I haven't seen the Howard Goodall's show ; however, some statements made at
the blurb and mentioned by James Kearney are, at least, pretty suspicious.
1) The astonishment of Mr. Goodall about the "dramatic breakthrough made by
just a few monks a lot of centuries ago" doesn't seems to be so astonishing
upon the following considerations: a) only a few monks (among the medieval
crowds of human beings) needed a notational system of music; b) because of
this, only those few monks could create it.
2) Music began to be written down in the western world at least two
centuries before Guido. There are, even, examples of polyphonic writing
from IXth century.
3) Mr. Goodall's "experiment" only proves how bad is the memory of the
choristers of Salisbury. They were, of course, educated in a typographical
musical culture, and then, the fact it's not strange. But it must be noted
that even in the XIIIth century, musical writing was not intended to be
"read" as in the present. Books were consulted only when memory failed.
The choirmaster was the only able to read music from the books, and
then he transmitted the melodies orally to the choristers, just as in Mr.
Goodall's "experiment". It must be remembered that Perotin's most complex
"Organa" were sung by this method. The main purpose which moved the Church
to develop a notational system was less to promote a nice communication
between composers and singers than to give a normative: a fixed corpus of
melodies, which were part of an established liturgy. If prayers must be
written down, so does the music. Musical reading did not fully replace
memory in a few years. It was a very slow process. Sorry, I don't believe
in "Big Bangs", but in Eliot's whimpers (and Headpieces filled with straw
as Mr. Goodall's).
4) Many compositions of our own century, though based upon intrincated
theories, are much less "rich" or "complex" than medieval plainchant, which
is not precisely "simple". If we pay credit to that old superstition of
"evolving music", we'll often have surprises comparing some ancient works
(Ars Subtilior, Ockeghem, etc) with some modern ones.
5) The "Sibelius" (and similar musical softwares) has the following
tremendous impact on music publication and composition: now you can print
music at your own home, you can rewrite a score as many times as you want,
and, perhaps, you don't have to do that horrible task of copying dirty
manuscripts. The revolution of musical software doesn't seems to be more
important than the invention of the word processors in literature.
6) "Dark ages" is a commonplace fully rejected even for those who have
advanced a little in the knowledge of middle ages...
Excuse me, if these considerations seems a little harsh.
[log in to unmask]