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The Ars Antiqua Music Concept Essay


Ars Antiqua is a Latin word describing ancient art from 1100 to 1300 in some parts of France even though the exact infiltration of the usage of the word in other places has not been documented. During this time, music entailed addition of harmonies to chants. In most times, Ars Antiqua was restricted only to sacred music with the exclusion of trouveres and troubadours. Nevertheless, the term refers to the 13th century European music. Ars Nova genre got its name as opposition to the way Ars Antiqua composers structured their music (Gleason & Becker, 1981).

The Ars Antiqua master is mostly likely Perotin who also goes by the name Perotinus the Great. Perotin together with Viderut omnes and Sederunt wrote the first polyphonies meant for four voices principes. To get these masterworks, he simply came up with the knowledge of how to measure time in music. Before this time, it was coordination of four voices without time and thus counting was completely unfeasible. During the Ars Antiqua period, the Roman Catholic Church attempted to come up with a new Roman Empire and they did so by enforcing a distinctive religion, language, singing, and the way of living across the entire territory.

The church mandated the composers to use Gregorian chant (plain song) all the time during sacred music in order to prevent both spiritual and political powers from having new ideas. Additionally, they did this to thwart patriotism and individualism from emerging as such would herald the empire’s end. Anther role in music was using ternary beats, as there was a strong belief in the Trinity. In a bid to keep away from these limitations, Perotin slowed down Plainsong until it became unrecognizable (Milo et al., 1998). Almost, for any ars antiqua music, the composer remains unknown. The exact number of authors of the majority of the ars antiqua cannot be established absolutely, but there are three crucial authors that scholars can recall even today, viz. Franco of Cologne, Perotin and Lenoine. Franco of Cologne came about in the 13th century and he was a theorist who composed the ars cantus mensurabilis otherwise known as “the art of measured song” (Gleason & Becker, 1981, p.79). This song has the purpose of organizing and codifying the new system. Pierre de la Croix was another author hailing from the 13th century and his works led to the ars nova style through rhythmic fluency.

Ars Antiqua era in the music world experienced disparate but positive changes as compared to earlier trend whereby most compositions were in note form and rhythmic. The 13th century composition technique refers to the description of “successive counterpoint”. This technique underscores a situation where the composer begins with the tenor, which is a complete voice, a preexistent plainsong melody (clausulae, organa and all motets) or one that the composer has written himself (conductus). One of the most imperative contributions that came with the Ars Antiqua is in the rhythm field (Page, 1988). The beginning of1180s marks the genesis of strict rhythm on the basis on rhythmic modes.

In some cases, the categorization of ars antiqua falls into “two rough periods, namely the high Gothic and Early Gothic” (Gordon & Roesner, 2001, p.79). The high Gothic defines the music that was prevalent between 1310 or 1320 when the ars nova was starting whereas the early Gothic entails French music during the Notre Dame School all the way to 1260 (Gordon & Roesner, 2001, p.80). Despite the fact that ars antiqua faded immediately within the first two decades in the fourteenth century, Jacques of Liege defended it in his Speculum Musicae as he wrote a brutal attack stating that the ars nova was irreverent and seemingly corrupt. Jacques regarded ars antiqua as “musica modesta while he branded ars nova as a musica lasciva (he viewed this type of music to be capricious, indulgent, sensual, and immodest” (Gleason & Becker, 1981, p.103).

The Notre Dame School was specifically meant for French concerted music around the 13th century. The two composers had a big connection to the Cathedral of Paris. The school of Dames repertory entails “a collection of two partorgana, which is referred to as Magnus liber organi also an additional organa that is arranged in two, three, and four parts as well as numerous conductus, clausulae, and early motets” (Page, 1988, p.157). During the ars antiqua period, sacred music played the Dame functions, which it had played earlier. The liturgical texts were set the same, but in polyphony as opposed to monophony. Polyphony in music is different to monophonic music since it merges simultaneous voice parts usually of individual design. In the contemporary music circles, there exist several theories concerning the origin of ars antiqua. Some scholars term some of the earliest polyphony examples as the first culmination as opposed to a beginning of a development that has its origin in primitive and oriental music. Polyphony development was the greatest concern for composers.

The other ars antiqua period polyphony composer was Leonin and he was a composer as well as a choirmaster in the year 1160. He went ahead to lay the foundation for rhythmic modes system and even he is regarded as the best organa composer. With his work, the elimination process of the tenor melodic function was complete (Gordon & Roesner, 2001). The arrangement of voices as well as the rhythmically organized duplum character, his organum obscured what the chants espoused as the original purpose.

Most of Leonin’s melodic patterns were triadic, which was unheard of previously in the chant melodies circles. He used two techniques whereby in one the plainsong melody he employed very long notes, which are unmeasured in rhythm; in addition, the organal part was free and lastly it had complicated melismata. The other technique known as discantus style entailed the two parts going from note to note and especially in rhythmic patterns or modes that come from troubadour music. The tendency of using melismatic styles was popular especially in cases where the original plainsong melody was syllabic while there was use of the discantus style when the plainchant was elaborate lyrically.

When it comes to melody in the ars antiqua period, the vocal in style was step wise coupled with a limited range. Sacred melodies as opposed to plainsongs were mostly in short phrases metric patterns that had repetition. The term plainchant was used as an ancient monophonic style generic term as well as rhythmically free melody common to many Western liturgies with examples of Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Gregorian, and Gallican chant and even the other liturgies like Syrian, Byzantine, and Armenian chant. Additionally, non-Christian liturgical music like Hindu and Jewish used it, which underscored the fact that music is not strictly measured or harmonic.

Ambrosia chant got its name after a Milan Bishop, Ambrose, who hailed from Northern Italy. The Byzantine chant started immediately after 330 AD, which is the earliest chant form developed after the Constantine Eastern church started whereby singing went ahead to be in the Greek Orthodox Church. Mozarabic chant originated in the 8th century and it is a Spanish chant while the Gallican chant started in France in 800; however, its notated manuscripts do not exist. Gregorian chant is the most commonly used and it got its name after Pope’s Gregory leadership (590-604). With the consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church secular power, there was a prescription of the Gregorian chant for liturgical services in the entire Roman Catholic world.

Before dwelling into the various organum types, it is worth to note that despite the successful integration of harmony into sacred songs, the Catholic Church had to play a huge role in the exercise. This scenario arose when it came to determining the things that they would allow and those that were not allowed into this new form of music. The church could only allow a selected few intervals in holy music and these were “the octave, the perfect fourth, and the perfect fifth” (Page, 1988, p.153). The perfect fourth interval for instance, “is the sound that one hears when playing or singing C to F… The perfect fifth internal is the sound that one hears at the time he or she is playing or singing C to G. Lastly, the octave internal, which also goes by the name perfect eighth, is the same pitch repetition, but it is higher” (Page, 1988, p.153).

For instance, C to C: The Catholic Church permitted the use of the aforementioned intervals use simply because they are the most ingratiating and probably popular and easy to learn. During the ars antiqua period, however, there were intervals that the church prohibited, which in essence were all the other intervals. The third and sixth intervals are particularly illustrious for the intervals appear extremely conformable. On the other hand, the Dark Ages Catholic Church could not bear with such sounds, as they were full of discrepancies and thus were an impediment to the faithful and thus these qualities qualified them as diabolical sounds.

The fact that chant by definition is monophonic whereby a second melodic line is included resulting to the production of polyphony and a harmony, means that singing would have a new sacred music style and there was no more regarding the composition as a chant, which underscores the definition of the term as organum. Simply put, the organum definition is a unique plainchant melody where one voice is included to the texture (Gordon & Roesner, 2001). Additionally, the organum was a product of the Dark Ages and all through the ars antiqua era, it developed from primal to a convoluted form.

One of the key musical elements existing in the ars antiqua period was cantus firmus. This melody is pre-existent and thus “it allowed the polyphonic to be the popular norm in the 13th century where St. Martial, as well as Notre Dame Schools’ composition hinged on” (Page, 1988, p.156). The composition of music using the cantus firmus went ahead and in many instances, it used a cantus firmus together with the 13th century motets. Writing of these motets was in a number of languages. Conventionally, singing of love poems could be in native language, which in most cases comes out figuratively as opposed to the liturgical Latin context. Conventionally, the cantus firmus drew its context and style from plainsong; nevertheless, with changing world and style it opened up to accommodate other songs not necessarily sacred as long as they were popular. Initially, as cantus firmus revolved within the boundaries of the tenor; however, with time, different emerging musicians explored other disparate avenues of integrating it in other voices like in polyphonic voices.

Other than the organum in the ars antiqua time, there was the hocket, which in essence is a rhythmic linear style that uses changing of pitches, notes, or chords. The hocket was a very strong music characteristic of the Notre Dame school at the ars antiqua. By 1300, there was the use of the hocket in profane singing and live performances (Gordon & Roesner, 2001). The motet is the other significant development of the ars antique. The motet history is put into three periods, viz. Flemish motet (1450-1600), medieval motet (1220-1450), and Baroque (1600-1750). The come back of sacred music re-energized the motet thus throwing it back to the music arena where it became notable once again. It became a Latin religious text choral setting in close to four or more voice parts (Milo et al., 1998). The texture became “closer with all parts having almost a similar rhythmic animation degree and being vocal” (Page, 1988, p.158). The tenor usually stood out from the rest as it had a cantus firmus in slow motion.

Another notable evolution of the Flemish musical composition was the establishment of “style”, which heralded the growth of diverse conceptions in the field of music. Around the year 1550, “the motet went around Europe with the Flemish experts (Gombert, Josquin, and Lasso) finding equal rank disciples in Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and France” (Page, 1988, p.161). Medieval motet, on the other hand, started in the early 13th century. The first step included “the development of the medieval motet was providing clausulae with a text representing a tenor incipit paraphrase and a crucial step was adding of a triplum (third voice part) in either French or Latin” (Milo et al., 1998, p.107)).

The motet rhythmic structure has rhythmic mode basis whereby the upper parts frequently uses a much faster pattern as opposed to the tenor. Right after 1600, the motet style completely transformed; for instance, the style of pure acapella was no longer in existence while musicians started using the solo voices together with instrumental accompaniment (Gordon & Roesner, 2001). However, it did not mean that there was complete abandonment of the 16th century style, on the contrary, “both the Venetian style that had its huge sound and the Palestrina stile antico were cultivated in the Baroque motets” (Page, 1988, p. 163). The ancient methods, however, changed in accordance to the 17th century stylistic device with examples of solo voices, instrumental participation, basso continuo, aria style, recitaivo, and many others. In the entire Baroque era, solo motet was meant for two singers together with an organ accompaniment triumphed in Italy along with the Roman choral style or Venetian tradition.

Reference List

Gleason, H., & Becker, W. (1981). Music in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (3rd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Frangipani Press.

Gordon, A., & Roesner, E. (2001) Ars Antiqua [Ars Veterum, Ars Vetus]. In S. Sadie & J. Tyrrell (Eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London, UK: Macmillan.

Milo, W., Miller, J., & Edmund, C. (1998). An outline history of western music. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill publishers.

Page, C. (1988). The performances of Ars Antiqua motets. Early Music, 16(2), 147-164.

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