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April 2014
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Baroque&Before: Can You Read Medieval Music?

Introit from Missa verspertina in cena Domini

Introit from Missa verspertina in cena Domini

Thursday at 10:00 pm

See the Monks’ Manuscripts

We know the Neanderthals made flutes of bone some 43,000 years ago. More recent came hieroglyphs with harps, flutes, and lute-like instruments. The art of the ancient Greeks and Romans have similar images. Keeping that in mind, figures like the treble clef or the quarter note are newcomers to the human timeline. How those ancient musics sounded has been lost. It wasn’t until medieval monks developed a system for writing music down that ancient music became performable by today’s musicians.

Neanderthal flute

Neanderthal flute

The medieval notation shows the notes’ relation to one another. The C-shaped figure at the left edge of the top line indicates “middle C,” which doesn’t refer to the exact pitch per se, but to the sequence of whole steps and half steps proceeding from that note (like with the white keys on the piano)—exact pitches weren’t an issue until more people began traveling with instruments. Historians credit an Italian Benedictine monk named Guido of Arezzo with developing a four-line staff  around 1,000 AD which enabled the monks to show how much higher or lower one note was from another. Using the first syllable of the words of a hymn, Guido gave the notes names: ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la.

Scola Gregoriana of Bruges

Scola Gregoriana of Bruges



The Program

anon: Dominica in palmis
View the manuscript.

anon: Missa vespertina in cena Domini
View the Introit and Gradual.

anon: Feria sexta in passione Domini
View the Antiphon, Popule meus, Antiphon, Hymn.

anon: Ad vigiliam Paschalem
View the manuscript

anon: Dominica Resurrectionis

On Thursday’s Baroque&Before, Candice Agree features the Belgian ensemble Scola Gregoriana of Bruges which specializes in the performance of the earliest known Western music: Gregorian chant. It is believed chant evolved between the 5th and 9th centuries, though elements could be older. All composers on Thursday’s program are listed as anonymous. The texts come from the Passion and Resurrection.





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