“Dies Irae”

On a “Greatest Hits of the 10th-12th Centuries” compilation disc advertised on late-night TV, this famous chant would be track 1. Of course, most of us know this melody through its many quotations in both the classical canon (I, like most, heard it the first time in Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique) and popular culture (a remixedContinue reading ““Dies Irae””

Teachers Making History

Ear training teachers everywhere, take heart. For it was one of your own, Guido of Arezzo, an ear training teacher from the turn of the first millennium (A.D.) who produced what Taruskin calls “perhaps the greatest [breakthrough] in the history of the literate tradition of music in the West” (I, 101): the musical staff withContinue reading “Teachers Making History”

Technologies of Transformation

One of Taruskin’s more philosophical passages, the aptly subtitled “What is Art?” (I, pp. 64-67), outlines in broad strokes the transition from music-as-activity to music-as-Art. Once a practice that existed entirely within the oral tradition, early notation was pivotal in codifying music and providing individual works with autonomy, a fairly universally regarded prerequisite for “art”Continue reading “Technologies of Transformation”

The Tropin’ Monkey: A Debate

Troping Vinyl: Grandmaster Flash The Argument: Medieval chant troping constituted the first documented instance of altering, recontextualizing, and fragmenting musical materials for new purposes. Fast forward a millennium, and we find that hip-hop musicians applied a similar principle (sampling) in the creation of new beats. The sampling process involves “cutting” segments from old records andContinue reading “The Tropin’ Monkey: A Debate”

Warning: Patterns May be Habit Forming [Updated]

One can form a mental habit of looking for sameness instead of difference, which can lead to an actual (perhaps unconscious) preference for simplifying sameness, and a concomitant (equally unconscious) antagonism toward complicating difference. (I, 63) In other words, our brains look for patterns. It’s how we interpret the mass of information barraging us everyday,Continue reading “Warning: Patterns May be Habit Forming [Updated]”

The Telling Trope

As DJ Tropesphere points out in his recent post, tropes were a way to re-immerse monks in the liturgy. But the most fascinating thing about tropes to me is how the trope texts allow us to keep our finger on the pulse of intellectual activity at the time. Far from being empty vessels, transferring originalContinue reading “The Telling Trope”

On Tropes (Part I)

Beginning in the 9th century, a new Frankish musical practice took off. “Tropes” are a whole category of chants that were added, interpolated, and generally affixed to older chants. From a practical point of view, tropes helped to re-immerse Benedictine monks back into the sanctity of liturgical life after centuries of brutal Norse invasions byContinue reading “On Tropes (Part I)”

Oral Composition and Questions of Method

To some, “oral composition” might seem a contradiction of terms. After all, by composing something, which in today’s usage means “writing music down,” one is cutting it out of the oral tradition and giving it a spatial manifestation in place of fallible memory. As Taruskin takes pains to remind us, however, orality and literary coexistedContinue reading “Oral Composition and Questions of Method”