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Guido of Arezzo

(Guido Aretinus).

A monk of the Order of St. Benedict, b. (according to Dom Morin in the "Revue de l'art Chretien", 1888, iii) near Paris c. 995; d. at Avellano, near Arezzo, 1050. He invented the system of staff-notation still in use, and rendered various other services to the progress of musical art and science. He was educated by and became a member of the Benedictine Order in the monastery of St. Maur des Fosses, near Paris. Early in his career Guido observed the confusion which prevailed in the teaching and performance of liturgical melodies generally, and especially in his immediate surroundings. His endeavours to improve these conditions by innovations in the current methods of teaching are fully described in his writings; these made him unpopular with his brethren in the order and led to his removals to the monastery of Pomposa near Ferrara, Italy. Here the same lot seems to have befallen him. Intrigues and calumnies caused him to ask for admission to the monastery of Arezzo. The exact date of his entrance into this community is uncertain, but it occurred during the incumbency of Theudald as Bishop of Arezzo (i.e., between 1033 and 1036), and while Grunwald was abbot of the monastery. It was during this period that Guido perfected the new system of notation which brought such order and clearness into the teaching of music. Guido seems by this time to have overcome all opposition to his new method, and to have removed all doubt as to its value among those who took cognizance of it and saw its application. His fame soon reached the reigning pope, John XIX (1024-1033), who sent three different messengers urging Guido to come to Rome and exhibit his antiphonary containing the liturgical melodies transcribed from the sign-notation heretofore in use into his own staff-notation. Pope John was overjoyed at the ease with which he was enabled to decipher and learn the melodies without the aid of a master, and invited Guido to take up his abode in Rome, to instruct the Roman clergy in the new system, and to introduce it into general practice in the Eternal City. Unfortunately the Roman climate made it impossible for Guido to accept the invitation of the supreme pontiff. He soon fell ill of Roman fever and had to leave the city. He now returned to the monastery of Pomposa. The abbot (also called Guido) and monks, who had caused him so much chagrin by their opposition to his innovations, now received him with open arms, admitted their former mistake, and urged him to become a member of the community. His stay at Pomposa seems to have been only of short duration, for he soon returned to Arezzo. Regarding the remaining days of the reformer, traditional reports vary. M. Faulty (Studi su Guido Monaco, 1882) holds that Guido ended his days at Arezzo, while others are of the opinion, based upon the chronicle and other evidences of a Camaldolese monastery near Avellano, that Guido died there as prior in the year 1050. Guido himself has left to posterity in his "Epistola Michaeli monaco Pomposiano" (reprinted in Gerbert's Scriptures, ii) a naive but lively description of his, for the most part, eventful life, its trials and bitterness, and his final triumph over the opponents of his innovations.

In order to realize the importance of Guido's services to musical progress and development it is necessary to take a glance at the systems of the notation in use before his time. Since in the early Church the liturgical melodies were not very numerous and were in daily use, they were easily perpetuated by oral transmission among the clergy, the chanters, and the people; but, as Christian hymnody developed with the expansion of the liturgy, and as the number of feasts increased the melodies became too numerous to be learned and retained by the memory without the aid of some unchangeable means. The absence of this determining means, the frequent carelessness of copyists, the temperament and even caprice of singers, and the great variety of conditions under which they were propagated and performed caused the melodies to undergo numerous changes. The necessity for a system of notation which would clearly record the various intervals of the melodies became more and more urgent. While in theoretical treatises the practice of the Greeks of employing the first fifteen letters of the alphabet to designate the various intervals was still in use, there was no means at hand by which the intervals and rhythm of a melody ;might be graphically displayed, so that anyone might learn it from a manuscript without the aid of a master. The so-called neumatic notation (from meuma, a nod), which probably in the eighth century found its way from the Orient into the Latin Church, where it suffered many modifications, had mainly a rhythmical purpose, and was intended to serve only in a general way a diastematic end, i.e. an indication of the intervals of the melody. An attempt to indicate the intervals with greater precision was made by placing the neumatic signs at a lesser or greater distance from the words comprising the text, and, in order to obtain more exact results from this proceeding, the copyist would draw a line upon which he would place one of the letters of the alphabet and from which he would measure the distance of the melodic steps above or below. It is held that Guido found two such lines in use, namely, a red one upon which F was placed, and a yellow one for C, indicating the place of the tones represented by these letters of the alphabet and employed by theorists of his time. His great improvement consisted in adding two more lines to the existing ones, in utilizing the spaces between the lines themselves and in indicating, by combining the letters of the alphabet with the neumatic signs, not only the various intervals of the melody, but also its rhythm. This system, called staff-notation, has been used ever since. The reason why only four lines were used, instead of the five we employ, is that these four and the five spaces were regarded as sufficient for the ambitus, or range, of the average Gregorian melody. In the course of time as the melodies were transcribed into the new notation, the neumatic signs formerly in use evolved into our present notes, and the letters F and C became the clefs of later times. Guido's influence was so great in his time that many things have been attributed to him which belong to a later period; but which are elaborations and developments of his teachings. The impetus he gave to musical progress lasted throughout the Middle Ages. Especially did incipient polyphony advance by his advocacy of contrary motion of the voices as against the still prevailing parallelism. Of the works attributed to him, the following are undoubtedly authentic: "Micrologus de disciplina artis musicae', which treatise, especially the fifteenth chapter, is invaluable to present-day students endeavoring to ascertain the original rhythmical and melodic form of the Gregorian chant; "Regulae de ignoto cantu", prologue to his antiphonarium in staff-notation; "Epistola Michaeli monaco de ignoto cantu directa:. All these were reproduced in Gerbert's "Scriptores", ii, 2-50.

The Hand of Guido (also known as the Guidonian Hand) is based on the solmization which Guido is credited with having developed c.1025. The syllable names are based on the hymn:

ut queant laxis

resonare fibris

mira storum

famuli tuorum

solve polluti

labii reatum

Sancte Joannes!

Since the hymn ascends from one note of the scale to another at the beginning of each line as the music proceeds, the association between each scale tone and the syllable at the beginning of the line.

In a response to Romain Ferrari on the usenet news group rec.music.early, John Howell tells the history of the development of solmization in this manner:

Dear Romain: There is nothing legendary about Guido. We have his writings, in which he describes his innovations. I suspect that the situation was one that has been repeated many times in the development of human culture. The time was right, there was a background of developments that had not yet been codified, and one person, in one place, with professional responsibilities that led him to seek new solutions turned out to be the one person who did the work and gets the credit.

The "thousand years old tradition system" was simply to learn new music by ear, listening to a teacher sing it and memorizing it. There was no system of musical notation in general use. This held true until the middle of the 9th century, when the "Musica enchiriadis" and its companion treatise appeared and explained how the new art of improvising a 2nd part to an existing chant melody was done. The musical illustrations of this
"organum" were notated in a very strange but absolutely accurate pitch notation, derived somewhat from ancient Greek music theory and based on disjunct tetrachords with a half step between the two middle notes. It used lines drawn across the page--one line for each note--with the syllables of the text placed in the space over the line representing the pitch for that syllable.

Theorists apparently used this notation over the next century, but working musicians never did. Instead, beginning in the early 10th century, they began experimenting with the mnenomic devices called neumes, sketched in over the lines of text as reminders of the melodies that had already been memorized. Hightened neumes were more exact, and one or two dry lines scored across the page to represent fixed pitches even more so.

That is the state of musical notation when Guido was born. At about the age of 20, he was assigned to teach the choirboys their chants, a task that he said took about 10 years. He wanted to make the process more efficient. Taking elements of the various experimental notations that he was obviously aware of, he codified a notational system that used staff lines like the enchiriadis notation but also used the spaces between the lines.
He also expanded the system of disjunct tetrachords from the enchiriadis notation into a system of overlapping hexachords, retaining the key feature of the tetrachords--the half step between the two middle notes. And yes, he composed the melody to that hymn and invented the ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la system of syllables that was still being taught in almost its original form well into the 18th century, 800 years later!

Guido has been called a music theorist. I disagree. To me he is one of the most inventive and effective music educators who has ever lived. His system made it possible to teach the choirboys all the chants of the mass
and offices in two years rather than 10. It also made it possible, for the first time in the Christian era, for a singer to read a new piece of music accurately without ever having heard it sung.

Yes, one person can make that big a difference. But don't think that his innovations were universally known, appreciated, or adopted. There are books of Spanish chant from as late as the 14th century that are unreadable today because they use the neumatic system and there are no parallel
sources in a more readable notation.

While this presents (in marvelously colorful style!) the history of the solmization, it doesn't really illustrate what it was, nor how it works. The folowing table goes some distance to fill this void (note that one of the many original versions of this table is here, at Thesaurus Musicarum Latinorum):

 

durum

naturale

molle

durum

naturale

molle

durum

 

 

 

 

 

 

e

la

 

 

 

 

 

d''

la

sol

 

 

 

 

 

c''

sol

fa

 

 

 

 

 

b-flat'

fa

mi(flat')

 

 

 

 

a'

la

mi

re

 

 

 

 

g'

sol

re

ut

 

 

 

 

f'

fa

ut

 

 

 

 

e'

la

mi

 

 

 

 

d'

la

sol

re

 

 

 

 

c'

sol

fa

ut

 

 

 

 

b-flat

fa

mi(flat)

 

 

 

 

a

la

mi

re

 

 

 

 

g

sol

re

ut

 

 

 

 

f

fa

ut

 

 

 

 

e

la

mi

 

 

 

 

 

d

sol

re

 

 

 

 

 

c

fa

ut

 

 

 

 

 

B

mi

 

 

 

 

 

 

A

re

 

 

 

 

 

 

G

ut

 

 

 

 

 

 

The table is read from left-to-right, bottom-up. The first note is Gam, the lowest note that was acknowledged in theoretical works for centuries. This note got the singular name of "ut". Properly named, it is Gam-ut, and it would be written in text as G ut. The next two notes are named similarly: A re and B mi. These notes begin the 'hard' (durum) hexachord on G. At the next note, c fa ut, a new hexachord starts, and ut is the name of the first note in this hexachord. This is a "natural" hexachord, and proper naming of the notes require naming the note letter, and each syllable from each hexachord of which it is a member. Thus, c fa ut.

The next set of notes through f fa ut follow this pattern, with two syllable names after the letter name. The next note, g, starts another Hexachordum Molle, an octave above the first, but with the b flatted. The first three scales are called "Musica Vera", ie, true, or real music. The scales formed by octave shifts, with the B changed, are known as "Musica Ficta". Note that only six notes are considered part of the hexachord, which bear the names, in order, ut, re, mi, fa, sol., la, and stand in one column of the table above. Thus, the shifted hexachordum molle that starts on f' has the notes f' fa ut, g' sol re ut, a' la mi re, b(flat)' fa mi(flat'), c'' sol fa, and d'' la sol. The e'' la at the top of the second-to-last column where the hexachord syllables are found is not part of this hexachord.

In this way, each note of the 20 in the Gam-ut is fairly individually named. Since there are only 20 notes to deal with, memorizing the full proper names of each note wasn't hard, and in fact, compared to the previous system, it was considerably easier.

Guido not only codified this system, producing the four-lined staff with the neumes which fell on lines and spaces, but he also codified a mnemonic, referred to variously as the Hand of Guido (or Guidonian Hand), Guido's Harmonic Hand, and variations in languages across Europe. There are many representations of the Hand in music tretises, beginning in the 13th century and carrying on for as long as the hexachord system was used, deep into the 16th century. Two such illustrations are in the tretises of Amerus (example CSM25-24) and Elias Salomo (example GSIII-22). The former is less schematic, better showing where the notes lie on the hand, the latter is far more legible.

Thus we have Guido d'Arezzo to thank for the basis of the staff notation that we use to this day, and the names of the notes (letter names as well as solemization), and can credit him with an idea that found life again seven centuries later in the mind of Carl Orf. In fact, many systems of mnemonic using the hand have been attempted over the centuries, as shown on the Images of Memory; Hands page at the University of Brighton School of Design.