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Music History: Ancient Times

If you are interested in the melodic sonatas of Beethoven or took clarinet lessons in elementary schools, then this article may spark your attention, as it deals with historical tidbits about music, including the ancient times of the Roman Empire and beyond.

In 325, Constantine states that Christianity is the official religion of the Roman Empire. During this time, the spread of this new religion throughout the western world enhanced the interest in emerging music of European origin.

In 600, Pope Gregory the Great plays a role in developing the chant, which always made an appearance in Roman Catholic services. In later years, the Gregorian chant was named after him.

In 695, the orgamum is developed, which stands as an early form of counterpoint, which involves two or more melodies that are played at the same exact time. An inviting musical presentation is the result, which is accomplished through the blending of the separate melodies.

Around 850, Western music starts to shift from a monophony style to a polyphony approach that includes vocal parts in church music that traveled about parallel intervals.

About 1030, the system of learning music by ear is attributed to Guido of Arezzo, an Italian monk who encouraged voice students to follow this approach. The system was called solfege, which involved the memorization of vocal exercises. Throughout the 19th century, the system would evolve into the tonic sol-fa system that is known in present times.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098 to 1179) was known as the “Sybil of the Rhine” who is responsible for a collection of theology and visionary writings. Most importantly, she created a total of 77 chants, as well as what was considered the first musical drama in history –  “the Ritual of the Virtues.” Over time, her poetry and musical compositions became well known.

Between 1150 and 1250, Notre Dame was the location of a school of polyphony that was quite popular amongst people interested in music. During this time, rhythmic notation made its first appearance. The period would become known as the ars antigua where the motet was first introduced. A motet is a short piece of Latin music that one sings right after the Offertorium. Sometimes it will take the place of the Offertorium.

About 1180, Germany starts to see troubadours make an appearance in history. These performers called themselves “minnesingers,” which meant that they sung about love.

In 1430, the Renaissance starts, which is viewed as the rebirth of more simple approaches in music characterized by the classic styles of the Greeks and Romans. Polyphony styles are now replaced by a single harmonized melody, which becomes more important and wide-ranging within the scheme of secular music. The leading composer of the Renaissance is Josquin Desprez, who gained the nickname of the “Prince of Music.”

Additional Musical Contributions in Ancient History

Throughout history, a host of ancient civilizations and cultures contributed to music in time. This includes the harps and flutes in Egypt; the first bamboo pipes of China; the five-tone scale of China; the earliest hymns of Sumeria; and the creation of the seven-string lyre.