They are called plain because their chief characteristic is a one-line melody with no harmonic accompaniment (monophonic texture). Many hundreds of these sacred melodies developed by the middle of the sixth century.
Remember that the characteristics of Gregorian chant included monophonic texture, smooth melodic contour, were written and sung in Latin, had no strict rhythm or meter, usually had one pitch for one syllable, and were meant to create an atmosphere for prayer. The only people that sang these chants were the clergy. They were not sung by the congregation. This practice that began around the 5th century continued until the early 1960s.
An example of a famous chant from a special mass is the “Dies Irae”, or “Day of Wrath” chant. We were introduced to this earlier in the book. This music was from a Requiem Mass, or a mass for the dead. This music is meant to portray the judgement of God at the end of time as He pours His wrath out upon the sinners of the world. As you listen to this and other chants, they will most likely sound strange to your ears. At the time they were written, many different musical scales were utilized, but, over time, most were forgotten. Also, we do not know exactly how this music was performed back in the 5th century. The performance you will hear is probably close, based on the research of musicologists (people who research musical history). Later, around the 8th century, music began to be written down in notational form. This made it easier for others to recreate the music. The version we hear today may be different from the original version. As you listen to Dies Irae notice the main characteristics of the music as explained above.
EXAMPLE: Dies Irae anon
Interestingly, this will probably not be the first time you have heard this melody, or at least a melody that is based on this chant. Composers have used the Dies Irae in compositions for centuries, even up to the present day and you have probably heard it. Dies Irae has been used by composers in many movies Some composers have used it exactly as written, and some have created themes that were based on it. John Williams used it more than once in the Star Wars movies, and Howard Shore used it to create themes that were related to Mordor and the dark forces in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Using the YouTube link below, you can hear how this melody has been used in dozens of movies.
EXAMPLE: Dies Irae in Movies
NOTE: Secular music is music written for any purpose other than for the worship of God. Most music appreciation texts use the terms sacred and secular to classify the music presented within the course.
In the earlier days of the Middle Ages, secular music was not written down either. Music was passed down orally, and most of this music has lost. One of the main reasons for secular music was to dance. Wandering minstrels were the professional musicians of their day. They would provide music for tournaments, feasts, weddings, hunts, and almost any gathering of the day. Minstrels performed plays, and they would also carry with them news of surrounding areas. This was one of the main ways that people heard the “news” of what was going on in other places. Often, they would be employed by lords of the manors that made up medieval society. Troubadours (feminine trobairitz) were active in the south of France, trouviers in the north. In German lands the same type of musician was referred to as a minnesinger. These traveling musicians were not well respected. The only other profession that was lower than a travelling musician was a prostitute. The troubadours were more respected because they were employed by nobles.
The musical works of the troubadours often revolved around human love, especially unrequited love. The exploits of knights, the virtues of the ruling class, and the glories of nature were among other themes. The musicians most often composed their own poetry. These songs were accompanied by instruments such as the vielle, the hurdy-gurdy, and the psaltery.
This is a modern reproduction of a Medieval fiddle or vielle which is played with a bow.
Rhythm instruments such as the side drum and the tabor (usually played by one person with the pipe) provided rhythmic accompaniments to the music. Other Medieval instruments include the recorder and transverse flute, the shawm, the bladder pipe, the serpent, and the lizard.
The picture on the left shows Renaissance recorders. On the right the first instrument is a shawm, the second a Baroque oboe and the third a modern oboe.
Secular music of the Medieval Age was also monophonic. Since some secular music was intended for dancing, a percussion instrument might accompany the melody. Sometimes a stringed instrument was used in much the same way as a percussion instrument, which was to accent the beat. In the example below, for the first minute and a half, you will hear a monophonic work of music. The melody for the first minute and a half is accompanied only by a type of wooden percussion instrument and a stringed instrument that plays the same notes throughout this segment. Since the stringed instrument does not change any notes to accompany the melody, it is not providing harmony. (After this first section, the stringed instrument plays a more harmonic role.) You need only listen to the first minute.
EXAMPLE: Dananza amorosa anonymous
THE BEGINNINGS OF POLYPHONY
From the single-line chanting of the monks and nuns, music gradually changed to become polyphonic, meaning two or more melodies playing simultaneously. The simplest form of adding another voice is to use a device called a drone. This is a note or notes that are held while the melody plays. This type of musical composition has been found in the folk music of many European and Asian cultures.
Another device in the sacred music of the Church was organum. Organum is the singing of chant with another voice singing exactly the same chant, only at differing intervals (an interval being the difference in pitch between two notes). The second voice follows the chant in exact parallel motion so that you hear the same text, but on two different pitches. In the ninth century the interval of a “fifth” (2 notes 5 steps apart, (like C-D-E-F- G) was considered a perfect interval, pleasing and harmonious. Therefore, the movement of the two voices, while it may sound dry and uninteresting to the modern ear, was pleasing and reassuring to medieval listeners. Please note that one of the voices was somewhat free to slightly embellish the pitches, but, for the most part, the voices moved parallel. Listen to the first 45 seconds of the Kyrie below.
EXAMPLE OF ORGANUM: Kyrie from Mass for the Nativity of the Virgin Leonin/Perotin
Music moving along in parallel fifths was not the only way organum was practiced. In order to avoid certain intervals while the chant progressed, the singers of the accompanying voice had to alter certain notes, move in contrary motion, or stay on the same note until the chant moved past the note that would have created a “forbidden interval.” For example, the tritone (an interval of two notes with six half steps or semitones between them) was considered an unstable, dangerous interval. It was said to personify the devil and was avoided in sacred music—and in some cases specifically forbidden under Canon law. Changing the chant to avoid certain intervals such as the tritone provided the beginning of oblique and contrary motion. This development led the way to thinking of music as a combination of voices rather than a single line. Polyphony can be said to have arisen from this practice. The most basic polyphony consisted of voices that moved parallel, oblique, or contrary to each other. These three are represented below. Before you listen to the polyphonic examples below, please listen to the very short example of a tritone. In the example you will first hear two trumpets play a perfect 5th, which the church preferred, then both play the “tritone,” which was banned by the church. After the long tones, you will hear 8 short perfect 5ths followed by 8 short tritones. All of these files are less than 20 seconds each.
EXAMPLE: the tritone
EXAMPLE: Parallel movement in voices
EXAMPLE: Oblique movement in voices
Example: Contrary motion in voices
THE MEDIEVAL MOTET
In addition to creating polyphonic settings of the chants, musicians at this time began using other Latin texts, some newly written, with the added vocal parts. This resulted in a new way of thinking about what type of texts would be used with the new musical style. Chant was the official music of the Church, and sacred composers were seeking new ways of expressing the developments of society at the time. They were also aware that the Church authorities were using different tactics to mark the Mass as the most significant service of the church. New architectural grandeur, highly stylized clerical attire, ornate decorations of wood and stone, and the growing complexity of chant practices all reflected the significance of the Mass. While retaining the official chant, composers were responding to a concomitant blend of richness and complexity all around them.
The addition of voices to a chant and the idea of setting new words to those voices resulted in the motet. The words used were fit for various occasions: regular services of the church, special days such as Christmas and Easter, and special local circumstances, such as the founding anniversary of a church or the crowning of a monarch. Eventually, other subjects were used for the accompanying voices, including love poems. The liturgical chants on which they were layered also came to be optional, with the composer either writing a new chant or adapting an existing one rhythmically.
Mention must be made here of a special type of polyphonic work called the round. “Sumer Is Icumen In” is a round that was written sometime after 1250 by an anonymous composer. It is for four voices singing one after the other in continuous fashion, with two more voices in the background repeating “sing cuckoo” repeatedly. The text praises the coming of summer. The tone is bright and happy. The two background voices are called the pes, Latin for “foot”.
Many school children today still sing rounds, such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and others. This tradition can be traced back to the music from 1250! Below is a written example of the original melody. This kind of polyphony is known as polyphonic by imitation.
“Sumer Is Icumen In”, a 13th century round, is shown in modern notation. The bottom two lines, Pes I and II, are sung as background. New voices enter at the beginning when the voice right before them starts at the + sign.
As the 1300s began, polyphony became increasingly complex. Rhythm became a predominant feature of a new style of composing called Ars Nova. This “new art” was characterized by greater rhythmic variety, melodies that were longer and shapelier, and increasing independence of individual lines of music.
Ways of writing music developed that showed division of longer notes into shorter values (breve, to semibreve, to its smallest division, the minim). The use of a device called isorhythm (“equal rhythm”) came into more complex practice with the motets of Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361). For an example of isorhythm’s use, listen to the following work.
EXAMPLE: Apta caro / Flos / Alma redemptorisa mater. Vitry
We know from research that ancient music used notational systems; however, there are only a very few examples of ancient notation. We have no way of knowing if these few examples represent a system that was used by many people, or only a small group. This means that music historians cannot tell us how ancient music sounded. The music that took place in ancient Greece and Roman can only be imagined based on picture, carvings, and the remains of ancient instruments. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church was the main stabilizing force in the Western World. The use of music in the Catholic Mass was strictly controlled and, for several hundred years, only monophonic music was permitted. Slowly this changed and, over time organum would develop into early polyphonic music.
During the Middle Ages a notational system slowly emerged thanks to innovations of two great composers of the School of Notre Dame, Leonin and Perotin. The standardization of a notational system allowed composers to share their music across Europe and preserve music for centuries. From the polyphonic writings of this period came “rounds,” which are still used today.
Introduction to Music Appreciation by Hanse, Whitehouse and Silverman