Nasty Gap and Lovely Suspense: Thinkable and Hearable Music in the Middle Ages

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Journal Article
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University of Canterbury
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Wagner, Silvan

Granted: If you ask for the very nature of music, you won’t focus on medieval music in the first place. If you talk about music, the ‘dark age‘ usually serves as a sort of nursery of music, which, in the proper sence, takes its historical place nevertheless just since the Renaissance. This narcissistic narrative of progression towards the modern era has not only despectively named the Middle Ages as such but also has its offshoot in this era itself: If you want to inform yourself about pre-modern music heuristically, you will, first and last, find the narrative of the invention of polyphony (the sacred cow of modern western music) within the (despectively named) ‘ars antiqua ‘ and its overcoming through the (self-designated) ‘ars nova ‘ in the 14th century (late enough), transfering music to the Renaissance. Accordingly, one can sum up the approximately 1000 years of medieval music with the three names Leonin, Perotin and Guillaume de Machaut. In this perspectivisation, the modern age certainly runs the risk of just admiring itself in the looking glass.

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