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Imagining medieval music : a short history

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  • Ddc:780
  • Musicology


Studies in Medievalism 82 Studies in Medievalism from the silver bell, to fall, broken and limping from the bell of wood; you admire in their midst the rich gamut which incessantly ascends and re-ascends the seven bells of Saint-Eustache; you see light and rapid notes running across it, executing three or four lumi- nous zigzags, and vanishing like flashes of lightning ... Assuredly, this is an opera which it is worth the trouble of listening to. 2 Victor Hugo outlines a "soundscape" of unsurpassed splendour and opulence, in which the description of music is central - be it from bells or produced by human voices. It is as if Victor Hugo had known about the central importance of listening in the Middle Ages, the capacity to listen as the most important quality of man. Hildegard von Bingen and others have repeatedly underlined how important it is to listen to divine intuitions and how singing corresponds, answers, to this supreme sense. Listening is central and runs from the dove of the Holy Ghost whispering liturgical chant melo- dies in Pope St. Gregory's ear, through the masses of ecclesiastical sound accompanying the mass, and it seems that the tragic figure of the deaf hunchback is put into the centre of Hugo's novel in order to hint already here at the decline of the medieval world. In the light of the importance of eye and ear for medieval society at large, the memory of the body being extremely important, the construction of a deaf hunchback working in a Gothic cathedral is an unsurpassed hint to medieval living and thinking. Victor Hugo's novel, though billowed with life, sensuous and filled with lush images, is not medieval, but a masterpiece of French Romanticism, conveying sights and sounds for our imagination. At the same time there is a punch line: Around 1830, while Hugo was giving a soundscape to medieval tones, medieval music itself was almost unknown. Being the only reconstructable aspect of medieval soundscapes, be they either urban or

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