A Brief History of Music


The Middle Ages

The Renaissance

The Baroque Era

The Classical Era

The Romantic Era

The 20th Century


The Middle Ages

In an exploration of medieval music, we encounter the the most distant and longest era of "real" musical history. Saint Gregory (Svaty Rehor in Czech) is credited with arranging a large number of choral works, which arose in the early centuries of Christianity in Europe. He was pope (Pope Gregory I) from the year 590 AD to 604 AD and from his name we get the term Gregorian chant. The Medieval era lasted until the 14th century, which means it covers a period of history of almost 1,000 years.

One problem, in fact an essential one, which has to be dealt with in the study of medieval music is that the system of musical notation developed only slowly, if it was even in use at all. The first preserved finds of musical notation come from the 9th century. Rhythmic notation wasn't developed until the 12th - 13th century.

Pict. - Chart of the Evolution of Musical Notation

Gregorian chant is monophonic, that is, music composed with only one melodic line without accompaniment. The authors of the melodies of the Gregorian chants remain unknown. As with the melodies of folk music, the chants probably changed as they were passed down orally from generation to generation.

Polyphony is music where two or more melodic lines are heard at the same time in a harmony. Polyphony didn't exist (or it wasn't on record) until the 11th century. Although the majority of medieval polyphonic works are anonymous - the names of the authors were either not preserved or simply never known - there are some composers whose work was so significant that their names were recorded along with their work.

Important Composers

Hildegard von Bingen(1098 - 1179)
Perotin (1155 - 1377)
Guillame de Machau (1300 - 1377)
John Dumstable (1385 - 1453)
Guillame Dufay (1400 - 1474)

Czech Music in the Middle Ages

The history of music in the Czech, Slovak and Polish regions, whose political and cultural fortunes in the early centuries were closely connected, we can somewhat more safely follow after the arrival of Christianity, which was brought to these countries around the year 830 by German missionaries. The knights of Rastislav attempted to resist this encroachment by summoning a Slavic mission led by Constantine and Methodius in 863. They introduced to this country the liturgy sung in Old Church Slavic, which was at that time understandable to laymen, unlike that in Latin. The fall of the Great Moravian Empire, however, led to the victory and re-introduction of the Latin liturgy. In spite of this, however, the Old Church Slavic songs survived in popular performance.

The spiritual song is represented in the Czech area by relics of exceptional value, especially Hospodine, pomilu ny! (Lord, Have mercy). It is unmistakeably the oldest and most faithfully preserved popular spiritual song to have survived to the present. Its singing is recorded historically with great probability in the Year 1055 in the writing of the chronicler Kosma. Another surviving record is the song Svaty Vaclave (Saint Wenceslas), which is mentioned in the chronicles of Benes Krabice of Veitmil as well-known of old, certainly by the end of the 13th century.

In the writing of first chroniclers, for example in those of Kosma, they speak on many occaisions about secular folk songs and professional musicians. Political and cultural orientation opened Bohemia and Moravia up to the influence of German aristocratic arts, such as minnesang (hence Minnesingers minstrels and musicians of this period.)

Pic. - Musical notation of the song "Hospodine, pomiluj ny"(Lord, Have mercy)
(Earliest recorded musical notation in the Czech lands)

A famous period of spiritual songs was the Czech Reformation. In the Bethlehem chapel, Master Jan Hus consistently devoted his attention to popular songs and old traditions, and he's named as the composer of a number of songs by the Jistebnice hymn book, such as Jezu Ktriste, scedry kneze , Navstev nas a Kriste zaduci. From Hus' contemporaries, the book presents the work of the composer Jeronym Prazsky. The basic record of Hus' songs is the above-mentioned Jistebnice hymn book, which was compiled sometime in the 1420's. It contains songs for Mass, Vespers, and a furthur collection of martial and spiritual songs. The only author whose name is known is a priest from Tabor named Jan Capek .

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