An Ancient Philosophical Song Reconstructed and Played for the First Time in 1,000 Years

Above and below, you can watch musi­cians per­form “Songs of Con­so­la­tion,” a 1,000-year-old song set “to the poet­ic por­tions of Roman philoso­pher Boethius’ mag­num opus The Con­so­la­tion of Phi­los­o­phy,” an influ­en­tial medieval text writ­ten dur­ing the 6th cen­tu­ry. Accord­ing to Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty, the per­for­mance of the piece, which had been lost in time until recent­ly, did­n’t come eas­i­ly:

[T]he task of per­form­ing such ancient works today is not as sim­ple as read­ing and play­ing the music in front of you. 1,000 years ago, music was writ­ten in a way that record­ed melod­ic out­lines, but not ‘notes’ as today’s musi­cians would recog­nise them; rely­ing on aur­al tra­di­tions and the mem­o­ry of musi­cians to keep them alive. Because these aur­al tra­di­tions died out in the 12th cen­tu­ry, it has often been thought impos­si­ble to recon­struct ‘lost’ music from this era – pre­cise­ly because the pitch­es are unknown.

Now, after more than two decades of painstak­ing work on iden­ti­fy­ing the tech­niques used to set par­tic­u­lar verse forms, research under­tak­en by Cam­bridge University’s Dr Sam Bar­rett has enabled him to recon­struct melodies from the redis­cov­ered leaf of the 11th cen­tu­ry ‘Cam­bridge Songs’.

The song is per­formed here by Ben­jamin Bag­by, Han­na Mar­ti and Nor­bert Rodenkirchen, three mem­bers of the medieval music ensem­ble known as Sequen­tia.

via Cam­bridge/IFL Sci­ence

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to a Record­ing of a Song Writ­ten on a Man’s Butt in a 15-Cen­tu­ry Hierony­mus Bosch Paint­ing

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

See The Guidon­ian Hand, the Medieval Sys­tem for Read­ing Music, Get Brought Back to Life

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

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Comments (3)
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  • Alan Cooper says:

    What on earth hap­pened in the 12th cen­tu­ry that would explain a com­plete loss of “aur­al tra­di­tions” in music when oth­er aspects of cul­ture seem to have kept going just fine?

  • Lorenzo Posocco says:

    Well, it’s not that hard to explain. In 12th/13th cen­tu­ry peo­ple start­ed to use mod­ern sym­bols in music. Aur­al tra­di­tion was not required any­more.

  • Susan Holland says:

    As it was then so it shall be again. Our tech­ni­cal era has tak­en away the require­ment for cur­sive writ­ing. If the world is set on fire we will lose all paper records and it will be a hard job to dig up those records that were kept safe. (if any­one is left, that is.)

    This is real­ly a love­ly “find!” Keep up the good work!

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