Earlier this month we mentioned that the history of music corresponds somewhat with the history of the Christian church. In order to fully understand early music, we must understand how chant fits into the Christian liturgy.
The Mass was considered the most important part of the church during the Middle Ages. It commemorates the Last Supper and includes various rituals, psalm singing, prayer, and scripture reading. You may have also heard of the Office – 8 services performed daily at specific times. The Office is mostly seen in monasteries and convents. Each service includes psalms paired with antiphons (chant sung before and after the psalm). It also includes Bible readings, responsories, hymns, and canticles. Have you heard of a psalm tone? This is a term that refers to a formula used to sing psalms in the Office. These formulas were written in a way to fit any psalm and there was one psalm tone for each church mode.
We have looked at early music in the sacred context. It was a huge part of the church service, both in the Mass and the Office. But did it exist in the secular world? Let’s look at this next time.