Unidade 3


In a political sense, as well as a spiritual sense, the Roman Catholic Church was very much the focal point of a Medieval man's life. Between the collapse of control of the Roman Empire around 500 A.D. and the Renaissance in the middle 1400s, the Church remained the most continuously powerful organization in Europe.

The great gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages help demonstrate how religion had become the focus of the times. The thousands and thousands of hours of labor, the tremendous cost involved, the extraordinary and detailed craftsmanship without the use of cranes or power tools must give us an idea of the effects of religion and the power of the Church. To worship God through one's craft was the highest artistic ideal of the times. While some of the great secular classic literature of the past was well known to many, it was considered to be only a teaching tool to assist in the understanding of the Bible.

Music has always been an integral part of religious celebrations throughout history, and for the Catholic Church of antiquity, it was a vital element. With its music having absorbed Greek, Jewish, and Syrian influences among others, the leaders of the Church decided to organize and codify the thousands of pieces of music used in worship. Gregory I, pope from 590 to 604, is usually given the credit for getting the effort started. While some sources suggest that he composed many of the melodies, there is little to authenticate this. Nevertheless, this music grew to be called "Gregorian Chant" in his honor.

Prior to around the year 1000, virtually all music, Western music included, consisted of one dominant, unaccompanied melody line. This texture, called monophonic still dominates much non-Western music today, including Far Eastern, Indian, and Arabic cultures--at least those that haven't become corrupted by our practices yet!

Gregorian chant, sometimes known as "plainchant" consists solely of a melody, sung unaccompanied in Latin, with very free rhythms. It is one of the few types of music in Western civilization without a feeling of meter. Gregorian chant conveys a disembodied, ethereal, spiritual sound, certainly not focusing on anything that might inspire physical pleasure. These chants made use of scales other than the major and minor ones familiar to us. Instead they used the different "modes" such as Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc. briefly discussed in the harmony section of Unit 1.

Starting around the year 1000, the practice of using polyphony began to enter into Western music. Polyphony, as you might remember, is the use of independent lines within a piece of music. This multi-layered texture gave music a new expressive intensity, almost literally giving it another dimension. Perhaps not a coincidence, the use of perspective in painting was evolving at about the same time, expressing a parallel expansion in the visual medium. The first polyphony (called 'organum') consisted of two voices moving in parallel motion. Later as harmony became a little more sophisticated, the voices began taking on a little more independence from each other.

It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of music that survives from the Middle Ages is sacred music. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, the key word in the above statement is survives. In European civilization following the collapse of the Roman empire, literacy fell to an all time low during the Middle Ages. Even though modern scholars are revising their opinions of culture in the Medieval times upward, the average peasant simply couldn't read or write. That special talent was passed along by the church through its religious orders.

This included the special talents of reading and writing music. And of course, the monks whose duty it was to notate and copy music would have a tremendous bias toward the sacred music.

A second reason is that there really was a great deal of sacred music composed. Again, it was considered the highest form of art to be able to use one's talent to praise God. Life had become more and more dangerous and uncertain for the inhabitant of the Middle Ages. Without science to illuminate physical laws, without bacteriology to allow the understanding of diseases and plagues, fear and superstition became the method of explaining the unknown. Our earthly existence was ultimately looked upon as a dangerous, misery filled prelude to a blissful afterlife. The Church represented the hopes of the greater world to come.

Sacred music of the Middle Ages centers around two primary area--the Office and the Mass. Virtually all sacred music at that time was sung in Latin.

Monks were expected to sing, pray, and read the scripture eight times during the day from Matins (just after midnight) to Vespers (just before the evening meal) and Compline (at dusk). These times were known as the Hours of the Divine Office.

The most important musical event in the Roman Catholic Liturgy was the Mass. Wrapped around the sacrament of Holy Communion, the Mass consists of two parts called the Ordinary, and the Proper.

The Proper of the Mass is the part that changed from day to day, as the readings were geared for specific feast days and occasions. The Ordinary of the Mass is the text that remains consistent throughout the church year. The five parts of the Ordinary are the ones most commonly set to music in Medieval and later times.

Below is a list of the parts of the Mass. The parts of the Ordinary are in bold typeface.

         Alleluia (or Tract in certain seasons) 
         Lord's Prayer 
         Agnus Dei
         Post--Communion prayers 
         Ite Missa Est 

In addition to the regular Mass, a Requiem Mass was a common liturgy. Meaning "rest", the Requiem Mass was the "Mass for the Dead", used at funerals.

The Latin Ordinary, and other parts used in the Requiem, were commonly used by later composers up through the Romantic Era and occasionally today. Even though they were meant as secular compositions, they contain a great deal of fervent and sincere drama. Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Stravinsky are some who composed very striking musical settings of the Ordinary. Berlioz, Mozart, Verdi, and Britten's settings of the Requiem also stand out.

The earliest settings of this music were strictly monophonic. Through the Middle Ages, polyphony became an important stylistic element in music. Not surprisingly, the greatest composers of the time put their best energies into the mass. "Missa Notre Dame" by Guillaume de Machaut represents the first polyphonic ordinary done by a single composer. Leonin, Perotin, Dufay, and Machaut are the leading composers of the earliest sacred polyphonic music. Many other leading composers of the Middle Ages remain anonymous--this was not yet an age of musical personalities.

Guido D'Arezzo, a monk who lived in the early 11th century devised a version of the staff that is the precursor of today's staff. Some of his practices also contributed to "sight-singing"--the reading of music at sight. He also started the practice of using the Latin syllables of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc. to symbolize pitches.

Travelling minstrel singers, often known as troubadours, trouveres, and minnesingers, were the secular musicians. Generally their music was a monophonic line which they accompanied on the lute or harp, probably using one of the Church modes. These poet/musicians sang of nature, of love, of knightly legends, and of the sense of the mystical that pervaded their lives. Again, mysticism and superstition were the only tools available to explain the stars, the seasons, the randomness of weather patterns, diseases, etc.--and these tools played a great part in the lives of Medieval citizens as they grasped to understand the world around them.

Common types of secular music were the rondeau, virelai, the frottola (many of which today we would simply lump under the heading "ballad"), and the motet. Coming from the French "mot" meaning 'word', the motet often had several lines of music and text, sung in different languages. Often the different melodies were on completely different subjects, occasionally pairing a sacred text with a very bawdy one!


      The Fall of the Roman Empire
      Signing of the Magna Carta
      The Bubonic Plague
      The One-Hundred Years War
      The Crusades
      Marco Polo's Explorations
      Writings of Khayyam, Dante, Chauser


Missa Notre Dame -- Machaut
L' Homme Arme Mass -- Dufay
Polyphony and Plainchant of the Notre Dame School
Motets of the Middle Ages
Music of Leonin and Perotin

The Renaissance--meaning "rebirth"--began in the middle 1400s as a new interest in literature, science, and knowledge in general began to blossom. Certainly not the least important invention of the time was Guttenberg's moveable type, enabling mass production of books. More widespread literacy followed on its heels. After about a millenium when learning remained in a holding pattern, civilization dusted off its feet and began to move forward once more.

The Renaissance began in Italy due in part to the international commerce industry centered there. As the trade produced a number of wealthy families (among them the Medici family of Florence), many of them became important patrons of the arts. In addition to sponsoring painters, sculptors, and musicians, they spawned a growth of culture and knowledge that spread throughout Europe.

To our ears, music of the Middle Ages sounds very impersonal and foreign because of its heavy use of intervals of fourths and fifths in harmony (C to F or C to G).

Late in the Middle Ages a group of composers, known as the Burgundian School began using the third as a consonant interval (C to E or E to G) sounding much more like modern harmony and much more pleasing to the ears--a sign that music was being composed not for a mystical Deity, but for the human race with tangible emotions. Guillaume Dufay and Johannes Ockeghem were two figures who helped bridge the musical transition from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance.

The first great Renaissance composer was Josquin de Prez. Often known just as Josquin, he is one of the first musical "personalities"--that is, one who began to develop a very brilliant personal style.

Renaissance vocal music shows a much greater sensitivity to the text. Where Medieval music showed little connection between the melody line and the emotions portrayed in the text, Renaissance music is very careful to highlight the subtleties of the poem. For the first time, composers found the use of dissonance and consonance a very powerful tool for conveying emotion.

A popular form of vocal music was the "madrigal". First composed in Italy (the center of the Renaissance), the form became very popular with English composers such as William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Weelkes, and Thomas Morley. Madrigals, like much other Renaissance music, used imitation and text painting. This imitation is a bit like the exposition of a fugue where one voice will sing a phrase and other voices will successively sing the same line or a variant of it. Text painting is where the composer will have a vocal line shaped to follow what it is literally expressing. A phrase with the word 'death' may well have a slowly descending melody line, while a phrase with the words 'rise up' will have the melody go upward.

One of the most important composers of the late Renaissance was Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina. Palestrina, as he is generally known, composed a very large body of intricately polished sacred music. His masses show a command of polyphonic choral texture, as well as a very deep faith. The leading musical figurehead of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, his music is regarded by some as the greatest sacred music in all of Western history.

Giovanni Gabrieli was another important figure. Composing at St. Mark's cathedral in Venice, Gabrieli was the first known to introduce tempo and dynamics into a musical score.

The Church remained an important guiding force on the lives of citizens of the Renaissance, but began to lose its absolute power. Paintings and sculpture began to glorify (and show) the human body and the pleasures of life.

A large body of purely instrumental secular music survives, much of it being dance music. Many of the song forms, including ballads crossed over from the Middle Ages.


      Invention of moveable type
      Founding of Jesuit Order
      Vesalius' studies on anatomy
      Copernican view of the solar system
      Shakespeare's dramas
      Exploration of the "New World"
      Magellan Circumnavigates Globe
      "Utopia" by More
      Astronomical discoveries of Galileo


English Madrigals -- Morley, Gibbons, Weelkes, etc.
Polychoral and Brass music -- Gabrieli, Schutz, etc.
Missa Brevis -- Palestrina
Missa de Beata Virgine -- Josquin des Pres
Motets -- Dufay
Italian Madrigals -- Gesualdo, Marenzio, Monteverdi

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