Resources for medieval musicology and liturgy
The Story of Notation
An entertaining history of how musicians learned to record music for all time, filled with art that sings.
In today’s digital landscape, we have the luxury of experiencing music anytime, anywhere. But before this instant accessibility and dizzying array of formats—before CDs, the eight-track tape, the radio, and the turntable—there was only one recording technology: music notation. It allowed singers and soloists to travel across great distances and perform their work with stunning fidelity, a feat that we now very much take for granted.
Thomas Forrest Kelly transports us to the lively and complex world of monks and monasteries, of a dove singing holy chants into the ear of a saint, and of bustling activity in the Cathedral of Notre Dame—an era when the only way to share even the simplest song was to learn it by rote, church to church and person to person. With clarity and a sense of wonder, Kelly tells a story that spans five hundred years, leading us on a journey through medieval Europe and showing how we learned to keep track of rhythm, melody, and precise pitch with a degree of accuracy previously unimagined.
Kelly reveals the technological advances that led us to the system of notation we use today, placing each step of its evolution in its cultural and intellectual context. Companion recordings by the renowned Blue Heron ensemble are paired with vibrant illuminated manuscripts, bringing the art to life and allowing readers to experience something of the marvel that medieval writers must have felt when they figured out how to capture music for all time.
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