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This content is taken from the University of Basel's online course, From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Welcome to the second week. Imagine, that for a long time, music was transmitted just orally. The musicians had to memorise a huge repertoire of liturgical chant. During the ninth century, medieval singers began to mark their song texts with little lines and dots in order to depict the melodies and in order to recall them to memory. I will introduce you now to an important shift, the very beginning of notation in medieval music history. The background of this evolution is an extensive ecclesiastical and political reform issued during the eighth century by Charlemagne. During the Carolingian period, the so-called Gregorian chant originated as a reworking of Roman ecclesiastical song by Frankish cantors.

Skip to 1 minute and 15 seconds The newly generated and widespread repertoire was then written down, starting from the second half of the ninth century in Carolingian monastery scriptoria, a room where manuscripts were copied.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds The members of the chant community felt the necessity for writing down the melodies with a system of signs that is called neumatic notation. The neumes depict the melodic line, although without giving exact notes or rhythms to be sung. Neumes did not replace the practice of singing by heart. They just helped the singer to verify if they were singing correctly.

Skip to 2 minutes and 12 seconds We can finally deduce that the urgency to visualise music was initially based on the idea of notation as a control system.

Writing music: 'from sound to ink'

Last week, you got a general overview on the main questions of this course focussing on visual theory and the materiality of musical writing. This week you will be introduced to a crucial shift in music history: the very beginning of notation in European medieval music history.

In this video Professor Matteo Nanni explains why medieval singers began to write down their melodies during the Carolingian period, also known as the Carolingian Renaissance, as in this period from about 780 to 900 a cultural revival took place that caused an increase of literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical reforms, and scriptural studies.

In the background you hear the voices of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois performing Benedicta et Venerabilis under the direction of Dominique Vellard.

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This video is from the free online course:

From Ink to Sound: Decoding Musical Manuscripts

University of Basel