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Concise History of Western Music
Fourth Edition
Part I
The Ancient and
Medieval Worlds
By Barbara Russano Hanning
Based on J. Peter Burkholder, Donald J.
Grout, and Claude V. Palisca, A History of
Western Music, Eighth Edition
© 2010, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Vocal Music
• Singing has been a
natural outlet for
expression since the
beginning of human
• When combined with
language, music
becomes a powerful
tool for expression.
Vocal Music
• Vocal music dominated music history from
Antiquity through the Renaissance.
• Most of the surviving written music of this
period is vocal, although there is evidence of
instrumental music as well.
Vocal Music
• Both the ancient Greeks and the early
Christians placed a higher value on vocal
music than on instrumental music.
• In sixteenth–century Italy, some believed the
art of singing was the link that connected us
to the entire cosmos.
Mesopotamia and Egypt
Mesopotamia and Egypt
• Most of our ideas about music from these
regions are conjectures, as little historical
evidence has survived.
• Evidence indicates that both vocal and
instrumental music existed in the fourth
millennium B.C.E.
Mesopotamia and Egypt
• Instruments: lyres,
harps, lutes, pipes,
drums, cymbals, rattles,
and bells.
• Reconstruction of a
Sumerian bull lyre from
the royal tombs at Ur,
ca. 2500 B.C.E.
Mesopotamia and Egypt
• Inlaid panel from Ur
showing a bull lyre
being played at a victory
banquet, ca. 2600 B.C.E.
Mesopotamia and Egypt
• Types of music, like those today, included
wedding songs, funeral dirges, military
marches, tavern songs, and ceremonial music.
Music in Babylonia
• Babylonian musicians used seven-note scales.
• They created the first known notation during
the second millennium B.C.E.
• Most music was probably improvised or
played from memory.
Ancient Greece
• Music was seen to have special
powers, as suggested in the myth of
• Music could heal the body and soul.
• Plato recommended that the state be
founded on suitable types of music.
Fourteenth century
Fourteenth century
• Numerous important writers and artists
– Petrarch wrote lyrics that inspired composers for
– Boccaccio wrote Decameron: travelers escaping
from the plague.
– Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales: pilgrims
going to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket.
– Sculptor Giovanni Pisano and painter Giotto
anticipated the Renaissance in their works
Giotto, The Nativity, detail, ca. 1305
Musical trends
• Preoccupation with structure and form in
certain genres
• Songs of courtly love were extended into
polyphonic settings.
• Elaborate textures and complicated rhythms
characterized music at the end of the
fourteenth century.
• Polyphonic church music flourished in
cathedrals and private chapels.
Andrea Orcagna (?), The Dream of Life,
fresco, mid-fourteenth century
This concludes the presentation slides for
Part I: The Ancient and Medieval Worlds
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