Medieval Music
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The musical activity in the territories of north-eastern Italy, in medieval times, is widely documented, although not specified in the forms. In addition to the musical heritage of the Patriarchate of Aquileia, first, and the particular production of Cividale, however, it is not possible to identify a precise and proper production activity in the musical sense, if not episodic and occasional, throughout the late Middle Ages. There is no trace of musical activity in the Trobadoric or Arsnovistic system, neither for what concerns the production in Latin or Neo-Latin nor for what concerns the production in the Germanic language. If some documents can attest the presence on the territory both of illustrious authors from the French and German areas, it will be necessary to wait until the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century for a musician of international standing (Antonius de Civitate Austriae - Antonio da Cividale) to leave behind a complete and documented musical production worthy of the highest European music schools. If poor is the testimony of profane musical activities rich is instead the iconographic documentation that attests the diffusion in the north-eastern territories of almost all the musical instruments in use in medieval Europe.

Theatrum Instrumentorum


The Middle Ages represents for Western music, as we know it today, the most intense moment of development and the densest of fundamental choices and acquisitions. It is precisely during this period that an adequate system of musical notation was born and perfected, that genres and musical forms were defined and developed, that the polyphonic conception of music was defined and developed, and that most of the instruments for making music that would be an integral part of the musical history of the following centuries were acquired, invented, adopted and perfected. It can be said that it is precisely in the Middle Ages that Western music not only finds its definition but defines practically all the theoretical instruments essential to its becoming. 

In the Middle Ages two different attitudes of "making music" are progressively emerging The first, the one authoritatively sanctioned by the cultural environment and which can be identified as "the official attitude", is the one linked to the theoretical dimension of music, which sees in "theorizing on music" its most sincere expression and which is expressed in the silence of the senses and the all intellectual contemplation of the musical mechanism "of the spheres". This attitude takes little account, if not in contempt, of the use of "mechanical" instruments proper to the "Instrumentalis" dimension of music. The other attitude is the one that is instead translated into musical practice, which is spreading in every social and cultural level, and which is realized in the sphere of the "sensitive": that of music that is not purely theoretical but instead perceptible to the hearing and obtained through singing and the use of musical instruments. Music is counted, in the Middle Ages, among the seven liberal arts and is, together with other disciplines dedicated to the study of numbers and proportions (astrology, geometry and arithmetic), one of the four that make up the Quadrivium. The theorist's interest in music is mediated and strictly delimited, by the theoretical and philosophical elements dictated by the tradition that finds its foundations especially in the treatment of Boethius. Boethius operates a fundamental tripartition of the musical phenomenon: first of all, he identifies a piece of mundane music (the celestial music, the fruit of the motion of the stars and mirror of the divine order), a human music (music of harmony between spirit and body) and instrumental music, a pale imitation of the two previous ones and obtained through the musical instrument. In the De Istitutione Boetian music, the Instrumentalis Music is liquidated with a few words "...the third music is that which is said to consist of some instruments. This music is produced with tension as with the strings or employing breath as in the tibiae or with those instruments which are moved by water or with a percussion or with those which by beating in certain concave bronzes produce different types of sounds... the citareds and those who make their art through the organ and other musical instruments are far from the understanding of musical science because they have the function of servants and do not bring any rational element...".

For medieval theorists the use of the musical instrument, to make the proportions of the "musical numbers" perceptible to the world of the senses, seems inadequate and inadvisable. However, it was in the course of the late Middle Ages that this position was progressively mitigated and turned, step by step, to a new conception of "making music" and the emergence of the figure of the musician in the modern sense (synthesis of theory and practice). Within the varied medieval world some many spaces and moments foresee the presence of music, and therefore also of musical instruments, both in a complete musical dimension and limited to the function of "signal". The liturgy, prayer, pilgrimage, war, medicine, entertainment and signalling: for each of these moments, a series of musical instruments and people trained to use them are gradually being outlined and specialized, according to the needs. From simple percussion or wind instruments designed to be used within precise signalling codes (bells, horns and drums) to more complex instruments that gradually require a more precise and defined performance specialization. The first two large families in which musical instruments are grouped are those that define instruments according to their dynamic qualities: high instruments, i.e. instruments with a powerful sound by nature, and low instruments, i.e. instruments with a more dynamically contained sound.

High instruments are those suitable for playing in open spaces, and therefore also suitable to be used for signalling; low instruments are those suitable for use in limited spaces and acoustically adequate. Among the high instruments: trumpets, horns, bagpipes, cyaramels, drums, bells etc.; among the low instruments: harps, vielles, ribeches, lutes, lutes, psalteries, organs, hurdy-gurdies, etc.. This first coarse distinction (there will be many possible exceptions) already establishes a first, although not defined in detail, qualitative distinction related to the nature of musical instruments, which sees in low instruments qualities more akin to the "high" dimension of making music. It will be mainly stringed instruments that will enjoy both the favour of theorists and musicians and the indulgence of censors. Wind instruments will then carry for a long time the weight of a presumed "Dionysian" quality of making music (Dionysus' syringe) as opposed to the "Apollonian" quality attributed to stringed instruments (Apollo's lyre). A distinction of which we can still feel the effects to some extent today. To remain in the field of profane music, but also of devotional non-liturgical music, the vielles, harps, lutes and psalteries will be those instruments that will mainly enjoy the favour of troubadours, musicians and theorists; civil occasions (festivals, processions, parades) will be those that will make use of the presence of "high" instruments.

There is no precise distinction between performer and author in the Middle Ages, and there are not even distinct "professional" figures such as the composer or the instrumentalist because these activities are not even generally configurable as professions but rather as subsidiary skills; generally, the instrumentalist is also a craftsman or a nobleman or a beggar or whatever. The musician (musicus) is a man of letters or a notary or in any case a figure of intellectual capable of handling or mastering music theory and who usually looks with contempt or sufficiency at the material activity of drawing sounds from mechanical instruments. The jester, a rhetorical figure of the medieval musician, is generally a craftsman, usually ignorant, who, if he can play any instrument, is, however, above all, skilful in entertaining his occasional audience with acrobatics, games of skill and deceptions, many times vulgar and coarse. Nothing, however, prevents the musicus from cultivating instrumental skills but these are not required and represent an unnecessary corollary to theoretical skill. Only a musical medium is recognized the dignity and this is singing; and in this vision, the "mechanical musical instrument" is configured as an imitation, more or less successful, of this "only true instrument". This last consideration gives rise to another subtle game of hierarchies that rewards with a superior status those instruments that can, for their sound qualities, consider themselves closer to the voice. However, this, at least ostentatious, theoretical contempt for musical instruments is not an obstacle to their diffusion and use even in the most exclusive circles of the high nobility and ecclesiastical hierarchies.

"No one subject to ecclesiastical law...must exceed in those worldly splendours which secularists and lay princes use, that is, secular songs, sounds of lire and shinbones and the like: but if he delights in songs and spiritual hymns, let him compose them by taking them out of Sacred Scripture worthily and conveniently. Not only do we not command to abstain from them, but, being conniving, we grant the wish to use them".

The Patriarch Paulinus of Aquileia spoke at the Provincial Council of 796, and here he not only hinted at his creative activity in the field of music but also revealed, behind his back, musical activities that were tried and tested but evidently very widespread and already practised in these distant times. The documentary and literary quotations, the reproofs and condemnations of customs widespread in the musical field will be wasted in the following centuries, allowing a harsh and difficult world to appear, but permeated with music. A proclaimed contempt is matched by the vitality of instrumental music at every level of social life. While musical instruments are gradually enriching, symbolically and aesthetically, the musical angels of the sacred representations in churches, in practice musical instruments are used as much to sing praises to the Heavenly Mother as to sing songs of political criticism or popular or court dances. They dress with sounds both the "light" and the "harsh and subtle" rhymes of the troubadours, they resonate in the churches where the confraternities of Laudesi gather to sing praises to the Lord, fill the courts and court the monasteries. The figure of the "practical musician", who composes music for the senses, is gradually changing until it becomes confused with that of the theorist and at the end of the fourteenth century a mathematician, astrologer and musician such as Francesco Landini owes his international fame both to his qualities as an intellectual and to his ability as an organist.

Theatrum Instrumentorum