Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Oxford History of Western Music, Pt. 2

More fun facts.

  • Melismatic melodic turns helped group and identify chants together, and acted in a similar way to the term mode as defined in it's earliest usages
  • Our concept of a mode, more closely related to the final note of a melody, has less in common with Gregorian chant, and is a product of Frankish and Italian music theorists in the tenth century, when they made efforts to categorise the music of the Roman church according to ancient Greek music theory.
  • The harmonic series, often used to show that "naturalness" of the diatonic scale, was actually only discovered in the eighteenth century. According to one fable, Pythagoras passed by a blacksmith shop, heard pitches, and used the weights of the anvils to determine the pitches, which corresponded to the intervals of the perfect 4th, perfect 5th, and tone. Transposing this same pitch set (0, 5, 7) to begin on the any other those notes gives rise to the pentatonic scale.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Oxford History of Western Music, Pt. 1

I've started reading Richard Taruskin's momentous work. which covers western music from it's earliest notations to the end of the twentieth century. I've a loved Taruskin's writing ever since I got a copy of "The Danger of Music and other Anti-Utopian Essays."

The sheer size of this collection, combined with my inability to remember everything I read has lead to decide to make short posts that document some of the interesting things I find on the way.

  • Music notation arose out of political and geographical changes: the music sung in the churches of Rome migrated north to the Frankish kingdom after the two empires combined to protect themselves from the efforts of the Lombard kingdom to expand their southern border. No one really thought the notation of music was particularly interesting, so no one thought to chronicle it.
  • Gregorian chant is not a "primitive" form of music making, but was rather a rebellion against the extravagant (and probably polyphonic and antiphonal) music used in Christian rituals as it became the official religion of the late Roman Empire.
  • Melismatic singing, rather than being that annoying thing we think of as developing in modern pop music, was the highest form of musical devotion to God, where multiple notes could be used for a single syllable.
Stay tuned for more, if you'd like.