By RICHARD L. CROCKER
The Gentle Voice of Teachers: Aspects of Learning in the Carolingian Age, edited by Richard E. Sullivan (Ohio State University Press, 1995)
Introduction: As the Carolingian Franks picked their way — figuratively and literally — among the Roman ruins, they encountered many strange and wonderful things. But it is a mistake to think that they learned about these in a systematic fashion, starting from a core of well-defined principles and procedures. Instead, they encountered these things in a state where the cultural system had disappeared. The Franks had to deal with items individually, out of context, without relationship to each other. They extrapolated from single, isolated items, combining these with other items not according to a tradition of cultural coherence but only according to Frankish imagination and resourcefulness.
Learning about the music of the Roman world involved several different—indeed disparate—matters. Closest to hand was the repertory of Christian Latin chant sung in Rome, especially by the papal choir. Then there was a corpus of theoretical writings about the music of secular Latin culture. These theoretical writings were accessible in comprehensive summaries by Boethius (d. ca. 524) and Martianus Capella (fourth or fifth century); the musical practice, however, on which these writings were based was almost certainly no longer available to the Franks. And the Roman musical practice that they could and did learn had no direct connection to the theoretical writings. The Franks learned both the theory and the practice, and eventually made them go together, but with results that were completely new as far as the Latin West was concerned. This same process went on in more detailed ways in a number of different contexts and affected the ways the Franks learned and used all aspects of music — indeed, the very nature of music as they conceived it.