Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Works of Guido d'Arezzo

One of the most spectacular yet least appreciated contributions to the development of civilization was the invention of staff lines for writing music. If that seems like no big deal, imagine a world in which there was no written music and you had to come up with a way to transmit these floating abstractions called notes onto a page in a manner that would permit the melody to be inaudibly transmitted over space and time. It is no wonder it took several thousand years for a system to be put together, and one man made the great breakthrough: Guido d'Arezzo, who lived from 990 to 1033 or thereabouts.

Now his writings have been put together in this in book in Italian. Here is an English translation of the page. As the ad points out, one of the paradoxes is that Guido was a "conservative" by any standard. He favored the chant, and the preservation of the chant, and didn't have much affection even for part writing. Yet in order to accomplish the end of preserving and continuing tradition, he used the most modern innovations he could. In this sense, he has much in common with today's Catholic bloggers, attempting to preserve and education on behalf of tradition.

The book includes notes and analysis by Angelo Rusconi, who appears to be the foremost expert in the world. Guido himself was certainly a hinge of history, super controversial in his time, so much so that he was tossed out of his monastery and forced to appeal to the Pope to find another. He was a monopoly breaker who loathed the cult of the experts and hoped to democratize the chant experience. Interesting, he also wrote a tract against simony, which is also included here.

Times haven't changed much in 1000 years!

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