The Cultural Context of Medieval Music

The Cultural Context of Medieval Music

The Cultural Context of Medieval Music

The Cultural Context of Medieval Music

Synopsis

Nancy van Deusen's The Cultural Context of Medieval Music addresses the mental landscape surrounding music that, especially, was sung and experienced in the Middle Ages. Largely anonymous in its composition, and apparently lacking the motivation of fame and commerce, music within a well thought-out system of education served a purpose that goes far beyond casual entertainment or personal professional advancement. Offering experience through performance, music exemplified the basic principles not only of the material and possible measurements of the visible world—such as of objects, relationships, and movement—but also of the invisible materials of sound and time, making it an ideal medium for working with unseen substances such as concepts, imaginations, and ideas. St. Augustine in the late fourth century reinforced the importance of music for the process of learning when he wrote that nothing could be truly understood without music. This book shows how this, in fact, is the case—a message of great relevance today.

Excerpt

This volume addresses the problem of music and composition in an anonymous creative milieu, which could very well be the greatest impediment to understanding medieval music today. We have other examples of this problem of anonymous composition, for example, in the Glossa ordinaria, the large-scale medieval commentary on the Bible, produced largely by commentators who, even with the best of efforts at identifying them, have for the most part remained anonymous. But the problem is crucial for medieval music in relation to the medieval concept of “fame,” as well as the basic concept of what a “composer” is and does—as well in relation to the concepts of “creative originality” and “inspiration.” One might go so far as to remark that the medieval conceptualization of the creative process differs significantly in every conceivable way from the concept of creative work, as well as the composer, during the last two centuries, as well as today. Both the compositional process and ways in which this process differs significantly from what is normally assumed today have not, to my knowledge, been adequately explained. This book fills this gap and also supplies an urgently needed textbook for medieval music for the undergraduate university audience, the graduate student in medieval studies, as well as for the professional musicologist and medievalist.

Despite commonly held views of the creative process, the anonymous medieval artistic milieu is difficult to assess with the proper degree of understanding and appreciation. Accordingly, widely used and repeatedly published histories of music have often relied upon anachronistic, uncritically accepted assumptions of the so-called composer, such as Leonin, Perotin, and Franco of Cologne, who single-handedly “created” compositions for which much must be accepted in terms of . . .

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