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.
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:
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.
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
Hymn "Ut queant laxis"
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 InstrumentsNot 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
Notice the similarity between the nagara in the video example and this military drum:
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