Arts & Culture

Oldest Piece of Polyphonic Music Found: 1,100-Year-Old Chant (+Listen Here)

BY Tara MacIsaac TIMEDecember 30, 2014 PRINT

Once chanted solemnly in devotion to Boniface, the patron saint of Germany, this music has not found voice in centuries. Giovanni Varelli, a music Ph.D. student at St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, discovered it earlier this month. 

As an intern at the British Library, he came across a manuscript with an unusual notation, and he knew he’d made a significant discovery when he realized it consisted of two vocal parts complementing each other.

It’s unclear when exactly polyphonic music emerged; polyphonic literally means “different sounds,” it is choral music in which “two or more simultaneous melodic lines are perceived as independent even though they are related,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

It seems that this piece’s was trying something unconventional, which is unexpected for the time.

Varelli said, according to a Cambridge University news report, “What’s interesting here is that we are looking at the birth of polyphonic music and we are not seeing what we expected.”

“Typically, polyphonic music is seen as having developed from a set of fixed rules and almost mechanical practice,” he said. “This changes how we understand that development precisely because whoever wrote it was breaking those rules. It shows that music at this time was in a state of flux and development, the conventions were less rules to be followed, than a starting point from which one might explore new compositional paths.”

*Image of musical notation via Shutterstock

Tara MacIsaac is an editor and reporter who has worked on a variety of topics over the course of her ten years with The Epoch Times, including science, the environment, and local New York news. She is currently working with The Epoch Times edition based in Southern California.
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