November 12, 2010

Prof, music man, organizes medieval music

Master of the Humanities Thomas Christensen analyzed the evolution of medieval music in a discussion at Wieboldt on Wednesday.

Christensen, a professor of music, focused on his contribution to the forthcoming edition of The Cambridge History of Medieval Music.

To help organize the field of medieval music, Christensen proposed four general categories: classical, cantorial, music theory, and vernacular.

He said the obstacles in setting up these categories are the sheer volume and variety of materials, as well as a lack of an understanding of genre we have today. “In a culture in which originality and authorship were not understood as today, the whole question of textual authority arises…in short, the medieval manuscript text is a notoriously unstable entity,” Christensen said.

The first category, classical music texts, was not concerned with practical music theory but with the philosophical and aesthetic meaning of music. Christensen said some of the more important pieces laid the foundation for the medieval understanding of the importance of music.

Music theory, Christensen said, was the beginning of a practical system for teaching music in the Western world—it was less literary and consisted mainly of notations, modal divisions, and chant practice.

Audience members expressed concern about the exclusion of Biblical psalms from his categories. Christensen said that psalms don’t necessarily fit into the medieval period but is taking their comments into consideration.