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History Of Music

.. ary landmarks in the evolution of the plainchant and music as a whole was the advent of polyphony. Polyphony is the singing (or playing) of two separate melodies at the same time while still maintaining a pleasing sound. Polyphony was first used in France, with the first in very basic notation. Soon, polyphony was developed into elaborate forms in two main centres: Paris and St. Martial de Limoges.

By this time, better methods of musical notion existed and so the manuscripts that remain are more familiar to modern understanding. The first experiments in polyphony were called organum. In these, a second voice (or voices) followed the chant melody at an interval of a fourth or fifth above the original. Sometimes the two lines moved in opposite directions. Later, a more elaborate part was added above the tenor. As the two parts become more independent, often two distinct melodies ran at the same time.

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When the third and fourth parts were added, the music became truly polyphonic. Along with the building of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris grew a school of composers, two of the most prominent of whom were Leonin and Perotin. They stretched the organum to previously unheard-of lengths and embellished it with flourishes of long melismas (the name given to many notes sung for one syllable). New rhythmic patterns developed, as did the use of repetition of motifs, sequential patterns, and imitation. Out of this came the motet, originally in Latin on a sacred text. Unlike the organum, the text was sung in the higher voices as well as the tenor.

Bilingual motets (French/Latin, English/Latin, etc.) arose, and secular texts or combinations of sacred and secular texts were used. Tenors were sometimes chosen from French popular songs instead of from plainchant. Instruments played lower parts, making the motet an accompanied solo song. One of the best examples of the music of this period are the works of Guillaume de Machaut. He wrote over 100 secular songs, 23 motets, and one mass.

His works are characterized by colorful melodic and harmonic patterns over varying rhythms. The later fourteenth century was a period during which the French style dominated musical style throughout Europe. It was modified to reflect local tastes in Italy and England, but the French roots of the inspiration remained prominent for many years. However, Italian composers continued to develop a more personal style, combining French Ars Nova concepts with Italian styles. In Germany in what came to be known as the Baroque Period, Johann Sebastian Bach was working as a musical director at St. Thomass Choir School in Leipzig where, apart from his brief visit to the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1747, he remained there until his death.

Bach was considered a master of contrapuntal technique, and his music characterises the Baroque polyphonic style. His volume of work includes over 200 church cantatas, six concertos, four orchestral suites and many other major compositions. His keyboard music for clavier and for organ is of great importance and includes the collection of 48 preludes and fugues known as The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Goldberg Variations, and the French and English Suites. These were subsequently considered the fundamental necessary “lessons” for playing the clavier and later, the pianoforte. Of his organ music, the most significant examples are his choral preludes.

He also wrote chamber music and songs. Two important works written in his later years illustrate the principles and potential of his polyphonic technique: The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue. After the French Revolution, a bloody affair lasting three years from 1789 to 1792, one of the most prominent composers was Beethoven. It was at this time he that was writing such pieces as the Eroica Symphony (1803) and the Waldstein Sonata (1804). By 1804, Napoleon had just returned from Egypt and been crowned Emperor of the French. This prevalent militarism and theme of conquest can be heard in much of Beethovens work, and in fact the Eroica Symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon.

In 1813, Napoleon was defeated by Prussia and Austria in the Battle of Nations at Leipzig. A year later, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba. During this same time, in Italy the composer Rossini wrote Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) and in Germany, Weber wrote Der Freischutz. A reaction to the strict logic of the Classicists, Romanticism began in the early 19th century and radically changed the way people looked at the world around them. Unlike Classicism, which was based on order and established guidelines for the creation of architecture, literature, painting and music, Romanticism was a more emotionally and sentimentally driven movement.

This had a great influence on political doctrines and ideology. The Romantic era appreciated human diversity and considered looking at life from a new perspective. It was the combination of modern science and classicism that gave birth to Romanticism and introduced a new outlook on life that embraced emotion before rationality. Romanticism was a reactionary period of history which, though its emphasis on emotions and on the expressions of feelings, provided a vast quantity of poetry, artwork and literature. The Romantics turned to art before the science to explain or express the world around them. They found that the orderly, mechanistic universe that science thrived under was too narrow-minded, systematic and dogmatic in terms of dictating feeling or emotional thought. It was men such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Germany who wrote “The Sorrows of Young Werther” which epitomized what Romanticism stood for.

His character expressed feelings from the heart and gave way to a new trend of expressing emotions through individuality as opposed to what other people believed. In England, there was a resurgence into Shakespearean drama since many Romantics believed that Shakespeare had not been fully appreciated during the 18th century. His style of drama and expression had been downplayed and ignored by the previously narrow classical view of drama. The perception that Classicism was destroying the natural human traits and emotions in favour of rigidity and conformity was widespread across Europe. Works of the time indicates that poetry, music and literature was also used as a form of rebellion or distaste for political institutions or social conditions during the 19th century.

However, since most artists thrived on the emotional and irrational abstract that they were writing about, there was no specific category that this mode of thinking could fall into. This was a strength since the freedom to explore nature was infinite and without any restriction based on rules or laws. This invariably led to a reintroduction into religion and mysticism; people wanted to explore the unknown spiritual side of things. Music as a whole has had a gradual evolution throughout history. The tie between Mans search for the unknown, quest for Truth and longing for spiritual fulfillment and the Arts is undeniable. Reactionary, or pro-actionary music ties us tight to places or events both in our lives and in those of others. While architecture and artifacts can give us clues to what society was like in the past (Roman ruins tell us much about life two thousand years ago), it is only the music that can communicate what our predecessors were thinking or feeling.

It is the poets, the dreamers and artists of old who were the architects of their future, which allow us to glimpse our past. And it has been said, to know where one is going, you must know where you came from.


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