Monday, October 19, 2009

Medieval Music Blog

Medieval music encompasses European music was written during the Middle Ages. This era begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and ends in approximately the middle of the fifteenth century. Establishing the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance is difficult.

At the start of the era, the notated music is presumed to be monophonic and homorhythmic with what appears to be a unison sung text and no notated instrumental support. Earlier medieval notation had no way to specify rhythm, although neumatic notations gave clear phrasing ideas, and somewhat later notations indicated rhythmic modes.
The simplicity of chant, with unison voice and natural declamation, is most common. The notation of polyphony develops, and the assumption is that formalized polyphonic practices first arose in this period. Harmony, in consonant intervals of perfect fifths, unisons, octaves, (and later, perfect fourths) begins to be notated. Rhythmic notation allows for complex interactions between multiple vocal lines in a repeatable fashion.
Instruments used to perform medieval music still exist, though in different forms. The flute was once made of wood rather than silver or other metal, and could be made as a side-blown or end-blown instrument. The recorder, on the other hand, has more or less retained its past form. The gemshorn is similar to the recorder in having finger holes on its front, though it is really a member of the ocarina family. One of the flute's predecessors, the pan flute, was popular in medieval times, and is possibly of Hellenic origin. This instrument's pipes were made of wood, and were graduated in length to produce different pitches.

Medieval music uses many plucked string instruments, such as lute, mandora, gittern and psaltery. The dulcimers, similar in structure to the psaltery and zither, were originally plucked, but became struck in the 14th century, after the arrival of the new technology that made metal strings possible.
The bowed lyra of the Byzantine Empire was the first recorded European bowed string instrument. The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih of the 9th century cited the Byzantine lyra, in his lexicographical discussion of instruments as a bowed instrument equivalent to the Arab rabab and typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the urghun (organ), shilyani (probably a type of harp or lyre) and the salandj (probably a bagpipe). The hurdy-gurdy was (and still is) a mechanical violin using a rosined wooden wheel attached to a crank to "bow" its strings. Instruments without sound boxes such as the Jew's harp were also popular in the time. Early versions of the organ, fiddle (or vielle), and trombone (called the sackbut) existed as well.
In this era, music was both sacred and secular, although almost no early secular music has survived, and since notation was a relatively late development, reconstruction of this music, especially before the 12th century, is currently a matter of conjecture.

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