Saturday, July 24

“Funny language”: Do, re, mi… where do the musical notes come from?

NOTIsn’t it amazing that you can write all the music in the world with just seven little notes? From Mozart to the winner of the last Eurovision Song Contest? To write a book in French, you still need twenty-six letters …

Humans have probably always made music – at least singing, drumming… – but, until they developed an effective system to keep and transmit melody and rhythm, everything was based on memorization and fragile oral transmission. From Antiquity, we find traces of attempts at musical transcription, but too complex, it seems, to have been imposed and to have lasted.

In medieval times, it took a monk several years to memorize all the hymns sung. And it is quite logically an Italian musician – who was also a Benedictine monk -, Guido d’Arezzo (he is sometimes called “Gui l’Aretin”, in French), who, in the XIe century, realizing the difficulty encountered by its peers, devised the scoring system which is still in use today, a millennium later.

Ut, crossword favorite

This Guido d’Arezzo, a brilliant teacher, had the idea of ​​using the first verses of a Gregorian chant that everyone knew by heart, theHymn to Saint John the Baptist, which presented this interesting characteristic of rising in tone at the beginning of each of the first hemistiches. Guido d’Arezzo associated a note of the scale with the first syllable of each “half-line”, syllables which happen to be: “Ut, ré, mi, fa, sol, la, si”. The worms themselves being: “UT queant laxis, / REsonare fibris, / MIra gestorum, / FAmuli tuorum, / SOLve polluti, / LAbii reatum, / Sancte Ioannes”.

The meaning of the poem is ambiguous, according to specialists. It would mean something like: “So that your marvelous accomplishments may resound with relaxed strings of our lips, deliver your unclean servants from sin, O Saint John.” We also find supporters of: “So that the disciples of your precepts may, admirable thing, make flexible strings musical, take away the evil from their soiled lips, O Saint John.” “

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Anyway, for the last hemistich, “Sancte Iohannes”, it is not the first syllable but the initials of the two words. Sanctuary and Ioannes, “Saint John”, which were chosen, which gives the note “if”.

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