Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Medieval Music and the Art of Memory

Medieval Music and the Art of Memory

Anna Maria Busse Berger
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Medieval Music and the Art of Memory
    Book Description:

    This bold challenge to conventional notions about medieval music disputes the assumption of pure literacy and replaces it with a more complex picture of a world in which literacy and orality interacted. Asking such fundamental questions as how singers managed to memorize such an enormous amount of music and how music composed in the mind rather than in writing affected musical style, Anna Maria Busse Berger explores the impact of the art of memory on the composition and transmission of medieval music. Her fresh, innovative study shows that although writing allowed composers to work out pieces in the mind, it did not make memorization redundant but allowed for new ways to commit material to memory. Since some of the polyphonic music from the twelfth century and later was written down, scholars have long assumed that it was all composed and transmitted in written form. Our understanding of medieval music has been profoundly shaped by German philologists from the beginning of the last century who approached medieval music as if it were no different from music of the nineteenth century. ButMedieval Music and the Art of Memorydeftly demonstrates that the fact that a piece was written down does not necessarily mean that it was conceived and transmitted in writing. Busse Berger's new model, one that emphasizes the interplay of literate and oral composition and transmission, deepens and enriches current understandings of medieval music and opens the field for fresh interpretations.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93064-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-ix)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. x-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    While musicologists have long been aware that memorization played an important role in medieval education and that much of the music of the period was sung by heart, the role of memory in the creation and dissemination of polyphony remains to be studied. The reason for this neglect is simple. The music of the first important polyphonic collection, the Magnus liber organi, was written down in a notation that for the first time in music history attempted to specify not only pitch, but also rhythm. Consequently, the repertory has long been recognized as a milestone in the development of European...

  9. 1 Prologue: The First Great Dead White Male Composer
    (pp. 9-44)

    Why have musicologists been so slow to investigate the role of memory, when our sister disciplines have been thinking about these issues for more than half a century? Since the story I am trying to tell in this book is different from the one currently found in textbooks, it is important for us to understand where our notions are coming from. One of the most exhilarating musicological developments in recent years is that we have become much more conscious of our historical past. We have started to ask where, when, and why many of our views on music history originated....


    • 2 Tonaries: A Tool for Memorizing Chant
      (pp. 47-84)

      Life in early Western monasteries centered around the Divine Office. From the moment a boy entered a monastery he spent much of his time singing and memorizing chant. In 830, Agobard of Lyon described the demands made on monastic singers as follows: “Most of them have spent all the days of their life from earliest youth to gray age in the preparation and development of their singing.”¹ Monks who were not particularly gifted could take from two to three years just to learn the psalms by heart.² Others managed to memorize all the psalms in only six months.³

      Why did...

    • 3 Basic Theory Treatises
      (pp. 85-110)

      After having mastered the chant, students had to learn intervals, the gamut, and, from the eleventh century on, solmization syllables and the hexachord. Much of the theoretical material has been described by scholars of music theory. My interest is less inwhattheorists explained than inhowthey did so. More specifically, we would want to know what methods were used to memorize the material.

      From Carolingian times on all music theory instruction began with an explanation of the musical gamut and the memorization of intervals. Theorists employed a number of mnemonic devices to help students learn the material. Probably...

    • 4 The Memorization of Organum, Discant, and Counterpoint Treatises
      (pp. 111-158)

      After the choirboys had mastered chant and solmization syllables, the more talented went on to learn organum (pieces with a plainchant tenor in sustained notes against a melismatic upper voice or voices), discant, and/or counterpoint. In this chapter I use the last two terms in the most general sense as either written out or improvised pieces for two or more parts. The central questions I will address are first how organum, discant, and counterpoint were taught; and second, how this teaching influenced both performance, in particular unwritten performance, and composition. I will consider whether the answers to these questions change...


    • 5 Compositional Process and the Transmission of Notre Dame Polyphony
      (pp. 161-197)

      In the middle of the twelfth century, John of Salisbury gave the following account of what must have been some kind of early Notre Dame polyphony (Leonin is considered to have been active at Notre Dame from the 1150s on):¹

      Music sullies the Divine Service, for in the very sight of God . . . [the singers] attempt, with the lewdness of a lascivious singing voice and a singularly foppish manner, to feminize all their spellbound little fans with the girlish way they render the notes and end the phrases. Could you but hear the effete emotions of their before-singing...

    • 6 Visualization and the Composition of Polyphonic Music
      (pp. 198-252)

      This chapter is concerned with the impact of the art of memory on polyphonic music that was not improvised but written down, and more specifically with pieces that would not have come into existence without mensural notation. These pieces had a composer in the modern sense of the term, that is, they were put together by someone who conceived his music not only as something to beheard, but also as something to beseen.

      Before we turn to a discussion of the music, it will be useful to summarize the most salient points concerning the importance of visualization for...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 253-254)

    Throughout this book I have tried to determine how the oral and written transmission of music interacts with the art of memory; or, to put it differently, what effect mnemotechnics had on medieval performers, composers, and the music they produced. The single most important result of this study is that it allows us to see how oral and written transmission complement each other throughout the Middle Ages. This is particularly apparent in three areas:

    First, we have seen that writing does not make memorization redundant; instead, it allows for new ways of committing musical material to memory. Throughout their lives,...

    (pp. 255-280)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 281-288)