Roni's Journal

Friday, 17 February 2006

Music scores in the Middle Ages

We've been taught in the Academy that in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance time, composers wrote different vocal parts separately for the simple reason that they thought of them as separate musical lines, and their interconnection was secondary. Moreover, we were told that thinking in this way, they composed the different voices independently.

I was never at ease with this idea, and a few days ago, I finally found a proof that this teaching is wrong!

Look at this score (!) by Perotin, one of the earliest composers of polyphonic music:

It is so clear – the three melodic lines are written just like in a modern partiture! And here – the answer to the question comes out: look at the third voice – the notes are long, and spaced apart widely – and that is a waste of paper! Paper was extremely expensive in those times, and it is obvious why composers had decided to write out each voice separately – simply to save paper. But to denounce their harmonic thinking is ridiculous in my opinion – it is so clear in the music.

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