02/02/15 The Medieval Era: Gregorian Chant

Reminder: Quiz #1 on Friday, 2/6!

Quiz-worthy terms:
Melody and related terms:

  • Contour
  • Range
  • Interval
  • Conjunct
  • Disjunct
  • Phrase

Rhythm and related terms:

  • Beats
  • Measures
  • Meter: for example duple, triple, quadruple

Harmony and related terms

  • Chord
  • Triad
  • Scale
  • Triad
  • Consonance
  • Dissonance

Instrument categories:

  • Aerophones
  • Chordophones
  • Idiophones
  • Membranophones

Instrument families in the classical orchestra

  • Strings
  • Woodwinds
  • Brass
  • Percussion

“A Little Bird Told Me”

The history western classical music has its origins in the Medieval Era, in the religious music of the Catholic Church.

Pope Gregory I
Roman, lived 540-604, became pope in 590
Gregorian chant, a large collection of sacred music, is named for him
Composed by many contributors over time, but considered divinely inspired


Use: Liturgy of the Hours, a set of daily prayers chanted by monks and nuns in monasteries and convents.

They prayed A LOT: up to 8 times a day, every 3 hours or so:
– Matins: 1 a.m.
– Lauds: 3 a.m.
– Prime: 6 a.m.
– Terce 9 a.m.
– Sext: 12 noon
– None: 3 p.m.
– Vespers (Evening Prayer): 6 p.m.
– Compline (Night Prayer): 9 p.m.

Monasteries and convents still exist today, which modified versions of the schedule, for example:
Schedule for St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan

Why is this important to classical music in general?
– Led to development of of modern music notation
– Composers in all eras of classical music, including the current one, have used and/or been influenced by the texts and melodies of chant, and the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours.
– Some sacred music has become concert music, performed outside of its original religious setting

Musical characteristics:
– Monophonic texture
– Mostly conjunct/stepwise motion: related to origin as a kind of musical speech
– Narrow range: usually about an octave

liber5Initially an oral tradition: melodies were learned by ear and memorized, but notation became necessary as the number of melodies grew — eventually to more than 3000! Collected in a very thick book called the Liber Usualis, or “common book,” 1900 pages long.

Origins of modern music notation:
– Began as marks above text
Early Neume notation
– Developed into neumes (from Greek pneuma, meaning breath)
Neumes to modern notation

Three types of text-setting:
Syllabic: one note per syllable
Neumatic: a few notes per syllable
Melismatic: many notes per syllable

Illuminated chant manuscript:

Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179, Germany
Nun, Abbess, polymath, later made a Saint

Hildegard: Alleluia, o virga mediatrix

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