Saturday morning quotes 4.15: Elemental music
We tend to take every opportunity to remind our readers that to ignore history is to invite avoidable encounters with disaster, misery and peril. Repeating unfortunate aspects of our historical past, such as enabling society’s trend towards feudalism, is the natural result of a complacent populace. But dismissing important cultural links to the past such as the importance of music and its essential function is a soul-deadening exercise in ignorance.
Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries music played a major role in the religious and social life of the Burgundian–Netherlands courts. Sacred music was closely bound to the daily activities of the court chapel—Mass, hours (especially vespers), and special rituals, such as memorial services, solemnization of treaties, marriages, and so on. The chapel music was in the hands of the clergy and trained singers, two groups that are not easily distinguished. Members of the court chapel combined the tasks of priest, singer, composer, choirmaster, organist, music teacher, and scribe in the course of their duties.
– Martin Picker, The Chanson Albums of Marguerite of Austria, University of California Press, Cambridge, 1965, p.21.
Music is still here, there and everywhere if we step outside ourselves for a moment and take notice. Of course radio, TV and movies serve up a constant supply of sounds that some call music. We are also inundated with canned soundtracks in public spaces whether over an invisible PA system or via appalling ring tones that spew from devices that seem to occupy everyone’s pockets. But music that is not visibly produced by a real person is categorized as incidental.
As every lutenist knows, taking the considerable amount of time from one’s life to learn to play the lute well is a thankless exercise. Even fellow musicians don’t seem to understand that a quiet instrument demands focused attention from the listener, and not an amplifier. Unlike the denizens of the 15th-century Burgundian court, scheduling meditative time to thoughtfully linger in the realm of quiet and nuanced sound isn’t on everyone’s 21st-century daily agenda. But we think it should be.
Music for the lute is elemental. But taking music a step closer to its fundamental elements, music for solo voice is pure and absolute. Donna Stewart’s new recording of solo chant hymns and Marian antiphons, Adoro Te, is gaining traction among the cognoscenti, despite our distinct lack of effective promotion while dwelling off-the-grid. Reviewer Mary Jane Ballou gave the recording a glowing review on the Chant Cafe site, and we are pleased to know that listeners are willing to step inside the spiritual realm of vital and necessary music that has fed the human soul for the past several centuries.