Monday, October 3, 2016

The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance (Part 5) - The Fifteenth Century (Part 2)

The 15th Century - Part Two
     Continuing the story from the previous article in this series, I would now like to introduce two more famous composers from the early part of the 15th century. Their names are Gilles Binchois and Antoine Busnois.

Gilles Binchois (ca 1400 – 1460)
Dufay and Binchois were represented in "Le Champion des dames," a poem by Martin le Franc (1410-1461) who penned the phrase contenance angloise, a term that affirmed that these two composers were inspired by the British composer John Dunstable who was the first composer to create the sound that dominated 15th-century music.

     Gilles Binchois was one of the most famous of the Franco-Flemish composers from the first half of the 15th century. He wrote secular songs of the highest order, and liturgical music as well. Little is known of his life, however. 
"De plus en plus" by Gilles Binchois

Antoine Busnois (ca 1430 – 1492)
     The secular song tradition that Binchois and Dufay (Part 4 of this series) began was continued by Antoine Busnois who, like Binchois, became very famous for his songs. His liturgical music, like Dufay's, filled European cathedrals of the time. 
"Missa O crux lignum triumphale" by Antoine Busnois

The Mass
     When we refer to a "mass" in Western classical music, we are referring to a setting of the five parts of the ritual of the mass in the Roman catholic church. These are the sections of liturgy that are present in almost all celebrations of the mass: the "Kyrie," the "Gloria," the "Credo," the "Sanctus" (and the connected "Benedictus") and "Agnus dei." Together these five liturgical texts are called the ordinary of the mass. This is invariable except for particular services such as those during holy week (the week before Easter) and in the celebration of the requiem mass (for the dead), which is a special kind of mass.
     When we listen to a "mass" composed by composers from the 14th century forward to the present day, it is usually these five separate liturgical texts sung in Latin (kyrie is a Greek word, however), set to the music from a particular composer, be he Machaut, Dufay, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven or even 20th-century's Igor Stravinsky. Renaissance composers started a trend of composing sets of five mass movements that contained similar musical material, to create unity among the five parts.
    During the past few centuries, the five mass movements together have become recognized as a complete musical composition using the name "mass." However, during the Renaissance period, composers created settings of the five mass movements to be included as a part of an overall liturgical service, a service that also contained prayers, lessons, and a reading of the gospel in addition to other parts, much of which were sung in Gregorian chant. The mass movements at that time were not performed outside of the surrounding liturgical service.
     During the 15th century, some very beautiful settings of the five sections of the mass ordinary were composed. During the following 16th century, composers will create a very large number of masses. The great 16th century composer Palestrina, who perfected the polyphonic mass, composed over 100 masses, a feat comparable to that of the great 18th-century composer Joseph Haydn who, while perfecting the symphonic and sonata forms, wrote 106 symphonies.
     I am a composer of a mass that I call "The Jubilation Mass," and it has its own website (JubilationMass.com). I wrote a multi-part article called "The Mass Through the Centuries" and I have hosted it on that site. I recommend reading that article if you are interested in more information about mass composition from the 15th century forward.

The Motet
     The motet is an harmonic liturgical music composition that was, like the mass movements, sung as a part of various services, replacing Gregorian settings of music for graduals, introits, offertories, antiphons... music that constituted the proper of the mass, and Gregorian chants sung in other services such as matins and lauds. The earliest extant motets were composed during the 13th century, when music was evolving from the earlier "organum" forms that I described in the second article in this series.
     Early fifteenth-century motets were mostly isorhythmic, employing repeated rhythmic patterns in all voices... patters that did not necessarily coincide with repeating melodic patterns. 

The Cantus Firmus
     As I explaned in the second article in this series, when composers began creating sacred music in an harmonic style, such as the organum, harmony parts were added to an existing Gregorian melody. This melodic line appeared as one of the parts, often in long note values, and provided a basis for music composition. It was called the cantus firmus (fixed melody) in writings dating from as far back as 1235.
    During the 15th century, the cantus-firmus provided the basis for motet and mass composition. By this time, however, secular melodies that were already beloved by the public also began to be used as a cantus firmus melody. 15th-century composers even employed popular songs as the cantus firmus for compositions sung during the singing of the mass, something that will eventually become an issue with the folks at the vatican. The most famous example is the melody "L'homme arme," a French dorian-mode secular song from the same era, whose melody was put to use by a number of composers as a cantus firmus, even including a young 16th-century Palestrina. The most famous example where this melody is employed as cantus firmus is the beautiful mass composed by Guillaume Dufay called the "Missa L'homme arme." There are over 40 different settings of the mass ordinary in existance, however.
L'Homme Arme

L’homme armé doibt on doubter.
On a fait partout crier
Que chascun se viegne armer
D’un haubregon de fer.
L’homme armé doibt on doubter.
The armed man should be feared.
Everywhere it has been proclaimed
That each man shall arm himself
With a coat of iron mail.
The armed man should be feared.

     Thanks to the wonder of technology, my readers, even those with only a rudimentary understanding of written music, can watch the following video, where the music score is synchronized with the music, and get the point that I am making about how a cantus firmus is integrated into a musical composition. In this video, the choir first sings the popular song "L'homme Arme" to familiarize you with the tune. Following this is the first movement of the mass, the "Kyrie." In the 5th measure, the melody, an embellished version already hinted at by the sopranos, is sung by the tenor voices. You will see the words "L'OMME L'OMME" in the score, indicating where the old secular melody begins (the "H" in l'homme is not pronounced). After this, there is a pause in the tenor voice as the music continues, and then the melody in the tenor continues for another few measures. The tenor voice works with the melody of the song throughout the mass. The words that are set to this melody are the liturgical words, not the words of the song:
"L'homme arme" melody and Guillaume Dufay "Missa L'homme arme" 

Fauxbourdon
     If you are new to 15th-century music, and specifically to the century's most famous composer Guillaume Dufay, you may sometimes feel the cold-as-steel-like quality in some of the music, showing its roots in the older style from the preceding century, where the focus was on the musical intervals of the 4th and 5th: the underpinnings of all harmony (see my book The Scale for a detailed explanation of this). This is especially evident in the 15th-century musical style known as fauxbourdon that Dufay used for the setting of hymns.
     At the beginning of the 15th century, as the Renaissance started to flower, English composer John Dunstable's influence caused the introduction of the 3rd and 6th musical intervals to become a part of European music composition, thus completing the musical triad, allowing perfect musical harmony to resonate from the halls and cathedrals of Renaissance Europe, as explained in Part 4 of this series
    The purpose of this type of harmonic innovation was to allow a more chordal setting of the melody. As an example, we turn to the famous Gregorian hymn dedicated to Mary, "Ave Maris Stella" (Hail, Star of the Sea"). Like today's hymns, those of the Renaissance contained poetic lines set to a repeating melody. Dufay's hymn settings alternated between the original Gregorian melody for odd verses and his own fauxbourdon setting for the even ones:
Hymn "Ave Maris Stella" with alternating verses composed by x G Dufay set in the 15th-century fauxbourdon style

     Wikipedia defines fauxbourdon as: "In its simplest form, fauxbourdon consists of the cantus firmus and two other parts a sixth and a perfect fourth below. To prevent monotony, or to create a cadence, the lowest voice sometimes jumps down to the octave, and any of the accompanying voices may have minor embellishments. Usually just a small part of a motet composition employs the fauxbourdon technique [however, entire stanzas are set in Dufay's hymn settings].


     "The top and bottom lines are freely composed; the middle line, designated 'fauxbourdon' in the original, follows the contours of the top line while always remaining exactly a perfect fourth below. The bottom line is often, but not always, a sixth below the top line; it is embellished, and reaches cadences on the octave." (Wikipedia)
     *
     And now at this point, we move ahead, toward the 16th century. In the next installment I will introduce the composers who followed in the footsteps of Johannes Ockeghem, whom we discussed in the previous article in this series, bridging the gap between the two centuries, moving toward the style that will dominate the 16th century - the golden era of Renaissance sacred music.

© 2016 by Don Robertson

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance (Part 4) - The Fifteenth Century (Part 1)

Sacred Music in the 15th Century
"Kyrie" for three voices by Guillaume Dufay - A page from a manuscript created for Cambrai Cathedral.

     I first discovered the sacred choral music of the 15th century back in 1973. I was in Wichita, Kansas that summer, teaching classes in spirituality and using music in counseling seasons, where I was seeing first hand the wonderful results that uplifting music could bring to people with emotional and spiritual needs. 
     One young lady that I was working with was majoring in music at Wichita State University. I had just discovered the music of the great 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay and we listened to a recording of one of his masses together. She was very surprised, as even as a music major, she had never before heard of 15th-century classical music. I made her a cassette tape of the mass and she began listening to Dufay's music in her home. Finding Dufay's music to be so beautiful, she soon told her college professor about it. She told me: "He just looked down his nose at me and with a scowl, he told me that this kind of music only belonged in a museum and should never be taken seriously, especially by a music student."
     Modern ears sometimes are quick to brand the music of this century to be too musty and cold. But after giving the music some full attention, it just might come alive, and new listeners may begin to realize its wealth of great beauty.
    
The Birth of the Renaissance
     The date that many writers give for the birth of the Renaissance period in European history to be around 1400. It is absolutely no coincidence that this is also the approximate date for the introduction of pure consonance in the sacred choral music of Europe. This introduction was courtesy of the English composer named John Dunstable (1390-1453), who added the consonant musical intervals of the 3rd and 6th to multi-voiced sacred music that during the previous century had been more restricted to the perfect forth and fifth intervals. Due to the tremendous resonant power that music has, adding the 3rd and 6th, which completed the harmony of the three-note chord called the triad, provided the basis for consonant harmony, resonating with the tremendous social change that accompanied the beginning of rebirth in Europe, already stimulated by the influence of the Islamic culture of Al Andalus (Spain) that I discussed in the first two articles in this series.


The Composers
John Dunstable (ca 1390 – 1453)


John Dunstable

     The polyphonic music style of the previous centuries had been based primarily on the root harmonic intervals of the perfect forth and fifth. What Dunstable did was provide his music with an abundance of what became known as the contenance angloise, balancing the interval of the perfect forth and fifth by adding the 3rd and sixth intervals. John Dunstable gave to European music the balance of music based on the musical triad (C E G). 
     John Dunstable was very famous, and his music very important. Most of his music has vanished, however, destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries that occurred during 1536-1541, when Henry the Eighth destroyed catholicism in Britain.
     Here is an example of a sacred composition from 14th century, before Dunstable's revolution:
Sacred Music from 14th-century England

    This is an example of Dunstable's music:
"Quam pulchra es" by John Dunstable

Guillaume Dufay (ca 1400 - 1474)

Guillaume Dufay

     It was music from the Netherlandish countries, the area of Northern Europe now known as Northern and Eastern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, that the most important 15th-century music arose. This was the music of the Franco-Flemish School of composers who were joined by the visual artists who help create the great cultural movement of that time, producing some of our greatest works of art
    The following two paintings are among the most famous from the Franco-Flemish world during this time of great cultural achievement:  
"The Arnolfini Portrait" by Jan Van Eyck

"The Descent from the Cross" by Rogier van der Weyden

    (A great experience for me was the day that I spent in the Old Masters Museum in Brussels, where so many of these old paintings are on display. Already familiar with the music that at one time was coexistent with this art, the visit to this museum was a very special treat). 
    The greatest composer of the Franco-Flemish school was Guillaume Dufay, who created a music with an original style that will dominate the century. Gustave Reese, who wrote the monumental treatise of Renaissance music Music in the Renaissance, had this to say about the composer:
"Dufay -- one of the great exponents of French music, regardless of period… dominated the art of composition unchallenged from 1425 to 1450, when, though still at the height of his powers, he was approached in eminence by Ockeghem, the leader of a new generation."
     Dufay was one of the most famous men of his generation. He created an entirely new musical style that would influence musical composition permanently, affecting every genre and sphere. 

     We don't know where or when he was born, but we do know that he was Flemish and that he began his musical career as a singer in the Burgundian court, and that he was associated with the town of Cambrai in Belgium, which at that time was under Burgundian rule. He moved to Italy in 1420, however. He was already famous by the 1420s, having written two wonderful works: the secular “Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys” (Goodbye to These Good Wines of Lannoys) and the sacred “Apostolo glorioso” (Glorious Apostle).
Secular song "Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys" by Guillaume Dufay

Sacred motet "Apostolo glorioso" by Guillaume Dufay

    Dufay filled various positions in Italy, including membership in the Papal choir in Rome. At some point, he returned to Cambrai where he supervised the music at the cathedral, writting new music for its repertory. He died in 1474.

Johannes Ockeghem (ca 1410 - 1497)


Johannes Ockegham

     Johannes Ockeghem was born in the French-speaking province of Hainaut, in the town of Saint-Ghislainor according to recent research. He was the first chaplain for three French kings, and he held the prestigious position of treasurer at the great cathedral and monastery of St. Martin de Tours.
     Ockeghem's surviving musical output is small, consisting of only a few motets, fourteen masses, and a couple of dozen chansons. Unfortunately, what was most likely a large output of music has been destroyed, perhaps in the over one-hundred conflicts and wars that plagued Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Ockeghem was known as an accomplished master of compositional technique, famous for his complex lines and polyphonic structures. He wrote some very beautiful music.
The beautiful "Sanctus" section from Ockeghem's Missa Mi-Mi

The "Kyrie" from Missa Ecce ancilla Domini

This is an illuminated manuscript showing soprano and tenor parts for the "Kyrie" section of Ockeghem's Missa Ecce ancilla Domini featured in the video above.  The image of such a page of music shows not only the value that was placed on this composer's music, but also the important relationship between music and art during the 15th century. (Chigi codex housed in the Vatican library)


    I will concluded my presentation of the sacred choral music of the 15th century in the next article in this series.

©
 2016 by Don Robertson

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance (Part 3) - Introduction to Renaissance Sacred Choral Music

     by Don Robertson

     This is Part Three of my series of articles titled "The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance," a 12-part series introducing the great tradition of sacred choral music that arose in Europe between the years 1400 and 1600 during a time of tremendous cultural development. It was music that was sung in Roman catholic cathedrals and monasteries, composed by the great composers of that time. A great deal of this great body of work has survived in the form of manuscripts and published part books that were housed in the libraries of the great cathedrals and monasteries of Europe (part books contain the melodic lines that choir singers performed to create the harmonic fabric of the sacred choral compositions). 
     Singing was generally unaccompanied, but in some cases, instruments were employed to double the choral parts of the part books, or to add an organ accompaniment. The music was written primarily for a cappella choir (unaccompanied by instruments). However, instruments began gaining their own footing in choral compositions beginning in the first decade of the 17th century.
A page from a part book printed in 1585 showing 3 of the 6 parts for Victoria's motet "Ardens est cor meum." This page contains the music that was sung by sopranos, altos and basses. The other 3 parts for this 6-part motet are on opposite page. 

     The Renaissance sacred music that we are describing is an harmonic extension of the plainsong melodies known as Gregorian chant. These melodies constituted the main parts of the mostly Latin-language liturgy that were sing by monks, nuns and clergy for hundreds of years in Roman catholic institutions and churches. The Gregorian melodies were then adopted by Renaissance composers who created music in an harmonic style, meaning that multiple voices sang music composed with more than one single simultaneous musical line, as had been the case for the chant melodies.
     These harmonic compositions constitute the classical music of the Renaissance period, just as the compositions of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner and Franck belong to the body of classical music composed during the 19th century. 
     Harmonic music did not replace the extant melodies of Gregorian chant. Instead, they were sung alongside these melodies throughout the Renaissance period, the Gregorian melodies often woven into the fabric of the Renaissance choral compositions themselves. During the Renaissance period, two great traditions, the harmonic and the Gregorian, were the inseparable brother and sister companions.

Great Composers Abound
     The finest composers of the early Renaissance were Guillaume Dufay (c.1400-1474), Johannes Ockeghem (c.1410-1497), Jacob Obrecht (1457-1505) and Josquin des Prez  (c.1440-1521). Some glorious masses and liturgical compositions, called motets, have come down to us from these great composers.
     The greatest composers of the late renaissance were Orlando di Lasso (his church-latin name was Orlande de Lassus) (1532-1594), Jacob Handl (Jacobus Gallus) (1550-1591), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Cristobol Morales (1500-1553) and Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). Because of the spiritual purity of the music, the late Renaissance witnessed the golden age of choral music, and perhaps even the golden age of all classical music.
     These composers, among others that I will cover, created a great body of work that is truly one of the greatest treasures of Western civilization: a civilization, however, that has not yet fully realized this important fact. That is why there are only a few books in English and a few web links related to Gregorian chant and her sister, Renaissance sacred music. There have been a number of fine recordings produced, however, and in the final analysis, this, along with the great dedicated choirs in England and Europe who specialize in this music, is the most important tribute that has been made to a great music treasure, keeping it alive.

The End of an Era... 
     About 1600, what is known as the "Baroque Era" began, and the style of music that was sung in the catholic churches and institutions changed dramatically. Hence, the classical music changed also. Left behind was the "a cappella" style with its music designated for voices, as unique parts for instruments were now being added. Along with this, the new music of the 1600s blossomed in the secular arena, and thus we see the introduction of the first opera in 1600 in Florence, Italy. The so-called Baroque Era terminated in what is called the Classical Era of Mozart and Haydn, and this was followed by the Romantic Era of the 19th Century. 
     Today, Renaissance sacred music is not generally recognized as being an integral part of the mainstream classical music tradition that is dominated by the music of the era of Mozart and the music of the 19th and 20th centuries. For many classical music lovers, classical music only begins in the 18th century with J.S. Bach, and yet it seems that few mainstream concert-goers have the slightest comprehension of the music of this great master. It takes serious listening to begin to grasp the music of any of the deeper classical composers, be they Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner and Bach from the 18th and 19th centuries, or Palestrina, Lassus and Obrecht from the 15th and 16th. The rewards of this kind of concentrated listening, however, are great. 
     In fact, here in America, I find few people who know anything about classical music at all. Added to this is the deplorable situation existing in many concert halls across our unfortunately deteriorating country, and an almost complete lack of any kind of education concerning the great treasures of classical music from any of the world's traditions being offered in educational institutions, where sporting games are apparently considered more important.  
     During the 19th century, the music from before the time of Bach and Vivaldi, unlike the paintings from the same era that could be viewed in art books and museums, required live performances to be heard. A near silencing of Renaissance music therefore prevailed until radio and recording technology became available in the 20th century, and it wasn't until the 1960s that a very few long-playing recordings began to show up in record shops in America. By 1980, I had managed find only about thirty record albums of Renaissance sacred music, the result of an intense nine-year search. That is not a lot of recordings to represent a 200-year period of time, especially when some compositions were represented by multiple recordings.

...And the Beginning of a New Era
     Now, however, the great masterworks of Gregorian chant and Renaissance sacred music are available for almost every person to experience through 21st-century technology. But today's culture has deteriorated to the point where the style of the great Renaissance sacred music repertory is tremendously out of sync with so-called "modern" tastes. For today's listener, unaccompanied choral music may at first appear to be no match for the electronically enhanced sounds of contemporary music. Again, deep listening will prove otherwise. 
     There is very little contemporary music that can match the quality, beauty and spirituality that Renaissance sacred music has to offer, a boon to those who have realized the limitations of so much of today's music and are ready to move on. Once one has become intimately familiar with the sacred music of the Renaissance, it becomes painfully obvious that this is a musical culture that should never have been forgotten, and should not continue to be neglected by contemporary society: a society desperately in need of the calming and healing effects offered by a purely consonant music composed by great masters from a nearly forgotten time. When this music is finally accepted by spiritually minded souls of all nationalities and cultures, it will be a great day. What a treasure we have awaiting us!
     My discovery of Renaissance choral music and Gregorian chant in 1971 initiated a project that I would passionately pursue for decades, researching, studying and listening to Gregorian chant and the harmonic sacred music of the Renaissance period for over thirty years, ultimately creating a collection of carefully chosen music that I will be publishing for study and education, to enable composers, singers, and musicians to discover the riches and beauties of two of the world's greatest music traditions: Gregorian chant and Renaissance sacred choral music. A preview of my publication efforts is available on my DoveSong.com website.
     In the next article in this series, I will introduce the four types of sacred choral music employed during the Renaissance period.
     Stay tuned. I'm Don Robertson...
    
© 2016 by Don Robertson

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance (Part 2) - Music Flows from Al-Andalus to Europe


     This is Part Two of my 12-part series of articles about the sacred choral liturgical music that was sung in Roman catholic services during the 15th and 16th centuries.
     This music constitutes an important classical music tradition that has too long been ignored, and because of the beauty of the music, it is due for a resurgence. Renaissance sacred choral music is purely consonant, with a purity of spirit that is unmatched and a body of masterworks that were composed by some of our greatest composers, and these were beloved by the people of the time... a time where beauty was arising in the arts as ordinary people suffered under the chokehold of a tyrannical and dark religion. 
     The origin of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance lies in the singing of the liturgy, the so-called Gregorian chant that was developed beginning about 750 from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican liturgical chants. Gregorian chant consists of a single musical melody sung in Latin (except in a few cases where Greek words are used) by church or monastic cantors and choirs in the performance of services. 
Gregorian Chant


Organum
Organum: Gregorian chant notes are sung in the lower voice with an additional melody in the top.

     From the Gregorian chant, a new two-voice style called organum arose. The oldest document that we have that discusses the singing of organum is the Musica enchiriadis from the year 895. In organum, another voice is added, creating two separate musical lines that are sung together. The new voice is an embellished melody that is sung over the sustained notes of the original Gregorian chant melody. This feature represents the beginning of multi-voice singing, the singing style that we will be covering in this series. 
     The construction of Notre Dame Cathedral on the Île de la Cité in Paris took place between 1163 and 1238. Organum was sung there, and it was the 12th century center of music for Europe. To commemorate that fact, special performances of organum are performed in the cathedral from time to time. I videoed the following clip in Notre Dame Cathedral in the summer of 2009:

     Organum introduced the added simultaneous musical line that was sung above the single-line Gregorian chant melody, and from there more lines will be added to create the multipart texture of Renaissance sacred music. 
     My question is, what inspired this introduction of organum in the 9th century? 
     In a 2004 paper called The Arab Contribution to the Music of the Western World by Rabah Saoud, the author presents the idea that organum was the result of islamic influence from the advanced culture in Al-Andalus that we discussed in the previous article of this series. We have no proof. However, I began suspecting this myself decades before this paper was written, and so I mention it here.
     A point that Mr. Saoud presents for our contemplation is the similarity between the so-called solfege symbols of the European tradition ("Do a deer, a female deer, Re..." etc. featured in the popular The Sound of Music). He sites a French scholar named Laborde who in 1780 asserted that the western system of scale note identification called solfege (DO, RE, ME, FA, SO, LA, TI) demonstrates a strong resemblance to some of the letters of the Arabic alphabet (DAI, RA, MI, FA, SAD, LA, SIN).
     This may be a stretch; however, the solfege representation for our scale (C-Do, D-RE, E-MI, F-FA, G-SO, A-LA, B-TI) is also remarkably consistant with the ancient sargam scale-note identification system of India that dates back to somewhere in the 6th to the 8th century and is in common use in India and Pakisthan today (C-SA, D-RE, E-GA, F-MA, G-PA, A-DHA, B-NI). Now, that is pretty conclusive evidence of similar origins for two systems, the European solfege, and the Indian sargam:

                                       Do  Re  Me  Fa  So  La    Ti
                                       Sa  Re  Ga  Ma  Pa  Dha Ni



     Early 11th-century Italian music theorist Guido da Arezzo is considered to be the inventor of the modern musical staff notation. He is known today for this famous illustration of a hand that was published to provide a method for singers to learn to read the notes in the choral music part books:

     In his manuscripts, Guido used the syllables UT RE MI FA SO LA to describe the notes C D E F G A. These are also the syllables from the first six lines of the Gregorian hymn "Ut queant laxis," whose Latin words have been ascribed to the 8th-century Benedictine monk Paulus Diaconus. Scholars have assumed that Arezzo invented the solfege system and based the names of the six letters on the first syllables of the first six lines of the hymn, but for me, the similarity between the solfege system East and West betrays this idea. We must now consider that the solfege system could have been adopted from islamic influences during the 8th century, possibly inspiring the hymn text by Diaconus.
Hymn "Ut queant laxis"

    In his above mentioned paper, Rabah Saoud goes into some detail about this issue, beginning with the statement that Muslim influence on musical theory is strongly denied by Western scholars. He suggests that Muslim musicians used music notation as early as the 8th century. He also points out that the Spanish author Soriano Fuertes, in his Hitoire de la musica Espanola, states that Guido had studied in Catalonia that bordered on Al-Andalus.
     And so we see that the connections between the Islamic influence from Al-Andalus, and the beginnings of our sacred choral music of the Renaissance are there. For me, this influence is obvious. One culture influences another. This is not unusual, especially when one culture is coming out of a decline and the other is beginning a descent. The Islamic influence on Renaissance art, architecture, science, mathematics and medicine has been established. Not a lot has been written about the Islamic influence on music, however.


Renaissance Musical Instruments
     Not only the music, but the musical instruments of Al-Andalus were transferred into the developing music culture in Europe.
    The European lute is simply the Andalusian oud (عود): 
An oud maker discusses this ancient instrument

The Renaissance lute

     The Spanish guitarra (the guitar) was the Andalusian qitara (قيثارة) - itself derived from the Latin cithara, which in turn came from the ancient Greek instrument called the kithara (also cithara, and κιθάρα in Greek): 
The Kithara

     The Spanish guitar is used in Flamenco dancing and music - a style derived from Andalusian and gypsy music and dance:

     The European rebec was derived from the Andalusian rabab (ربابة):

The Rabab

The Rebec

     The European naker that evolved into the timpani, or kettledrum was the Andalusian naqara (نقارة‎): 
The naqara

    Notice the similarity between the nagara in the video example and this military drum:
Military-style drum

     The violin evolved from the vielle, also known as the fidel (fiddle), played by the troubadours from the 13th through the 15th centuries. The vielle has its ancenstry in Al-Andalus. The troubadours were medieval lyric poets, musicians and singers in Southern France and in Northern Spain and Italy who were undoubtably influenced by Andalusian music and poetry:

A vielle

    In the next installment of "The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance, I will move onto an introduction of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance.

A Sidebar - Al-Farabi Meets King Suffudeen

     This is a fascinating tale about the great scientist, musician and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age, Al Farabi. This tale, that I discovered in 1967 research in the New York City Public library gives us a glimpse into the world of Islamic high culture:

     Al-Farabi (870-950 A.D.) was the great philosopher and musician from Turkestan who is credited with inventing two musical instruments: the quanun and the rabab. He was known to travel to many parts of the world, always assuming a disguise so as not to be recognized.
     One day, when he was in India, he appeared in the throne room of the court of the great King Suffudeen, one of the most knowledgeable men in India. Al-Farabi had dressed himself as a private in the King’s own army. The king was surprised to see a private standing in his royal room. He demanded the private to explain what he was doing there.
     "Where do you belong, private," he demanded.
     "Why, I belong there on the throne, where you now sit!" the private exclaimed, walking up to the throne and seating himself on the edge. He then began pushing his weight against the king, sliding him aside until each occupied half the throne.
     The furious king turned to one of his guards and began speaking a very obscure tongue that only a few people could understand. He told the guard "This man must either be a fanatic, or else he is someone very amazing. I will ask him some questions and see which case it may be."
     The king turned to Al-Farabi to ask him a question. However, before he could open his mouth, Al-Farabi spoke to him in the same obscure language and said "But king, why would you bother?"
     At this point, the king and Al-Farabi launched into a lengthy philosophical debate that lasted for several hours. Point-by-point, the king’s arguments were defeated. The wisest men in India were then brought in to contribute to the debate, but then one-by-one they were defeated also. Finally, the king graciously accepted his defeat and told Al-Farabi that he would willingly give him whatever he wished. Al-Farabi said that he wanted nothing. So the King ordered his fine court musicians, who were the best in the land, to play for the now-honored guest.
     When the musicians began playing, Al-Farabi stopped them to correct their intonation and their interpretation of the ragas. He then demanded that the musicians replay the music correctly. This kept on occurring. Every time that the musicians tried to play, Al-Farabi stopped to correct them. After a while, the king dismissed the musicians and then told Al-Farabi that since he had treated his musicians in such a manner, he must now prove his own musical ability.
     Al-Farabi pulled three small reeds from his pocket and began playing a high-register happy tune that when played over and over made everyone in the courtroom, including the king, break out in laughter. Finally everyone in the court, including the king, were rolling on their sides in fits of uncontrollable laughter.
     Suddenly Al-Farabi suddenly stopped playing the tune and then began playing another, a slow mournful one that put everyone to sleep, and when all of the people in the room, except Al-Farabi, were fast asleep in their chairs or on the floor, Al-Farabi quietly slipped out of the throne room, never to be seen there again.

Originally published in Kosmon by Don Robertson, 1970
    And so for now, "Good music and Good Vibes." I'm Don Robertson.

© 2016 by Don Robertson

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance (Part 1) - The Seeds of the Renaissance

    Welcome to the first article in my series The Sacred Choral Music of the Renaissance. This series of articles featured on The Music Futurist is one of the most important that I will publish, as it covers one of the greatest music traditions that the people of our planet have ever produced, and I don't say this lightly. 
    The great works of music from the European Renaissance period spanning the 15th and 16th centuries are a major part of the European classical music tradition, just as the music of Beethoven and many other great 19th-century composers represent the classical music of that century. 
    The fact that classical art music thrived before the time of Johan Sebastian Bach (who died in 1750) hasn't been generally understood or accepted. Our culture that has been erroneously taught that we always advance culturally through time, has been locked into an historical cycle that has moved further and further away from the spiritually rich consonant harmony of the Renaissance period, finally plunging into the polluted waters of discordant harmony, the so-called "modern" music that arose during the troubled 20th century (for more about this cycle, see my article "The Historic Cycle of Music and Art").


The DoveSong Editions
    I first discovered Renaissance sacred choral music back in 1971. It was a discovery that changed my life and my musical direction. Within months, I began a life's project hunting through musty libraries in American universities, researching this newly found treasure. I then began creating music scores in modern notation with a plan to publish editions of this music to help raise awareness of a vast music treasure of true importance, and to provide modern study and performance editions. I am still in the process of creating what will become the DoveSong Internet University Editions
    I view this ongoing project of mine as something that will be a necessary contribution to our culture that, in its anxiety to move through the age of reason and the industrial age, had abandoned and forgotten the large body of great music composed by 16th-century master composers who were equal in stature to luminaries like Bach and Beethoven, and whose music manuscripts and early printed editions were lying dormant in monasteries and cathedrals throughout Europe. Very few performances of Renaissance sacred music were available during the 19th and 20th centuries, and that is one reason why the general music-loving public knew little or nothing about this lost genre.
    For over twenty years, I developed my Renaissance sacred choral music educational publication project that I had started in 1971. I transcribed ancient printed music scores into scores using contemporary notation by hand, adding the Latin words with a typewriter. Here is an example:
Page 3 from "Regina coeli" for Two Choirs, by Tomas Luis de Victoria (Spain)

    During the 1990s, I began creating study scores of music from other centuries, starting with an even more forgotten century, the 17th, and moving on to the important classical music composers from the 18th and 19th centuries, and these have become a part of the DoveSong publication project, focusing on the great works of spiritually and emotionally elevating works of great Western musical art, creating study editions using a color-coding technique that I had invented to better illustrate melodic development and contrapuntal techniques.

Draft page for a Bach study score

    In my search for music that exhibited genuine spiritual qualities, I fully recognized how important music was for the health of humanity during difficult times, and how the re-introduction of the amazing and important consonant spiritual classical music from the centuries before the 20th-century onslaught of discordant classical music would be a necessity during the transitional time that I knew we were facing, and that is upon us now.
    Folks, it's just a matter of putting a toe in the water to see if it is good to swim in. If someone is ready for it, then it will be ready for them.
    And now some background information about this great sacred choral music from the Renaissance era.


Dark and Golden Ages 
    After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, Europe entered a period that has been referred to as the dark ages. There was a reason for the term "dark." After the fall of the Roman empire, life in Europe became pretty grim. The last century of the "dark" age period, the century before the beginning of the Renaissance period in 1400, was a time of great darkness in Europe. There were terrible famines and plagues during the 13th century, finally culminating in the Black Death of 1348 that took out about half or more of Europe's population.  
     While this period of the dark ages was taking place in Europe, an Islamic Golden Age was occurring to the East, centered in Baghdad. This had begun in the 8th century and lasted until the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258.
This is what the Meditarranian Region looked like in 733. Moslems now ruled the green areas

     The brutal Muslim invasion forces that conquered so many countries and enslaved, raped and murdered so many people on one hand, seized and brought back to Baghdad important manuscripts and books on the other. These treasures of knowledge then were translated into Arabic and studied in places like the "House of Wisdom," an important cultural center in Baghdad.
     The House of Wisdom was a center for science, mathematics, astronomy/astrology, medicine, alchemy/chemistry, zoology, geography and cartography. The main texts that were studied were from India and Greece, but Syriac and Persian texts were also delved into. By the middle of the ninth century, the House of Wisdom housed the largest selection of books in the world.
     A new writing system and the introduction of paper from China had facilitated the assimilation of the world’s great knowledge. Islamic scholars translated all of the important texts that they had found into Arabic. They further developed this knowledge, creating the great body of philosophy, art, poetry, astronomy, mathematics, music, medicine and science. 
     To the East, the brutal Muslim conquest of India witnessed a terrible bloodbath of slaughter and rape. 15th-century Indian historian Firishta wrote that 400,000,000 Hindus had been killed in this awful vanquishing. But the merging of cultures brought about another great music tradition. This occurred during the reign of Akbar the Great who ruled a large area of Northern India during the entire second half of the 16th century: 
Akbar the Great's area of rule in North India, Pakistan and Afghanistan delineated in black

    Akbar believed in merging the ancient Hindu culture already present in India, a culture that was most likely based on pre-antediluvian knowledge, with the mystical side of Islam called Sufism that had been introduced by Islamic invaders. This fusion of cultures resulted in the great classical music of North India that I will be covering extensively in articles in this Music Futurist blog.
     A blossoming of new music spanned the second half of the 16th century simultaneously in North India and in Europe, resulting in the creation of two of the greatest of music traditions of our planet.
   
Al-Andalus
     In 711, a force of Berber soldiers entered the Iberian peninsula from North Africa, took over the decaying cities of the Visigoths, and established the state of Al-Andalus. This Islamic state consisted of today's Spain, Portugal and Andorra, and also included a portion of France for a time.
The Mosque of Cordoba, Spain

     While turmoil and darkness ruled Europe, the glorious Islamic Golden Age spread to Al-Andalus from its center in Baghdad, and it flourished there. The capitol of Al-Andalus' was the beautiful city of Cordoba, where homes supplied with running water lined paved street-lighted roads, and where food was wholesome and plentiful. 
"Al-Andalus History of Islam in Spain" - Documentary

The Libraries
     Al-Andalus had over 70 libraries. The royal library in capitol city of Cordoba held hundreds of thousands of books, and at one time employed 500 people. Its catalogue alone consisted of 44 volumes. Muslim armies had taken control of many great cities in their path of conquest. The libraries in these cities were raided and books containing knowledge and poetry were taken back to Baghdad to be translated into Arabic. These Arabic translations soon made their way into the libraries of Cordoba. Thus Islamic scientists and scholars gained a fantastic knowledge of philosophy, science, medicine, music and mathematics, continuing to further develop these subjects. 
     Meanwhile in Europe, all cultural vestiges of the Roman Empire had disappeared and availability of ancient texts was almost non-existent. Books that had been preserved in monastery libraries were closely guarded, barred from availability to outsiders. 
     After the fall of Cordoba in 1032, books from the city's libraries were transferred to the city of Toledo, where culture continued to flourish. When the Christian King Alfonso VI of Castile invaded Toledo from the North in 1085, he recognized that Toledo had become a great center for science, medicine, astronomy, music, poetry and the arts. Instead of pillaging the great city, he allowed it to continue flourishing, encouraging the Islamic culture to further expand. Toledo thus became a great center of culture and learning. 
     
The Toledo School of Translators
     During the 12th and 13th centuries, groups of Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars who were collectively known as the Escuela de Traductores de Toledo (the Toledo School of Translators) worked tirelessly translating the great philosophical and religious works contained in Toledo's libraries from Arabic into Latin, and finally into Castilian, the later helping to establish the foundation of the modern-day Spanish language.
     The texts of the ancient Greek Philosophers, mathematicians and scientists, including among them the works of Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Ptolemy, and Pythagoras were carefully translated from Arabic to Latin, the formal language of Europe.
     Toledo was a remarkable center for learning. The city attracted scholars from not only the Muslim world, but from Europe as well. They poured into Toledo from England and Europe to study. These scholars then returned to their own countries with their newly found knowledge. This led to the expansion of knowledge in Europe and the development of three great universities: Oxford, the University of Paris, and the University of Bologna.
     During the 11th and 12th centuries many scholars, including the important mathematicians Leonardo Fibonacci from Italy and Michael Scott from Scotland, who travelled to Al-Andalus to learn advanced mathematics. The works of the Islamic mathematician, philosopher and musician Al-Farabi, and Persian polymath Ibn Sīnā (also known as Avicenna), now translated into Latin, were used in works by such middle-age writers as Roger Bacon, Walter Odington, Jerome of Maravia, and Vincent de Beauvais.
     The fuel for what would become the Renaissance was pouring into culture-starved Europe from the advanced Islamic culture thriving in Toledo. Of utmost importance was the arrival of Latin translations of the classical texts of ancient Greece – Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras.
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     In the next article in this series, I will continue this discussion of Muslim influence in the creation of new music for Renaissance Europe, showing its impact on both instrumental and choral music.


So for now, "Good music and Good Vibes." I'm Don Robertson.

© 2016 by Don Robertson