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Music History from Primary Sources an Introductory Essay

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Moldenhauer Archives at the Library of Congress | Table of Contents

Music History from Primary Sources An Introductory Essay
Alfred Mann

A vellum leaf, 22 by 17 cm., from a prayer book. The letter forms of early Gothic script suggest the twelfth century, or a period even earlier. Neumes (marked in red) are placed above the first four lines of the Latin text. The entire page is richly illuminated in black, red, and blue, with a heavy gold layer decorating the initial A for the phrase beginning "Adoro te." The leaf was obtained for the Moldenhauer Archives from the music dealer and publishing firm Schneider, Tutzing.

The Art of Musical Notation
In its primary sources, music merges with the representational arts. Oral tradition has played a fundamental role in all ages, but in its formal sense, history--and the history of music--begins with the visual record.

Musical notation, having emerged on a wide scale in all civilizations, produced in itself a highly individual record of artistic endeavor. The medieval monks who compiled the missals and other liturgical books for the service of worship rose from their function as scribes to artists in their own right; among the greatest documents of Baroque art are the holographs by Bach; and an entirely novel phase in artistic musical score design was initiated in the twentieth century. The primary sources of music reproduced in this volume rely on various aspects of the graphic arts, but foremost among them stands the representation of the musical sound itself, the art of musical notation.

Among the manifold forms the written image of music has taken are letters or syllables, to represent individual tones, and symbols to represent groups of them. But a more advanced approach is expressed in notation guided not only by the wish to fix the immediate impression of a given musical sound but by the attempt to...

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