Week 4 in Review

This Week in Blogging: Posts for the week chronicled a number of diverse engagements with the text, from an example of the first extant piece of polyphony and a new piece of artwork, to a meditation on the role of anonymity and its relationship to orality in the early repertory. (From here on out, dear readers, we’ll be dealing with composers, not anonymous monks.) The week came to a close with a rumination on the element of creative play that really crystallized during this period. In some of the earliest polyphonic experiments and into the Notre Dame school, we can get a clear glimpse of homo ludens, “humanity at play.”

CHAPTER 5: Polyphony in Practice and Theory

  • Guido, John, and Discant (153): Inventing the staff wasn’t Guido’s only contribution to music – he also set down some basic counterpoint rules in his “Micrologus.” This practice, discant, was the same type of note-against-note (homorhythmic) counterpoint evident in the Chartres fragment.
  • Polyphony in Aquitanian Monastic Centers (156): While the earliest polyphony used preexisting chant as the melody (the highest voice), Aquitanian practitioners flipped the script, putting the chant (cantus firmus) in the tenor. The cantus firmus was then slowed down dramatically to leave room for florid melismas in the upper voice(s).
  • The Codex Calixtinus (162): A late 12th-century French manuscript with some of the earliest examples of this new sort of polyphonic music.

CHAPTER 6: Notre Dame de Paris

  • The Cathedral-University Complex (169): Paris was the undeniable intellectual and artistic hub of 12th-13th century Europe, and it was in the newly founded universities and massive cathedrals that a new style developed. Early Notre Dame polyphony alternated between two styles: discant (note-against-note) and organum (sustained tenor cantus firmus with melismatic flights in the upper voice).
  • Piecing the Evidence Together (172): The most important document shedding light on the practices, composers, and repertory of this compositional school was written by an anonymous Englishman, the so-called “Anonymous IV.” It it through this document that we learn the name of Leonin and Perotin, the two masters of Notre Dame. However, the specifics are all quite sketchy, and modern scholars still know very little about these composers.
  • Measured Music (175): This repertory featured a novel way of notating rhythm, with long or short durations indicated through ligature patterns. The rhythmic feel would change dramatically between discant and organum sections. Copula served as an intermediate rhythmic level.
  • Whys and Wherefores (183): Taruskin takes the opportunity to ask why modal rhythm was developed at this time and for this repertory. Again, the “organic fallacy” appears – we should not read the development of rhythmic notation as a progressive evolutionary step. Instead, it might have been developed as a mnemonic device (to aid in memorization). In any case, Perotin and his ilk were the first generation of composers to depend on this new notational technology.
  • Organum cum Alio (186): The polyphony discussed so far is of the 2-voice variety. In the Notre Dame school, however, more voices were added to the mix (“organum with another [voice]”). Juggling three of four parts required a level of coordination that would have been impossible without modal rhythmic notation. The section features analyses of Perotin’s Viderunt Omnes and Alleluia Nativitas.
  • Theory or Practice? (196): Johannes de Garlandia’s authoritative De mensurabili musica offers descriptions of the rhythmic modes that exemplifies the complex relationship between theory and practice. While most of the modes outlined in the treatise appear to have reflected actual practice, a few of the theoretical modes that were introduced in the text only began to appear after Garlandia described them. This is a textbook case of theory influencing practice.
  • Conductus at Notre Dame (198): Notre Dame composers added some interesting new features to the conductus genre: 1) they were settings of contemporary poems and could have been composed from scratch, not from chant; 2) they were syllabically texted.

Coming up this week: the motet!


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