Writing Music - Guido D’Arezzo

Did you know that until the 11th century music could only be taught and learned by hearing it. That's the main reason we dont know what music the psalms were originally set too. No one could write music down on paper as we can today. The very confusing patterns of dots on lines I am struggling with right now were originally developed by an Italian monk called Guido D’Arezzo, as a way for music to be learned without ever hearing it. He wrote in a letter to a friend:

Pope John, who governs the Roman Church, heard of our song-school’s reputation. He heard in particular of how, by means of our antiphoners boys could learn songs they had never heard. He was greatly astonished, and sent three messengers to bring me to him… The pope was most glad to see me… and asked a great many questions. He turned over the pages of the antiphoner as if it were some great prodigy… He did not move from the place where he sat… until he had learned to sing one versicle that he had never heard
Guido also gave us the naming for the notes in a musical scale, by using a hymn in praise of St. John the Baptist, ‘Ut Queant laxis’ where each line began with a new note of an ascending scale. The syllables sung at the beginnings of each line could be separated from the hymn and made to represent each note of the scale:

UT queant laxis
REsonare fibris
MIra gestorum
FAmuli tuorum
SOlve pollutes
LAbii Reates, Sancti Johanne

If like me you don't speak Latin here is the English version of the hymn.

So that your servants may, with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds, clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John

These notations do, ray, me, fa, so, la, (te came much later as it wasn't part of the medieval scale) allowed more complex compositions to be distributed to a much wider audience and ultimately to Julie Andrews and an Austrian family running around singing in clothes made out of curtains.

The letter from Guido is quoted from The Story of Christian Music by Andrew Wilson-Dickson, (Lion Publishing: England, 1992).

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