Music Class Assignment 2: Part II – Early, Medieval, and Renaissance Music

Concentrate more on the sections that discuss the music of each period and less about history and other art forms.

Listen/view the music examples to get a better understanding of how music progressed.  Have a clear understanding of the three main textures of music, as these will turn up many times in the weeks ahead: Monophony, polyphony, and homophony.

The texture of heterophony will not be dwelt on, but is characteristic of much folk music found throughout the world. Here, there is no true harmony, only the single line of music (the melody) which is duplicated by voice(s) and other instruments performing simultaneously.  As an example, listen to a Celtic band and you find that authentic performances don’t have harmonic support from a keyboard or guitar playing chords.  Instead, all of the band members are performing the melody together, but each in their own idiomatic instrumental style (this, naturally, excludes percussion instruments that play rhythms, not melody).  This “muddy” texture is pleasing to the ear.  A cruder form of heterophony happens when a group of people spontaneously sing “Happy Birthday” (in other words, without previous practice).  Everyone has their own subtle variation of the song.  The intent, of course, is to sing the melody together, but the result is an “imperfect” rendition that nonetheless retains its melodic identity and is understandable to a listener.

Know the “Dies Irae” melody when you hear it.  You only need to listen to the first minute of the recording to get the melodic shape of this early Gregorian chant.  This melody was quoted time-and-again by composers throughout the ages.  For example, it was memorably featured in the soundtrack of “The Shining,” directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Jack Nicholson.

The rest of the music examples noted in the textbook are included in Module 2.  As always, these examples will not correspond to the specific recordings used by the textbook CDs.  Some more notes about these recordings:

“A chantar” by Beatrix de Dia is a live, “rough” recording that offers another interpretation from that described in the text and vividly demonstrates what was possible in performances by troubadours in the Medieval period.  The same applies to the “Estampie” of the 12th-century.

“Ordo Virtutum” by Hildegard von Bingen is a video promo of a performance, but is useful for viewing how her works can be staged.

Josquin’s Kyrie is represented in the text by the first 2 minutes, 42 seconds or so in this recording.  You do not need to listen beyond this point, but it’s good to hear that this section is only one of a series of music settings within a Mass.

Write and post a critique in “Discussions” of “As Vesta Was From Latmos Hill Descending.”

A performance with musical score is provided as a visual aid: (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Identify what musical textures are featured in the music selection.  Identify timings (ex.: 1:38-2:10) on the recording to pinpoint where monophony, polyphony, and homophony occur.  Textures may change with relative rapidity.  The dominant texture is polyphony, but the contrast of textures is notable for lending variety and for helping to illustrate the vocal text (“word painting”).  Also include your observations about the effectiveness of this music and comment on the vocal text since it is intimately connected to how the music was composed.

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