Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Bernice Wells
Last updated: July 27, 2019
Music of the Middle Ages: TheInnovations and Contributions of Magister Leoninus Hannah HinrichsenMusic History IProfessor Maria OgburnNovember 18, 2017In current American culture, music hasbecome a part of daily life. The sound of the latest popular artist serenadingabout their latest life experience is an almost constant background noise todaily life. Obsession with the art of music began hundreds of years ago,yielding huge masterpieces of all kinds by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn,Chopin, Schumann, and hundreds more. Great masters composed in countless stylestheir entire lives to create fascinating works of art. And yet, the results ofthese lifelong dedications were the outcome of a fine-tuned perfection of styleand rules intended to please the ear.
Only after a certain point did thisprogression allow such great masters to produce their work and make such anenormous impact. Music must have had a beginning. The question is: where?Understanding the source of music requiresunderstand of ancient culture and art of the Middle Ages.
Christianity hasspread throughout Europe and has allowed the Church to rise to extreme power, centeredin Italy in the form of the Vatican. This power controlled the ascension ofKings to the throne, the practices of the various sub-churches throughout the’empire,’ and everything else that the public was exposed to. As a result, anymusic of the time also came out of the church. Musicians were most often monksor choirboys specifically trained in the church’s school, and valued for theirpure voices.1Music in general closely regulated becauseit was considered sacred and a direct expression of Christianity.
Hildegard ofBingen, a renowned nun who composed music and claimed to receive divine inspiration,wrote letters that spoke on this subject. Holsinger published a letter writtenby Hildegard of Bingen, who explained that Christ is the direct representationof God’s “New Song by virtue of His embodied redemption of humanity.”2 As a result, there wasabsolutely very little tolerance for music either outside the church or outsideof the rules. Any deviation from these criteria and the music was considered ofthe devil.
Little is known of Magister Leoninusoutside of whatever information can be gleaned from an unknown music theorist,discovered by a student at the University of Paris, commonly known as AnonymousIV.3 He was most likely raisedunder the church’s guidance from a young age. He would have studied Latingrammar through Donatus, Priscian, and Villedei, Greek mythology and ancientGreek texts, and the known meters, rhythms, and rhythmic modes.4 According to preserveddocuments of transaction collected by the Journal of American MusicologicalSociety, Leoninus probably complete this education by 1179.
5 Once that education wascomplete, he could rise up among his contemporaries as an experiencedchorister, and perhaps begin to write his own music. Historians are fairly surethat Leoninus was trained in the school of Notre Dame in Paris, eventuallybecome the Magister there, and from here change began to spread.In terms of the world today, the basicunderstanding is that each person well known in their field studied only thatfor which they have gained recognition. However, based the record of othergreat scholars of the time, that is not true at all. For example, Philippe deVitry, the maîtres de requêtes(master of requests) served the court of France also as a poet, a diplomat, amathematician, and a bishop. Also, Guilliame de Machaut served not only as acanon but also as a royal secretary, rhetorician, and poet. Likewise, MagisterLeoninus was not only educated in music.
As a monk and scholar, he also wrotemany great poetic works.6 The poetic works of Magister Leoninus,according to the Journal of the AmericanMusicological Society, have never quite dropped from list of great Frenchliterature. During Leoninus’s probable lifetime and far into the fourteenthcentury, his words are preserved in “at least seven different sources, sic ofwhich are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale and one in the Vatican Library.
“7Historically, during the time of Leoninus,the church’s power, although complete, was not orderly. Countless churches werespringing up throughout Europe, many of them quite far from Rome. Many regionswere so distant that entire dialects were quite different from that of Italy.This created an inconsistency in not only the music being used, but also thestyle and order of worship. This created a great amount of diversity that theVatican could not control. In order to unify this diversity, the Churchenlisted the services of Magister Leoninus. The text of the church at this time wasalmost entirely based from Judaic text and songs.
Each composer of the time hadtheir own interpretation and opinion about how the text should be presented inthe services of the church. This time was not best known for its ability tokeep records of music, therefore many of the rules established in the differentareas were passed on verbally, thereby creating even more margin for slightdifferences in style and method. However, Leoninus took all of the best textsand set them all to his own method and style. He compiled all of them into abook now known as Magnus liber organi.8 This book had music orevery occasion, service, and function in the Roman Catholic church, and wasused throughout every church as standard up until Perotinus, known as themaster of descant, remodeled them to his own style.While the actual text no longer exists,pieces from the text are used in various other documents that providehistorians with at least a large sampling of what the book must have contained.
9 And while transcribers’understanding is fairly limited, the knowledge they do have allows them todiscover just how big of an impact this particular book had on the music of theday.10 Through it, Leoninusestablished not only the music everyone used, but also rules that set musictowards a path of order that ripples through to present day. One major step Leoninus took beyond the organumof the time was the “determinate rhythmic relationships to the melodic lines,”according to Douglass Seaton, author of Ideas and Styles in the Western MusicalTradition.
11He goes on to say that this simplified the organization of the different polyphonicparts in the vocal music he wrote. Previously, there was very little metermarking, creating rhythm that heavily depended on the division of notes. Thevocalists had to rely heavily on each other and their understanding of the notelengths in order to stay organized. Due to the lack of a standard printingpress, the music varied heavily from composer to composer. In short, themusician had to be incredibly learned in the art of music. While manyimprovements were made, such as Guido of Arezzo’s massive innovations tonotation, the lack of standard meter markings created several challenges. Magister Leoninus utilized a system ofrhythmic modes to indicate the length of each note that is very similar topoetic metrical patterns already established at the Notre Dame school. Eachnote length is divided exactly in half to create faster notes, following thenow standard European metric system of numbers.
The longest note, called the longa in Latin, was usually notated by asquare note head with a tale (now called a stem), and was twice as long as the brevis, which is notated by a squarenote head without a tale. Alternatinglong-short was called “trochaic” rhythm, and short-long was called “iambic”rhythm.12 Seaton explains exactlyhow current scholars presume these modes were interpreted. More complex metrical feet, consistingof three durations, were stimulated by the use of an extralong long equal tothree breves, called “perfect” to distinguish it from the two-breve or”imperfect” long, and an “altered” breve twice as long as a normal (“recta” orcorrect) breve. This allowed for the “dactylic” rhythm (LBB, LBB, LBB, etc.)and the “anapestic” rhythm (BBL, BBL, BBL, etc.) where the long was perfect andthe second of the two breves was altered.
Two other patterns were added, the”spondaic,” plodding along in of perfect longs, and the “tribrachic,” whichtripped quickly in groups of three regular breves. 13After the development of these meters,singers were able to quickly identify what mode they needed to sing in based ofthe particular ligature pattern. For example, three notes followed by atwo-note series was the pattern for the first mode. A quick series of two notesindicated the second mode. The pattern continues thus. This gave the trainedsinger the ability to recognize patterns, and interpret according to thosepatterns, which is a practice that carries through to today’s professionalperformers and improvisors. This method permitted Leoninus to give his music aninstant vitality that encouraged the listener to pay attention andinstinctively united the singers as a whole. A second innovation that Magister Leoninusused connects to the previous point.
In the tenor line, reserved for tenorsolos, the notation became more distinct and clear than the methods previousused. Traditionally, when the tenor line flourished off into melismaticsections, the lower voices sustained their notes, “sometimes to incrediblelengths” as Hoppin states.14 However, Leoninus beganto take the tenor at a much faster and regular pace, making his voice the heartbeatof the music. The lower voice, not necessarily moving in note-to note-counterpoint would not sustain, but would continue to move, creating theillusion that two simultaneous melodies were occurring at once. The new use ofrhythms also aided in this method of writing, allowing the voices to knowexactly there they should be in relation to one another and providing all themovement and energy the music needed. A third massive innovation that came outof the Notre Dame School of Music during Magister Leoninus’s time was a smallsymbol called a plica, which meansfold. This symbol, according to Hoppin, “evolved from the liquescent neumes ofplainchant and continued to be used well into the fourteenth century.
“15 This particular symbolindicated to the singer that the note in question should be embellished by anornamental change in pitch and or rhythmic value. Naturally, the singer wouldhave to determine what exactly should be done with the note based on thecontext of the song, the text of the song, and the style preferred in thatparticular area. The symbol itself is a small line extending at an anglebetween notes or at the end of ligature pattern. As far as contemporaryscholars can tell, the pitches tend to act as neighboring tones above or belowtwo given notes a second apart, and a passing tone between two notes a thirdapart. If the plica is added totriplets or duplets, the interpretation process becomes even more complicatedand requires a higher level of skill.
Hoppin goes further to say that if thecomposer used plicas consistently asopposed to sparingly for variety, the mode modulates into a different modealtogether. This may have aided to bring about a sixth mode not listed abovewhich allowed for new patterns created by plicas.16 To many eyes today, the glory days ofmusic seem to have dropped to the back burner of the world’s accomplishmentstove. When this generation thinks of good music, they recall the fantasticdance moves of Michael Jackson, or the wild costumes of Lady Gaga, or even theincredible passion of Beyoncé. No one thinks of Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Bellini,or Wagner. People only think of celebrities dedicating their entire being toone talent in order to produce perhaps ten or fifteen years of fame to expressthemselves. While this is a noble dedication, they forget the true masters,those who began this ancient and time-honored art.
Magister Leoninus is one ofthese masters. He rose above his contemporaries hundreds of years ago throughthe church to lay down precedents and traditions that would last to thepresent, and allow music to travel along a path that allowed for other mastersfor hundreds of years to come. Shaping the standards of music that came beforehim, he shaped the future of a great art. BibliographyHolsinger, Bruce W. Music, Body, and Desire in MedievalCulture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Hoppin, Richard H. Medieval Music. New York: W. W.
Norton and Co., 1978. Potter,John. “Magister Leoninus, the first great polyphonist.” Goldberg:early music magazine, no. 36 (2005): 48-55.Seaton, Douglass.
Ideas and Styles in the Western MusicalTradition. Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1991. Tischler, Hans. “New Data on the Evolution of theParisian Organa.” Musicalogical Research 5 (unknown, 1984): 85-91. Waite, William G.
The Rhythm of Twelfth Century Polyphony:Its Theory and Practice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954. Wright, Craig. “Leoninus: Poet and Musician.” Journalof the American Musicological Society 39 (Spring, 1986): 1-35. —.
Music and Ceremony at NotreDame of Paris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 1 Craig Wright.Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
) 165. 2 Bruce Holsinger, Music, Body, and Desire Medieval Culture. (Stanford:Stanford University Press, 2001) 34.
3 Richard H. Hoppin, Medieval Music. (New York: W. W. Nortonand Co., 1978) 217. 4 Craig Wright, “Leoninus: Poet andMusician.” Journal of the AmericanMusicological Society no 39.
(Spring, 1986.) 2-4. 5 Ibid. 8.
6 Ibid. 4. 7 Ibid. 17.
8 Hoppin, Medieval Music, 217. 9 John Potter. “Magister Leoninus,the first great polyphonist.” Goldberg:early music magazine, no. 36 (2005.) 50.
10 William Waite. The Rhythm of Twelfth Century Polyphony: ItsTheory and Practice. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954.) 10-11. 11 Douglass Seaton.
Ideas and Styles in the Western MusicalTradition. (Mayfield Publishing Company, 1991). 67-68. 12 Ibid.
68.13 Ibid. 68-69.14 Hoppin, Medieval Music. (NewYork, 1978) 220-21.15Ibid. 225.
16 Ibid. 225-26.