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Contents

Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century

CHAPTER 3 Retheorizing Music

New Frankish Concepts of Musical Organization and their Effect on Composition

Chapter:
CHAPTER 3 Retheorizing Music
Source:
MUSIC FROM THE EARLIEST NOTATIONS TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Richard Taruskin

When musicians thought “theoretically” about music—that is, made systematic generalizations about it—before the tenth century, they usually did so in terms of the quadrivium, the late-classical postgraduate curriculum, in which music counted as one of the arts of measurement. What was measurable was what was studied: abstract pitch ratios (we call them intervals) and abstract durational ratios (we call them rhythms, organized into meters). Reducing music to abstract number was a way of emphasizing what was truly “real” about it, for late-classical philosophy was strongly influenced by Plato’s doctrine of forms. A Neoplatonist believed, first, that the world perceived by our sense organs was only a grosser reflection of a realer world, God’s world, that we perceive with our God-given capacity for reasoning; and, second, that the purest form of reasoning was numerical reasoning, because it was least limited to what our senses tell us. Education meant the development of one’s capacity to transcend the limitations of sense and achieve comprehension of “essences,” purely rational, quantitative concepts untouched by any “stain of the corporeal.”1 A medieval treatise on music theory, then, emphasized musica speculativa (we may call it Musica for short), “music as reflection of the real” (from speculum, Latin for looking glass or mirror).2 Such a treatise had as little to do as possible with actual “pieces of music,” or ways of making them, for such music was merely music for the senses——unreal and (since real meant divine) unholy. The two most-studied late-classical texts on Musica were De musica (“About Musica”) by none other than St. Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus, 354–430), the greatest of the Fathers of the Christian Church, and De institutione musica (“On the organization of Musica”) by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (ca. 480–ca. 524), the Roman statesman and educational reformer who first proposed the division of the liberal arts curriculum into the trivium and the quadrivium. Both of these books, but especially the one by Boethius (which was virtually rediscovered by the Franks), were mainstays of the Carolingian academic curriculum instituted by Alcuin.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 3 Retheorizing Music." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2019. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-chapter-003.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 3 Retheorizing Music. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 17 Nov. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-chapter-003.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 3 Retheorizing Music." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 17 Nov. 2019, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-chapter-003.xml
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