Medieval Music: A Norton Introduction to Music History by Richard H. Hoppin

This is the first volume in the Norton Introduction to Music History series.  I do not have any others in this series, but I can tell you each volume in this series has accompanying recorded anthology box set.

The book is from 1978.  By this point, the Early Music revival was in full swing, having begun as part of the early 1960s counterculture that eventually evolved into what we popularly know now as the hippie movement.  Scholarship in this area led to new discoveries and new understandings, and before long groups and ensembles were popping up in and around university settings, which in turn further expanded the scholarship and repertoire of Early Music.  Norton is one of the most trusted names in classical music when it comes to both history and recorded performance.  Trust me when I say their reputation is secure to this day, and this is one of the books that established it.

I’ll just come out and say it: if you’re interested in learning about this topic and want only one book, this is a most worthy tome.  It clocks in at over 500 pages as a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s dense material, keeping in mind that the past is an alien world, and this book was put together by a man who is both a medievalist and a musicologist who received his doctorate from Harvard in 1961.  The information in this book will unlock itself for you, but only if you meet it halfway and rise to its level.

It begins with an introduction to the history from the fall of the Roman Empire to 1000 AD.  From there, Christian liturgy from 300 – 1000 AD is discussed, and the book hits the ground running from there, exploring the development of liturgies and the place of music within that framework.  Gregorian chant, the Catholic Mass, polyphony, organum, motets, the Carmina Burana, troubadours, Ars Nova, Guillaume de Machaut… all of this and more are here for the asking, with the final chapters transitioning into the Renaissance.  Mix in some examples of early sheet music and some black and white artistic reproductions, and the end result is a book geared towards the enthusiast or scholar as a rock solid place to begin their journey through the Medieval soundscape.

Having said all that, much of what’s in this volume is seriously esoteric, even by geek standards.  I found a used copy of it online a few months back, and I’ve been chipping away at it a little at a time since.  It covers everything I’d know to ask about and a little more besides, and it dives deep.  I’m not going to pretend I have a full grasp of everything in here yet.  It’s going to be a process, and that’s fine by me.  It’s part of my continued lifelong learning and appreciation.  To that end, I’m proud to have this volume as part of my personal library.

As a bonus, it just so happens that an ex-girlfriend left behind her copy of the book’s companion CDs some years ago.  Funny how things work out sometimes.

5 stars

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