Art and architecture

Music in Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries

Character playing the horn in an illuminated initial from St Gregory the Great's "Moralia in Job", Abbey of Saint-Pierre at Préaux.  Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen (ms 498, A 183, fol. 193 v°).In the Middle Ages, music was one of the seven liberal arts, taught in both the cathedral and monastic schools of Normandy. Music was considered to be a science and it was one of the arts of the Quadrivium (with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy). Musician playing the harp and singer (?) holding a roll of parchment, in a historiated letter from St Gregory the Great's "Moralia in Job". The abbey that was most famous for the quality of its musical training was Fécamp. A school of singing was created and run by one of the first two abbots of Italian origin, William of Volpiano (1001-1028) and his disciple John of Ravenna (1028-1079). They were probably the first to establish a musical notation system where notes were represented by letters: A, B, C, etc. This system is still used today especially in the English and German speaking countries. In parallel with this, during the 11th century, signs were used, called "neumes", to represent the developments of melody above liturgical texts. These were gradually arranged around a line. This was the starting point for the stave, which also seems to have originated in Fécamp. The German abbot Isembard of La Trinité-du-Mont (died 1054) Crowned character playing the lute, the illuminated initial B of "Beatus vir ..." (The Beatitudes).and his disciples composed numerous pieces of music.

We know little of secular music. In the 12th century, at the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine an author by the name of Wace probably sang his songs in the Norman dialect, and in particular his Roman de Rou. King David playing the harp. Commentary on the Psalms by St Augustine, Abbey of Saint-Evroult, 11th-12th c. Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen (ms 456, A. 19).In the following generation, King Richard the Lion Heart was himself a composer: we know of a song by him and he can thus be included among the ranks of the minstrels.

We know about the musical instruments represented in the manuscript miniatures in the great monastic libraries (Jumièges, St Évroult or Mont-Saint-Michel). The harp often appears, as this was the traditional instrument of King David. Stringed instruments are represented, as are wind instruments such as the trumpet, flute or organ. This last instrument had begun to come into use in churches. At the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, Baudry of Dol writes with enthusiasm about the installation of an organ in the abbey church of Fécamp.


François Neveux
ouen - Office universitaire d'études normandes
Université de Caen
Ill. : Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen


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