A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

THE BEGINNINGS OF POLYPHONY
AND THE MUSIC OF THE
THIRTEENTH CENTURY

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
OF EARLY POLYPHONY

The years 1000-1100 witnessed a revival of economic life throughout western Europe, an increase in population, the reclamation of wastelands, and the beginning of modern cities. The Normans conquered England, while Spain was seeking to liberate itself from Muslim conquerors. The First Crusade united Christian ruling families from all over Europe in a campaign to drive the Turks from Jerusalem, which the Crusaders eventually took in 1099. Europe enjoyed a cultural revival. Important books were translated from Greek and Arabic into Latin. Institutions that later became universities sprang up in Paris, Oxford, and Bologna. Large Romanesque churches, built on the architectural principle of the round arch of the Roman basilica, began to dominate the landscape. Latin and vernacular literature and philosophy asserted their independence from pagan antiquity. The rivalry between the Western and Eastern churches reached a crisis in 1054, when the Roman pope excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople after Norman invaders captured Byzantine-held territory in southern Italy. The patriarch of Constantinople reciprocated the discourtesy, splitting the Christian Church in two.

Meanwhile polyphony made its way slowly into church music. By polyphony we mean music in which separate voices sing together, not in unison or octaves but as diverging parts. When, in the eleventh century, singers improvising under the constraints of certain rules departed from simple parallel motion to give these parts some independence, a development unique in music history began. The kind of notation achieved during this century finally allowed scribes and composers to write down combinations of parts, and the

Polyphony

Notation

-70-

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