Thursday, January 09, 2014

Published 8:14 AM by with 0 comment

Thoughtful Thursday: a Musical Tradition Grounded in Concealed Meanings

"Brunelleschi received approval to begin [work on the Florence Cathedral] in 1420. Workers labored fifteen years before the dome rose majestically 'above the skies, ample to cover with its shadow all the Tuscan people', in the words of Alberti. It was a magnificent achievement, matched by Guillaume Dufay's musical tribute, the motet Nuper rosarum flores... 

Dufay's music was equal to the occasion, though celebrants, swept away by what their eyes and ears perceived, might not have noticed the subtle connection between the church building and the sounds used to commemorate it. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the composer of Nuper rosarum flores had not merely written a beautiful piece, but had carefully calibrated the structure of his work to correspond to certain ancient proportions, used for centuries specifically for the construction of sacred spaces.

For Dufay, as for many composers before him, music was, in Leonardo da Vinci's phrase, 'the shaping of the invisible'. His approach to the motet sprang from from a medieval musical tradition grounded in concealed meanings. Composers often disguised liturgical melodies by stretching them beyond recognition, or shaped their musical forms through secret rhythmic patterns. Art thus hatched bespoke their view of the world as a place filled with puzzlement. Where does fire go when it's put out? How can the earth, with its tremendous heft, remain suspended in thin air? Though faith left no doubt of a divine purpose behind it all, life's fabric was nevertheless embedded with riddles, and medieval musicians used their art to imitate this state of affairs. They crafted works on a foundation of veiled principles, or seeded them with cryptic signs, so that beneath the surface of sound an imperceptible force of reason was always at work."

~ Excerpt from Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization, by Stuart Isacoff

~ A weekly post sharing a selection from a book I am currently reading ~
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A thoughtful quote can be the bridge that leads us farther
along the path of understanding ourselves and the world.
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