Music has been with us for a very long while. In fact, part of being human is an appreciation of the finer arts. However, music’s role has remained anything but constant throughout history. Music has gone from a mathematical science to a synthesis of melody and harmony. Many wonderful pieces have been written for religious purposes. Many more have been written for the secular world. The art of music has not always been that way. The Roman Catholic Church, for the longest time, was the only source of music that was approved by societies. Little by little, that changed.
The secularization of music could not have occurred with out a secularization of the whole of western culture itself. While no one person can be single handedly responsible, there were many people who contributed to the gradual move of music away from the church. To understand some of the later developments that were made in music, one has to look back on the beginning of western musical thought. Many people associate the beginning of the western world with the tribes that migrated and eventually conquered the Pelopeniasian lands, the area that was eventually called Greece.
Greece was one of the first cultures to emerge in the west outside of the Fertile Crescent. It was certainly the first to leave clues as to how the culture thought. Greek scholars like Aristotle, believed that music should be grouped up as to its purpose. There was the solemn, disciplined and restrained music, Apollonian, and the wild, emotional, unrestrained music, the Dianysian. The Apollonian was usually reserved for the serious moments where wild displays of raw emotions were looked down upon. That included prayers, religious services and funerals.
The Dianysian was the music used for dancing and celebrating. The whole of the Greek musical theory revolved on keeping those distinctions in mind. The Greeks viewed music as a science. That is an important point. The fact that the Greeks looked at it as a science rather than a religious experience let them have more freedom to study than the later cultures. It was a science, and the nature of science is experimenting. “What if you jiggle your left index finger on that high note? ” If there is five hundred years of doctrine saying it is a sin to do that, a composer will feel less inclined to add it in.
If you are in a culture that celebrates music as a science, a composer feels they have more freedom to add anything they want in. Rome was an extension of Greece. They were a conquering race of people who had a history of taking what they wanted from a conquered enemy and burning the rest. The Romans were very impressed with the theory of music that the Greeks had. They took it back to Rome and altered it slightly to please them. One of the ideas the Romans kept was separate types of music.
There was “Music of the Spheres”, the serious music that made you think and have deep emotions to, and there was the “Music of the Human”, the dancing, not-too-deep, party music that you had urges and acted upon them. The Roman Empire “fell” and many areas of Europe had very few authority figures to turn to. The kings in Europe were the lords of a hundred acres or so. There were no huge institutions to turn to keep the cultural ideals of the past alive. Enter the Roman Catholic Church. The church was the stable base that kept Europe from falling over after the Romans were finished. In most places, the church was the only stable thing around.
In the early sixth century, all the lords were sure to have Rome behind them whenever they did the smallest thing, even write music. A big requirement of singing is you have to be able to read and write. With the fall of basically every institution there was, the people had no way to keep up with everything. They had to forget about music for a while in order to survive. So, there was tons of music lying around, but next to no one was able to understand what it meant. There was only one big organization around that taught people how to read and write. To train as a monk, being able to read and write the scripture was a big deal.
Pope Gregory (590 – 604) decided that it was a good idea to pair music with glorifying God. Legends say that he sat down for a few years and hashed out all the music the church would use in its services, the hymns, psalms and canticles. Although it has been proved that there were many people who helped, he was the major force behind reviving the art of music after Rome “fell”. Pope Gregory also brought all the church’s political power to Rome, so that when he said to do something, local lords did not say “He’s some minor monk, I owe fealty to this monk”, they obeyed with out question.
When he wanted to include music in the services, all those local lords did everything they could to help. Europe was sailing along smoothly until one day, the Turks take over the Holy Land. The pope mounts a couple of crusades to wipe them out. During one of them, the second to be exact, the King of France’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitine, went along. Along the way they both had an affair with the same knight. On the way bake, they had their marriage annulled with a quick stop at Rome. Eleanor, however, was the large part of that family’s income. Aquitine made up all of western France at that point.
When she went and married England’s king, Henry II, that was adding insult to injury. Henry II is better known by his sons King Richard II, “the Lion Hearted” and King John, the one who signed the Magna Carta. With their marriage, Eleanor was almost as rich as the pope. Half of the pope’s power came from the fact that he was richer than every other monarch. One of Eleanor’s passions was music. In her native Aquitine, there was a large Celtic influence. From that sprang the class of people called Bards. Wandering singers who played for money and food. The Roman Catholic Church had taken a hard line on the idea of Bards.
Their music had the effect as to make people wish to commit sinful acts of passion and defiance. Eleanor absolutely loved them. She made it known that her lands were safe haven for bards and minstrels. She could defy Rome like that because she had the money. Also, she had the option of going into her lands and confiscating all the church’s lands and make them hers and therefore, taxable. Eventually, the church backed down. Her victory was short lived after her death. Her land became the territory of Richard II, who loved the idea of a holy quest and obeyed the pope to a fault. However, it was an important point in the history of music.
Someone from the secular world stood up to the pope on a matter of musical freedom. The church could not hold on to power forever. Eventually, the strains on it became too much. The Holy Roman Empire was a constant threat to Rome. The dwindling Byzantine Empire could not hold back the Muslim Turks for much longer. Eventually, a group of scholars got together and decided to look for the best of the best. Find the greatest minds in Philosophy, Mathematics and Music. This was another important step. People were trying to get the best people in a lot of fields and were not turning to Rome.
A secular hand would guide the future of thought. The people who gathered there looked back to the past to gain an understanding of where their fields of study had came from. Music was no exception. People learned ancient Greek just to be able to read Aristotle’s views on music. This group of people founded a school called Notre Dame. However, the hand of the church was still holding on. Just because its power had waned, did not mean they were letting go any time soon. There were still certain things you had to do. The songs still had to be based on Biblical text. There was one drone and there was a melismatic melody above it.
Then things started to change. In a tribute to the past, the musicians at Notre Dame started to experiment with the science of music. Magistar Leonin came up with what is now known as Organum. This was outlined in his book Magus Liber Organi or “The Great Book of Organum”. A later scholar named Perotin came up with putting more than one melody in a piece. He did this by putting more parts above the drone in a piece of Organum. This was called Organum Triplum and Organum Quadruplum. Then there was the big breakthrough of a Motet. That was the biggest thing to ever hit music.
The later Middle Ages saw the greatest decline in the Church’s power. There was a point where certain lords refused to acknowledge the pope’s authority, so the elected their own pope. There was some times where there were up to five popes at once. Eventually, the imposters were denounced and there was one pope again. His power, however, was considerably shaken. No longer could he dictate what was what from Rome without anyone thinking about the decision first. That is when Music comes full circle and there is what we now call “Secular Form”. It had no drone as a necessary voice part and there was a fixed form.
The big ones are Ballade, and Rondo. They were music for the sake of music. Harkening back to the Dianysian style of music, it was a perfect tribute to the Greeks. Music had come full circle after the church controlled it for about one thousand years. It should not be said that the church was wrong to have controlled it in the first place. A little artistic restriction that is eventually done away with is a better thing than letting all of music’s past crumble away to dust. Music, and indeed all the arts, is like a living thing. They need to grow or they will become stagnate and waste away.