Ars Nova in Music History

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Ars Nova is a musical style that flourished in France and Burgundian Low Countries in the Middle ages between the period 1310s till about 1400. It is translated “New Art”. During this time, the mode, time and pronation of music began to shift. Time signatures were born and there was a new structure to music and how it is made and performed. Different styles were developing, and the people of this time began to hear new sounds they have never heard before. Before Ars Nova, music was free. Gregorian Chant was the style of the medieval period. One-line chant in which the choir or congregation sung in unison. There was no such thing as a time signature or polyphony in which different sections would sing different parts together. There wasn’t a known way to change the tuning of the piano, so the C clef was moveable. There was so much freedom with no time or pitched notation that it is a wonder how they knew what to do. Most of the music during the Medieval Era was sacred. They glorified over the Mass which was their main source of music. Polyphony was born, and a new Era rose. The people of that time began to come up with rules and notations which made it more complex and creative. During Ars Nova new music formed. This new music increased the attention of secular music. There began new musical concepts. These composers during Ars Nova expressed a new freedom in composing and creating different times. There grew a tolerance for tempus imperfectum which was a duple meter. ” This old system duple divisions of the beat (as in 2/4 or 3/4 meter), while feasible, were neither theoretically recognized nor adequately provided for, thanks to the longstanding mystical belief in the perfection of the number 3 (the Trinity, etc. ). Until the 14th century ternary divisions (equivalent to our 6/8 or 9/8 meter) were the norm. The 14th-century theorists, interested more in practicality than in numerological mysticism, placed duple and triple mensuration on an equal footing. ”

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Music was only something that was used in the church, but now it is being heard from all over. You could now walk down the streets and hear secular music being played in different venues. Secular forms and lighter melodic figures are now being seen more than ever. Isorhythm, melody, accompaniment, new dissonance, as well as contrapuntal freedom. Ars Nova was really a spectacular time for music. Phillippe de Vitry was one of the first composers during Ars Nova. Vitry was born in 1291 and passed in 1361. The term Ars Nova originates form the final words of a treatise attributed to Vitry. Vitry was a composer, poet, church canon, and an administrator for a duke, king, and bishop. Vitry is mostly known for musical notation during Ars Nova. ” He was the author of the famous and authoritative treatise of music Ars nova, which dealt with the theoretical aspects of French music in the first half of the 14th century. It included an explanation of new theories of mensural notation, a detailed account of the various uses and meanings of the coloured notes, and the introduction of additional durational symbols in the new notational system”. For the first time ever, both duple and triple divisions of note values were possible. Note-shapes retained their value regardless of context. This made syncopation possible. Mensuration signs indicated the divisions of time and prolation. Before the invention of time signatures singers were singing on moveable c clefs without any proper notation. This made it possible to sing together and sing polyphony, two pitches sounding at once. Polyphony took off during Ars Nova. During the Middle Ages it was common for a composer to use an existing melody and use it to build an original musical work. This melody becomes a tenor that serves as the foundations to one of more original melodic lines. The tenor below was used to create an anonymous motet. Following the melodic line of the Gregorian Chant, the author uses the following rhythmic pattern repeated throughout known as the talea. The tenor is based on a Gregorian Chant. There were two lines in the chant. One was a long moveable line repeating the same patterns in the tenor. These patterns became longer and slightly more complex. They became less of a melody and more like a foundation to the system. Repeated melodic figures are called Color, but they are not necessarily rhythmic and may not be repeated right away. With two or more voices singing at the same time it becomes difficult for the voices to be able to sing all throughout the entire repertoire. Hocket was the term for resting. Two voices alternating each resting while the other sings. Hocket was developed in the 13th century. Ars Nova began to take a stand in the Masses as well as in secular music. Polyphony was being used in the mass. Instead of just hearing one individual note and sound, you began to hear multiple. Whether singing together as one or as individuals. This might not seem too big according to our ears because of all the different sounds and voices we hear on a normal basis, but during the Middle Ages, this was huge. They were accustomed to hearing one sound or one voice at a time, now there is such thing as having parts and different parts singing different things. Another famous composer during the time of Ars Nova includes Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut was born in 1300 and passed in 1377; throughout his lifetime he composed many major musical works and narrative poems. Machaut became the leading composer of de Vitry’s style of French Ars Nova. He was the first composer to compile his complete works during his lifetime and discuss his working method. He personally paid for the preparation of several illuminated manuscripts of his works. Writing his poems first, he added the music to them later. Machaut writes that he was happiest in life when the music was sweet and pleasant to the ear. Machaut wrote many motets. Twenty-three motets; most are form his early career. Twenty of these motets are isorhythmic, three use secular songs as the tenor. Four are written for four voices and all of them include often hockets. One of Machauts pieces includes the Messe de Notre Dame (Mass of our Lady).

Messe de Notre Dame was one of the earliest polyphonic setting of the Mass Ordinary to be composed by a single composer and conceived as a unit. This was performed at the Mass for the Virgin Mary which was celebrated every Saturday. After Machaut’s death, an oration for Machaut’s soul was added to the service. “In most of this four-part setting he employs the characteristic Ars Nova technique of isorhythm (repeated overlapping of a rhythmic pattern in varying melodic forms)” (Britannica M). It continued to be performed until about the fifteenth century. This Mass includes recurring motives. The tonal focus on D in the first three movements and on F in the last three. All six movements are for four voices, including contratenor (against the tenor) that moves in the same range as the tenor. Machaut was one of the main composers who dealt with polyphonic songs. Form fixes, French poetic forms, had an upbringing during Ars Nova. Chansons, French songs, became known as ballade, rondeau and virelai. All of these consists of complex patterns of repeated verses and refrain in two main sections. Ballade is a three-stanza refrain with the last line of the stanza acting as the refrain. The stanzas were typically three to eight lines and the rhyme scheme went ababbcbC. Rondeau or Rondel involves an alternating singing of the refrain elements by a group and the other lines by a soloist. The refrain consists of 2 parts, the verses, sometimes rhyming with the refrain Schematically. The rhyme schemes went AB aAab AB where “A” and “B” were the repeated refrain parts and “a” and “b” are the verses. Lastly, the Virelai is the most common verse forms set to music. This included three stanzas with a refrain before and after each with each stanza in Bar form with a rhyming scheme Abba A. This was typically written three to five lines per stanza. More polyphonic songs were born giving ideas into new forms and new musical rules and sounds which were unique to the ear during this era. Polyphonic song, chansons, and songs also includes Cantus, Ritornello and Caccia. Cantus is the act of singing songs and drinking beer. Such songs and groups that participate are found in many languages such as Dutch, French, German, English, Latin, and Afrikaans. Ritornello is the final lines of a madrigal. This is usually in a rhyme scheme and meter that contrasted with the rest of the song. Caccia is a part of a song in canon from portraying the hunt of village scenes. Usually employing sounds such as the cries of beggar and vendors to the sounds of dogs barking. This is a song that includes sounds that we would normally hear on the streets. Ars Subtilior, translated “Subtle Art”, composers at the court of Avignon pope across southern Italy cultivated complex secular music. This was a continuation of Ars Nova transitions such as polyphonic songs in the former fixes, notation of duple and triple meter using coloration. Pieces notated in fanciful shapes and love songs intended for an elite audience included as well in Ars Subtilior. Rhythmic complexity not known again until the twentieth century; voices in contrasting meters and conflicting groupings. Harmonies purposely buried through rhythmic disjunction. “The Ars Subtilior was a gradual shift of practice, continuous with the Ars Nova music of Machaut and others. In fact, some of Machaut's late songs could be described as Ars Subtilior in style, and so there is a thread of personal continuity which is perhaps analogous to e. g. Beethoven and the beginning of the Romantic movement”. Trecento, short for “mille trecento” or 1300 referring to the 14th century of Italian Cultural and history. This was considered the start of the Renaissance in art history with Giotto di Bondone, as well as others. Also, the start of famous writers writing in the vernacular instead of Latin. In music there was much emphasis on secular song, love lyrics, polyphony, troubadours coming to Italy fleeing the Albigensian Crusade. Famous composers including Francesco Landini were included in all of this.

Lastly is Francesco Landini. Landini was born 1325 and passed in 1397. He was an Italian composer, singer, poet, organist, and instrument maker. Scholars believed his real name is Francesco de Firenze. Landini was blinded during his childhood from smallpox, he devoted his life to music and mastered many instruments, singing, and writing poetry as well as composition. Landini worked as an organist at the Florentine monastery of Santa Trinita in 1361. His reputation for moving an audience was so powerful that writers noted “The sweetness of his melodies was such that their hearts burst from their bosoms. ” Landini foremost exponent of the Italian Trecento style, sometimes called the Itatian Ars Nova, his surviving output is exclusively secular. His works include 89 ballate for two voices, 42 ballate for three voices. Nine in both two and three voice versions and a number of madrigals. Ballata’s are simply songs with dance in them. Almost all his output is preserved in the Squarcialupi Codex, a collection of works, which represents almost a quarter of all surviving 14th century Italian music. The Landini Cadence was a formula where the sixth degree of the scale is inserted between the leading note and its resolution on the tonic. However, this is not original nor unique to Landini, but he was the only one who used it consistently throughout his music. “The Landini cadence, named after the great Italian composer and organist Francesco Landini (1325-1397) but more generally pervasive in the music of the 14th and earlier 15th centuries, might be described in its most characteristic form as a variation on the harmonic progression in which an unstable sixth (usually major) expands to a stable octave”.

Musica ficta was a term used in European music theory from the late 12th century to about 1600 to describe pitches, whether notated or added at the time of performance, that lie outside of the system of music recta or musica Vera (“Correct” or “true” music) as defined by the hexachord system of Guido of Arezzo. This was the lifting or lowering of a pitch known today as sharps of flats. Double leading-tone Cadence is another name for a type of Landini Cadence. Phrygian cadence is another variation for the Landini cadence when a half cadence ending on the fifth has the upper part moving to the sixth degree just before the final note. Music was beginning to be figured out during the Medieval and Renaissance Era. Beginning in the Medieval Era with single line chant, church music was predominated, the troubadours as well as church modes. In response to single line chant, there became Ars Nova in which resulted in a lot of experimenting with sounds, forms, poems, writings, and even art. Composers of this time were beginning to find out what sounds out of the norm could sound well with others as well as changing mode and coming up with some basic rules for music which will soon become rules developed during the Baroque Era.

Moving to the Renaissance when polyphony was developed. There became a separation of sacred and secular music and both were tolerated. Two or more melodic lines, independent of each other, but still pleasing to the ear in imitative counterpoint. During the Renaissance Era in Ars Nova they began to experiment and more and more became tolerant of hearing multiple sounds as well as different sounds. Many different forms were developed during this time as well as many composers who each brought their unique sound and forms to the table. Beginning with Phillippe de Vitry introducing isorhythm and the idea of using a rhythm that is repeated over and over. Color melody with talea rhythm on the bottom. Vitry introduces to us Hocket and Contratenor. Voices were being heard and the layering of parts (polyphony) was born.

Going to Machaut who introduced form fixes and all the different types of Chanson. From Virelai to Ballade to Ritornello to Caccia. Some of these songs introduce to us the including of sounds that we wouldn’t normally hear in musical setting but rather on a normal day to day basis on the streets. Sounds such as dogs barking or a beggar on the streets. Finally landing on Landini who brought to us Cadences. A formula where the sixth degree of the scale is inserted between the leading note and its resolution on the tonic. Although, this wasn’t necessarily unique to Landini himself, he used it quite regularly in his works.

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