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: 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

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

        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.
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.
     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.

     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

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The New Acoustic Popular Music (Part 12) - Ireland's Musical Soul

By Don Robertson

Say Goodbye! to hard rock as it writhes in dying pain and bid Hello! to Americana, the new acoustic popular music. Thank God you have arrived. 

      In the eleven previous articles of the New Acoustic Popular Music series, I discussed the emergence of new music that is widely divergent from the typical commercial offerings brought to us by corporate America. This is the last article in the series, and it will be a bit different. This time, I'm going to Ireland.

The Corrs
     If you don't know about their music, please say hello to the family group from Ireland called The Corrs. They are a musical quartet of siblings: the brother Jim Corr (keyboards, guitar and vocals) and his three sisters:  Andrea (lead vocals and Irish tin whistle), Sharon (violin and vocals), and Caroline (drums, piano, bodhran and vocals). In 1990, they auditioned for my friend G. Marq "Gilly" Roswell who was in charge of the music for the award-winning film The Commitments being shot on location in Dublin. Gilly worked with the group, helped them put together their first album, and guided them as they launched an international career.
     The Corrs are an Irish/folk-based rock band. I first discovered them in 2001 when I was researching popular music from Europe. The Corrs had everything required to make wonderful music: charm, talent, voices, stage presence, and they added traditional Irish music to their performances.
      However, here in America, anyone to whom I mentioned the Corrs had never heard of them, that is until I first met my friend Gilly, the man who discovered them and put them on the map. While so many people were devouring so much garbage on American radio, I was listening to the Corrs and discovering so many great acoustic-orient groups from 1990s Europe, thanks to the burgeoning availability of music on the internet, and from such sources as the Trio Arts cable channel that I was monitoring back then. It was the discovery of the Corrs that was the biggest revelation for me.
     They recorded five studio albums between 1995 and 2005 and sold over forty million copies! Despite their lack of popularity in the USA, they have been tremendously successful elsewhere. 
     The group disbanded in 2006 to concentrate on raising their families, but they came back together in 2015 for a new album and performances. Over the years, a great deal of their earnings have gone to charity work, and therefore in 2005, Queen Elizabeth honored them with membership in the Order of the British Empire. 
      First, their Irish roots:
"Toss the Feathers" by The Corrs 

    Their song "What Can I Do" that the group wrote was released on their 1998 album Talk on Corners. It climbed the charts in England and the group sang it at the gala for the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize:
"What Can I Do" and "The Right Time" by The Corrs in London 1998

     In Ireland, The Corrs taped an episode for MTV's "Unplugged" series. A DVD was made of this show. The song "Old Town" is a cover of a 1982 Tin Lizzy tune:
"Old Town" by the Corrs in Ireland 1999

    Fortunately, the Corrs' year-2000 performance at Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin was caught on film. Listen to the Irish kids in the audience as they sing along with the words to "Runaway" they know so well. This is another song that was penned by the group. It seems to me that music is simply at one with the soul of Ireland.
"Runaway" by the Corrs at Lansdowne Road in 2000

    Here is the group in 2015, appearing in England after their family-raising haitus:
The Corrs' Cover of Stevie Nicks' song "Dreams" - Hyde Park in England by the BBC in 2015

    Let's now turn to an Irish boy band called Boyzone. They were huge in Europe, but have been almost totally unknown in the US. Formed in 1993 and disbanded in 1999, they had 21 singles on the British charts and 22 on the Irish. 
JUST A NOTE: In America, the boy band The Backstreet Boys was formed in 1993, the same year as Boyzone, but their style of music, like that of Boyzone, was so against the grain of the then-current music on American radio, that this American group became famous only in Europe, especially Germany, where they sold millions of records, and it wasn't until 1997 that The Backstreet Boys finally became known in America, following years of European success. 
     Listen to Boyzone:
"No Matter What" by Boyzone in 1998

    Boyzone made several Nashville-written "country" songs famous in Europe: songs such as "I Love the Way You Love Me" written by Nashville's Victoria Shaw and Chuck Cannon. I remember Victoria used to sing this song at various Nashville functions and would mention that an "unknown Irish group" had recorded it:
"I Love the Way You Love Me' by Boyzone
   Lead singer Ronan Keating, who has a tremendous voice, went on to pursue a solo career and became famous in Europe. Here he is singing two Nashville songs: "If Tomorrow Never Comes" written by Garth Brooks and Kent Blazy, and "When You Say Nothing at All" by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz:
"If Tomorrow Never Comes" sung by Ronan Keating

   Listen to the kids in the audience sing along with the following song... they know all of the words. Not putting us down, but you would never hear that in Nashville, where the song is from.
"When You Say Nothing at All" sung by Ronan Keating

   The Irish boy band called Westlife was formed in 1998 and was signed by Simon Cowell. They disbanded in 2012. Westlife sold over eleven million albums in the UK, and yet they are basically unknown in the US: 
"My Love" by Westlife

"Flying Without Wings" by Westlife in 2008

    When talking about Irish music, the group Clannad, from which the famous Enya arose, needs to be mentioned here. They have been active since 1970:
"I Will Find You" by Clannad

Celtic Woman
    The group Celtic Woman was formed in 2004. They have released ten albums as of this writing:
"The Call" by Celtic Woman
Hayley Westenra
     No, she is not Irish, but I want to mention Hayley Westenra from Christchurch, New Zealand who sang with Celtic Woman for several years. An exceptional singer with such a pure and remarkable spirit, listen to her perform the song "Scarborough Fair": 
"Scarborough Fair" by Celtic Woman featuring Hayley Westenra 2006

    She is featured here in a 2004 video along with her sister Sophie:
"Across the Universe" by Haley Westenra with her sister Sophie 2004

Secret Garden
    Last but not least in this long string of videos, I introduce the group called Secret Garden, basically a duo consisting of Irish violinist and singer Fionnuala Sherry and Norwegian composer, arranger and pianist Rolf Løvland:
"Nocturne" by Secret Garden

    Rolf's song "You Raise Me Up" (with lyrics by Brendan Graham) became famous in America when it was covered by American singer Josh Groban. Since then, this song has been recorded by over 125 artists:
"You Raise Me Up" by Secret Garden

     I hope you enjoyed my 12-part video series on the new acoustic popular music. The whole series can be found on this page. Please check out the other articles featured on my blog "The Music Futurist." 

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

© 2016 by Don Robertson