The Middle Ages is a catchall phrase often used by historians alluding to the thousands of years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the period of discovery and reawakening. The term Middle Ages was coined during the period that followed it, which was the Renaissance (Roseinwein, 2008). Since people from the Renaissance period thought of themselves as “advanced and civilized,” they deemed the time between them and the earlier world as the “Middle Age” (2008). The term derived from the Latin medium, which means middle and aevium, referring to age (2008).
The Early Middle Ages, which occurred from 5th – 8th centuries, was dominated by Christianity which eventually became the rationale for uniting Europe culturally and linguistically (Herrin, 2002, p. 609). It was also a period marked by distinctions of social classes- the noble, the peasants and the clergy, with peasants populating more (Kamien, 1998, p. 62). This was the reason by medieval society was often described as a period with lack of food supply, poor agriculture, and poor economic conditions (p. 612). As aforementioned, the Early Middle Ages brought forth the importance of religion, specifically that of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was during this time when the Holy Roman Empire was established. . One outstanding work from this period and perhaps had the earliest record was medieval music, particularly the Gregorian chant. The Gregorian chant was the official music of the Roman Catholic Church (Kamien, 1998, p. 65). Although the Gregorian chant was named in honor of Pope Gregory I, it was said that the pope was in fact not its creator (p. 65). Historians accounted the existence of Gregorian account or what they believed was its evolution to psalm singing in Jewish synagogues in the first centuries after Christ (p.
65). However the case may be, Pope Gregory could still be held responsible for the popularity of the Gregorian chant. The Gregorian chant is actually a body of unaccompanied vocal music. It was meant to set the mood for certain religious services (Kamien, 1998, p. 65). Set in Latin, Gregorian chants swept the music of the Early Middle Ages. Gregorian chant is like no other music for has no meter nor regular rhythms (p. 65). However, it is this distinct characteristic that makes the Gregorian chant a somewhat free-flowing disposition.
Listening to a Gregorian melody invokes serenity, as if disengaging the listener from any anxieties. It is considered monophonic since it is music for one line and is sung in unison. It is said that there are only few names of Gregorian chant composers. This is because composers did not think of themselves as composers but as conduits of the voice of God. One of the most known contributors of the Gregorian chant was Hildegard (p. 68). A nun, Hildegard composed O Successores (You Successors), a chant intended to give praise to the “holy confessors who are successors of Christ” (p.
68). In the period that followed the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the predominant sound continued to be unaccompanied vocal music. However, the dawn of the Baroque period saw the musical style embracing the use of musical instruments like the harpsichord, violin and viola (Kamien, 1998, p. 104). Likewise, the melody has become wider instead of the narrow range that accompanied the Gregorian chant. While the Renaissance period still had Mass music, the Baroque period ushered in opera, sonata and concertos (pp. 100-115).
Church music, especially the Lutheran service, was called a church cantata (p. 129). Whereas the Middle Ages was limited to the culture of the Church, the succeeding periods created new attitudes- that of showing that people have the capacity to create and shape their world instead of merely serving as conduits. The Gregorian chants, which was passed on by oral traditions, ebbed away slowly until a 1994 release of ‘Chant” by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. This made Gregorian chant popular again due its similarity with New Age Music- smooth, uniform and non confrontational.
The Early Middle Ages may have focused on sublime spirituality but the beauty of it has emanated throughout the centuries. Listen to a church hymn and feel how it has evolved from a simple, monophonic music to the finely crafted yet polyphonic texture of today. References Herrin, J. E. (2002). Early Middle Ages. In The new encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 16, pp. 609-612) USA: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Kamien, R. (1998). Music an appreciation 3rd ed. USA: McGraw-Hill. Rosenwein, B. (2008). Middle Ages. Retrieved February 5, 2009, from Microsoft Encarta Web site: http://encarta. msn. com/text_761578474___0/Middle_Ages. html
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