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Thoughts on Ancient Music

Posted by on December 14, 2014 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (10310)

Taken from our programme for the Inaugural Gala Concert, November 30, 2014

Ancient Music is our name for music that pre-dates the Baroque era.

Why should we care about and want to listen to music that is more than 400 years old?

Firstly, because it is wonderful music! With its modal tonalities it is exotic and colourful. Early monophonic music bears us along on a liquid stream of pure, distilled melody. The spare, open harmonies of the earliest polyphonies are like a palette-cleanser for the rich fare of the music we feast on daily. And the gentle expression and playful sentimentality of late renaissance part songs echo our own familiar experience of small comforts and human-scale feelings, set against a tumultuous world. 

Secondly, because this was a hugely important period, musically speaking, during which Western Music took on the musical language we understand today. The music up to about 1450  sounds strange and foreign to our modern ears yet, by the end of the next hundred years, music had settled on regular eight bar phrases, harmonies based on triads, major and minor tonalities, dominant to tonic cadences – in short, all the elements and conventions found in 90% of the music we hear today.

Thirdly, because it links us to the distant voices of the past, and reminds us of our commonality with a world not so very different from our own. When we are moved by music that moved listeners hundreds of years ago, we can sense the universality of our struggles, pleasures and dreams.

Bill Jamieson