Collected Stories « PREV | NEXT »: Collected Stories

December 9, 2010

Common Roots

Last night, at the Baryshnikov Arts Center's Movado Hour, I heard the Ensemble Organum, a group of unaccompanied French singers, perform Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame.  This fourteenth-century work (it dates from around 1364) is generally considered to be the first complete mass to which a single composer's name has been attached.  That is interesting enough, and so is the way in which these six male singers performed the mass, with harmonies that mingled an uncanny underlying drone with a filigree of strange melodies overlaid on top.  But what made the evening for me was the way their sound strenuously evoked three other kinds of music: that of a Hebrew cantor in a synagogue, that of an Arabic singer of folk melodies, and that of a Russian Orthodox choir.  You could not hear this early Christian music without, I think, thinking of those other three strands of musical history.  It is as if all these religions--Islam, Judaism, Byzantine Christianity, and Roman Christianity--started with a common musical root, and only began to diverge sometime after the fourteenth century.  Of course, I do not know how accurate the Ensemble Organum's reconstructions are; perhaps this is just a lovely myth of origin that they have created for us, a common past belatedly imposed on a fragmented present.  But even if that is the case (and somehow I doubt it: these guys seem very serious in their purposes, both musical and religious), I am grateful for the gift of the illusion--or allusion, if it does indeed turn out to be historically true.  Can anyone who knows more than I do about the history of music please shed some light on this?
December 9, 2010 7:37 AM | | Comments (0)

Leave a comment


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


    ARTicles ARTicles is a project of 
    the National Arts Journalism Program, an association of some 500 journalists in the United States. Our group blog is a place for arts and cultural journalists to share ideas and information, to celebrate what we do, and to make the case for its continuing value. ARTicles is edited by Laura Collins-Hughes. To contact her, click here.

    ARTicles Bloggers Meet our bloggers: Sasha Anawalt, MJ Andersen, Alicia Anstead, Laura Bleiberg, Larry Blumenfeld, Jeanne Carstensen, Robert Christgau, Laura Collins-Hughes, Thomas Conner, Lily Tung Crystal, Richard Goldstein, Patti Hartigan, Glenn Kenny, Wendy Lesser, Ruth Lopez, Nancy Malitz, Douglas McLennan, Tom Moon, Abe Peck, Peter Plagens, John Rockwell, Werner Trieschmann, Lesley Valdes and Douglas Wolk. more

    NAJP NAJP is America's largest organization dedicated to the advancement of arts and cultural journalism. The NAJP has produced research, publications and discussions and works to bring together journalists, artists, news executives, cultural organization administrators, funders and others concerned with arts and culture in America today. more

    Join NAJP Join America's largest organization of arts journalists. Here's how more

see all archives