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There were many types of music in the Middle Ages:
Much of the music from this era, except for modern re-creations, is now lost. A good deal of church music is preserved, however, because priests and nuns (to a lesser extent) were among the best-educated people, and their institutions and libraries lasted longer. Monks were encouraged to read and write in order to learn about the scriptures, and it was they who devised a system to copy music. Nevertheless, much of what passes for "Medieval" music today actually represents a reconstruction of the old manuscripts done, especially, by the Monks of Solesmes Abbey in France in the nineteenth century.
This page presents some indications of where Gregorian Chant can be heard in New York City.
What we today call Gregorian Chant was sung daily at the monastic hours of prayer and at mass. Chant was named in honor of Pope Gregory the Great who had insisted that certain chants be sung on certain days of the liturgical year. Another for this music is "plainsong".
The images here are from an actual Gregorian Chant manuscript taken from a book by Louis Lambillotte, of a chant that was composed during the course of fifteen centuries.
Each mark above the words represents a stroke, which denotes an elevation of voice. Depending upon what shape the accent is determines the degree of elevation. Gregorian chant has neither meter nor regular rhythm. There are no obvious patterns and the music is intended to encourage pious reflection.
The authorship of much plainsong is anonymous. But some composers are known. With some composers of Gregorian Chant, it seems that they believed themselves to be expressing the voice of God, actual vessels in which the message of divine authority might be channeled to those on earth.
One of the most extraordinary contributors to the collection of
Gregorian Chant was Abbess Hildegarde of Bingen
(1098-1171). She contributed over seventy-seven chants to the
Gregorian chant. During powerful religious experiences, she saw
images such as "the breath of Satan in guise of a serpent,
the fiery descent of the Holy Spirit, and the blood of Christ
steaming in the heavens." The images she saw were communicated
through her poetry, which was set to music as liturgical chant-
Gregorian Chant. [A very popular modern recording, somewhat jazzed
up with New Age instrumentation is called Vision, a recording
of seventeen of her compositions. More authentic recordings also
This is where a distinction made as to when certain chants are sung. The greatest part of monastic prayer consisted o the "Office of Hours", which was largely composed of settings of Psalms and canticles [texts taken from the Old or New Testaments.] Much of the most impressive Chant is connected with Musical Portions of the Mass. Music for mass falls into two main categories:
Musical Parts of the Ordinary of the Mass
Musical Parts of the Proper of the Mass
There is a full text and translation of Ordinary of the Latin Mass
In our search for medieval music in New York City, we were able
to find three main Roman Catholic churches often use Gregorian
chant and medieval music. There is also an exhibit in the Metropolitan
Museum on early medieval music and concerts can be heard throughout
the year at the Cloisters, a section of the Met. The following
is a list of places with locations and phone numbers in New York
City that medieval music can be heard:
In recent years, modern recording have been produced, sweeping the nation with a new found popularity.
Gregorian Chant Links
This Page is part of the Medieval New York Web Project, a project of students in the Introduction to Medieval History courses taught by Paul Halsall in the History Department of Fordham University in 1996-1997.
© Copyright to the student creator of each page.