What ever happen to the old Music?

With the establishment of the Ars Nova in the late medieval Europe, one can see major changes coinciding in social and political life, in scientific fields and also in the theological world. Those changes are of such significance, that later they lead the medieval world into the renaissance.

It’s important to trace the step, which led medieval societies to such a shift in their ways of understanding reality and their place in the world.

If one can accept the fact, that arts can reflect the image of the society that practice them, then, we can make out by the help of that image, the path that those little steps helped to form.

To be more precise, in medieval painting, the main practice is to portray everything in two dimensions and the extended use of symbolism. Portrayed people, buildings and the world in general, are always painted two dimensional, and the manipulation of color and size serve the purpose of symbolism (i.e. a powerful person is painted bigger than the figures around him, or a wealthy man, will pose with much colorful garments). One can safely state, that scientific realism is absolutely absent. On the contrary, in the early renaissance and so forth, as the main tool in the hands of the artists, one can find the previously absent scientific realism.

From a musical point of view, one can see a parallelism and the same changing ways as that of the plastic arts. Before the renaissance, the main role in musical practice was performed by the modal treatment of melodies. The word harmony, meant the mode and many may know the referral to that harmony as “ethos” (=that is the particular sense of feeling that one can get from a melody in every particular mode, such as “happy”, “pious and tearful”, “angelical”, to name a few). Those melodic lines, most frequently, are accompanied by a secondary melodic line, with a lot decreased in tempo, called “Isocrates” or more commonly known as “drone”.  So the old music based its development and complexity in the pleasant melodic advancement, rather than the pleasant concord of three or more different pitches sounding together.

Thus, by freely comparing music to plastic art of the era, one can say that music seems to be two dimensional in its practice, manipulating time, and linear development (=melodic lines developing through invention). Whereas in renaissance, musical pieces seem tree dimensional, by using time, linear development and horizontal in the form of harmony.

A good example of how much the new music is influenced by the other arts is the popular baroque style. Originally an architectural movement, gave its characteristics to the well know musical style.  Lurking into the new music are the symmetry of the baroque structures, the heavy ornamentation and the strict designs that prohibit the great divine and eternal. And that is not the only instance; many other art movements were borrowed in order to make a new musical language, such as the Romantic, the Surrealistic style, Art Nouveau and so on. One may come to the conclusion that after the late 16th century, music is mainly influenced by the other arts, than the opposite.

For a further analysis, it can be useful, not only to examine the practices of the arts in thw medieval era, but also the scientific developments that occur, and compare with those of the renaissance. By doing that, one may come to some remarkable conclusions.

Bearing in mind Will Durant’s quote regarding renaissance and its relationship with the artists, the analysis becomes somewhat easier. “Renaissance was the voice or an aristocracy that separated the art from the craft.” Since then, as an artist could be regarded a great craftsman, who practiced his craft in a guild and his knowledge of his art could be traced in that guild, in error and success, in the wisdom of the elder craftsmen and the spoken tradition. Whereas, the renaissance artist, based his practices in a scientific knowledge and justification.

An interesting and well known example, that shows the relationship between science and art until the brake of renaissance is that of the Pythagoras’s studies on music and the development of two theories, that of the monochord and that of the music of the spheres.

Pythagoras, managed to prove why the existence of the worldwide use of the fourths, fifths and octaves aw the most common element, shared to most musical languages of different cultures to this day. His researches formed the bases for a scientific approach to the art of music and the understanding of sound. His results may have varied from the practices of traditional musicians, but there was no mistake, since the experiments of Pythagoras, had no intention of teaching music or practicing it.

Soon after Pythagoras, other scientists followed, that formed a more elaborate scientific approach that finally it managed to affect music, so that musicology formed a science of its own.

By the end of the 15th century, the demand of scientific studies, escalate to such a degree, that the need for a common language becomes a necessity.  This common language has to be able to stand without the need of translation from country to country, so that the message carried in, should not be distorted. This new language contains a huge new quantity of symbols that are unified under a mathematical framework.  The advanced mathematics is born and now shares the characteristics of a fully grown spoken language.

The way that information carried on, started to change almost since the fall of Rome. To this day, this change is at its peak and it’s taken the name Virtual Reality. By relaying on visual means to interpret the message, this relatively new way of “feeling” the reality, is completely different from the old one, which is widely identified as oral tradition. Through the spoken sound, the ancient society formed its means of transporting information not only to one another, but also from generation to generation. That, demanded a remarkable for today’s standards, memorizing ability, that back then it was crucial for the survival, let’s say, of a great poem like Kale Valla or Odyssey. A fact about the minor usage of the written language is the example of St. Ambrosius, who was made saint because he possessed the incredible gift at the time, of silent reading.  So the major blow to the sound based reality was given by the development of the advanced mathematic language. This new trend finally changed the way the Renaissance man saw the visual arts and even music (in the 16th century there are vigorous attempts to standardize and develop musical notation).

In the aftermath of those changes, was the end of the memorization need. Everything could be written down, up to the most insignificant message. Music had to come in terms with the new ways, and since the memorization abilities became lesser, the composers had to invent new styles of composing changing the structure, introducing repetitive motives and themes, developing the art of variation and so on, so that to remind the listener frequently a musical idea that previously there was no need for reminding.

So the old music gradually retreated and hid in the form of musical theory in order to accommodate the new musical styles. But the principals of voice-leading, elaborate melodical treatment and other treats of the old music could never become obsolete, since they apply to the most basic nature of music and that is the use of sound. Since the old music was a part of the oral tradition, is incapable of bearing a visual meaning (because it was not the intention of the composer in those days, as it is the main effort of a romantic composer) seems to relate to something eternal, out of this world. Thus the old music, enchants the modern listener who seeks in it no direct message or information, and enables him to enjoy the music in the way that Stravinsky so much propagated, in its fundamental and most basic and timeless form.