Music in medieval Paris

Subject: Art
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1345
Topics: Music, Art History, Church, Popular Culture


History reveals that during middles ages when Rome Empire fell, the church and institutions of learning (universities) were dominant and unifying factors. In particular, these social institutions (church and university) used music to focus on God and the role of education in the society. That said, this paper will examine how church and universities impacted music in medieval times in Paris.

Medieval Church Music in Paris

The western music history can be traced to religious and social developments which occurred during the medieval time (476 AD -1400 AD). Because of the church purpose during the medieval times, sacred music was more prevalent since the church ensured that spread of music was its responsibility given to it by God. Starting with the Gregorian chant, music in church developed into Organum (polyphonic music) that was performed in the 12th century in Paris. Most musicians at this time were trained in church, and the church had financial muscles of buying fantastic stuff such as paper where music could be written. The church wanted to make music that would make God happy, not hungry. The musicians had a massive task of adhering to specific rules of the church with regards to singing and composition of Music and doing otherwise revealed that one was entirely against God and deserves punishment.

The early Christians got their music from Byzantine and Jewish religious chant. The Christian plainchant was known to be monophonic (made up of one melody without harmonic support (Bergeron, 1998). The majority of melodies can be defined by any of the Greek modes, some of them sound entirely different than the minor/major scales in peoples ears currently (Hiley, 1995). The melodies were seen to be wandering as they are free and dictated by liturgical texts of Latin on which they are founded. The chants got embellished and developed along different lines in different areas. It is believed that Pope Gregory 1 (590-604) decided to codify them in the 16th century and establish common usage across the western church.

Pope Gregory 1 (590 -604) ordered the music to be set based on modal scale, and such is how they got their name. The chant rhythm replicates text as it would be performed and spoke in a capella and unison. In an aspect, melodic lines were linear. The chant was known to be either syllabic where every syllable received one melismatic or note where some notes could be asked to every syllable. Melismatic chants were used in stretching the text expression to draw attention towards the Almighty God (Apel, 1990). Melody was understood to be monophonic, and voices were softer and louder including soprano and bass which created a sense of calmness, joy, and sadness.

The music had particular rules which include what could be accepted in the chanting of prayers. Chanting at this time was called Plainchant, and it is mostly called the Gregorian chant. Such was standardized for purposes of promoting church unification throughout Europe, and to get rid of the pagan tendencies (Bergeron, 1998). Around, 900, the church allowed some simply harmony. Such was because singing one part from time to time was boring or because monks failed to sing in tune (Apel, 1990). The harmony was made in either low, continuous note or drone while the main melody could be composed at the exact time.

The church dominated the music industry during the middle ages, and it permeated almost all aspects of the lives of people. But with time, the church influence started declining because of the political struggle of the French revolution (1789 – 1799) that leads to reforms in church forcing it not to fully observe the monastic traditions. Because the Gregorian chants were linked to the church, its popularity started to reduce leading to loss of many medieval musical notations. Another challenge during the medieval time was associated with the rise of secular music that secularised the Gregorian chant by adding trancelike appeal changing it entirely to something c classical Roman chant.

However, despite the fact that there was a decrease in popularity experienced by the Gregorian chant, presently is seen as among the oldest music forms actively listened to by many people across the world. Moreover, the many changes underwent by the Gregorian chant brings out its uniqueness as it is not possible to attribute it to any particular event, empire, or nation.

Learning Music in the University Paris

In Paris music was introduced in school after the founding of the first cathedral school of Notre Dame in 781 Learning of music in middle Ages comprised of reading of notational symbols, in the University instructions at more advanced musical levels taken various forms consisting private tutelage. Music in medieval ages began by studying of the hand which was a musical instruction studied at a very early stage, it was illustrated with a square of notes every square for each syllable between the line drawn on fingers along with clefs, this instrument of music study enhanced memorization of notes and sequences.

Music learning can be very critical and result in misunderstanding if taught to groups, universities in middle ages considered teaching music too individuals hence developing efficiency and better understanding. (Forscher Weiss & Murray Jr, 2010) Learning music in Paris at the university level comprises of the student learning additional components in history and performance this is because the history of music in Europe emanates from medieval ages which created concern basis of music studied to date in universities and churches. Students studying music in Paris must familiarize themselves with basic musical terms, such as scales, the names of notes and accidentals and rhythms. However, universities in Paris and entire Europe have opened centers for medieval music and departments in universities which have been established by music teachers for students and artists as a place of experimentation and transmission of musical knowledge on the interpretation and the practice of the music in, medieval ages. An example, learning about polyphony required the use of the hand to sing and compose; the polyphony included seven letters A to G bearing the solmization syllables the traditional study of polyphony is still used to date as a [point of reference. The music covers more than five centuries of music; profane, soloist, vocal, instrumental, monophonic and polyphonic.

However, there were immense challenges accompanied by studying medieval music unlike today when it is possible to read and understand symbols. In medieval ages, the extent to which music composers could express their musical art and language was limited by the inadequacies of graphics tools (Ultan, 2014).

The advantages of studying medieval music are because it comprises both acquisitions of compositional and vocal techniques the students who study this music do well in both making and performing of music observing every detail in notes, rhythms and symphonies. However, the medieval age’s study of music was faced by challenges of inadequate or no technology to help in production and enhancement of musical notes and rhythms, unlike modern times .the invention considered was Guido’s inventions which comprised the design of the hand for pedagogical use.

The revolution of music in Paris was characterized by the emergence of music theatres in 1790, the theaters facilitated the performance of the traditional music the middle age music, the art of teaching and performing medieval music was adopted by the Royal Academy of music a school founded just to teach music, the Royal Academy was established by the government to facilitate the economy of Europe since the audiences targeted in the performances were wealthy Persian entrepreneurs and businessmen.

In 1921 the first radio station in Paris stated broadcasting Paris music it showed definite gradual improvements on the growth of the contemporary Paris music by airing radio concerts and classical music hence reaching a wider audience, poor finances led to the radio station ineffectiveness to air music or shows. On the contrary in 1926 the television and film industries expressed interest in Paris musical films and phonographs hence buying them, the sale of movies and records escalated seeing many Paris music halls transforming to theaters to promote music and movies.

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  1. Apel, W (1990). Gregorian Chant. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Print.
  2. Bergeron, K. (1998).  Decadent Enchantments: The Revival of Gregorian chant at Solesmes (California Studies in 19th Century Music). Berkeley: University of California Press. Print.
  3. Forscher Weiss, B., & Murray Jr, R. (2010). Music education in the middle Ages and the Renaissance (1st ed.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  4. Hiley, D. (1995). Western Plainchant: A Handbook. New York: Oxford University Press, USA. Print.
  5. Ultan, L. (2014). Workbook/anthology for Music theory (1st ed.). [Place of publication not identified]: University of Minnesota Press.
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