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The Christian Singer: Charlemagne and Beyond

The Christian Singer: Charlemagne and Beyond

Lecture by Christopher Page

Given at St. Sepulchre Without Newgate, London, on February 17, 2017

In the year 754 the first pope ever to cross the Alps came to a small chapel in what is now northern France and prostrated himself before the king of the Franks, beseeching him for military aid. The pope came with singers from the Roman song school. When he and the king signed ‘treaties of peace’ together the foundations were laid for what has long been known as Gregorian (or better ‘Frankish-Roman’) Chant. This is the music of a transalpine Western Europe beginning to revive, albeit very slowly, after the withdrawal of Roman imperial power. No activity marked this broader horizon more potently, or more often, than the daily celebration of Gregorian chant by priests, deacons and singers.

Excerpt: How did this Gregorian or Frankish-Roman music come into existence? Why should we care? My answer to that would be that we are looking into the origins of our music in the West. How wide should the compass of a vocal melody be before it ceases to lie comfortably in the voice? How long should a musical phrase last before there is a pause for breath, and how should the arrival of that moment be signalled according to the weight of the pause? How should a melody set the balance between stepwise movement and leaps? Gregorian plainsong offered persuasive answers to all those questions, and composers absorbed them until the reformation and in many places long after.

To read a transcript of this lecture and more information, please visit the Gresham College website.

See also Roman Singing and its Influence Across Europe

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