The Birth of Polyphony
Many consider Johann Sebastian Bach, who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, to be the Father of Western classical music. However, as innovative and influential as he was, Bach would not have been able to achieve any of his greatness without previous centuries of musical innovation by a largely anonymous body of composers in the great schools and monasteries of Europe. These centuries belong to the medieval era, the period during which Western music came into being. It was from the 9th to the 14th centuries that all the major musical developments that permitted Western classical and post-classical composition to flourish, occurred, most notably, the invention and development of musical notation and polyphony. With these two developments alone, medieval composers were responsible for creating an entirely new world of possibilities for musical composition, and everyone from Bach to Beethoven to the Beatles, owes them a huge debt of gratitude.

For the 2013 edition of the Festival Montréal Médiéval, Ensemble Scholastica proposes a program that traces the origins and early development of Western music, specifically highlighting the revolutionary techniques medieval composers used to create polyphony. By definition, this is a vocal repertoire, since it served the purpose of setting texts — liturgical, para-liturgical and eventually profane words and poetry. It was precisely the desire to marry text to music that made medieval composers so uniquely placed to explore this new world of polyphony and constantly reinvent new ways of notating their findings. From the earliest improvisational styles of polyphony developed by monastics (who spent so much of their time contemplating and singing texts!), to the more formally organized music of the 12th and 13th century Notre-Dame School in Paris, Scholastica's nine female voices will sing the invention and evolution of polyphony.

Ensemble Scholastica's very name evokes this evolution. The ensemble is named in part for Scholastica, mother of female monasticism in Europe and sister to St.Benedict (founder of the Benedictine Order), and in part to reference the influential intellectual movement beginning in the 12th century known as Scholasticism. The Scholastics, such as Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas, sought to create order out of existing knowledge and the many new forms of knowledge coming into Europe during the period. Their counterparts in the musical world, such as Pérotin the Great and his students, sought to create, from past traditions, a more ordered style of composition. Their musical form of choice was the organum (= organized music).

Music for this a capella program will be taken from the Gregorian chant repertoire, which will be used to create improvised polyphony in the earliest styles; from the 2-voice free organum repertoire of the Abbey of St. Martial de Limoges, the Codex Calixtinus, and elsewhere; and from the manuscripts representing the Notre-Dame School, which contain a number of different musical forms — for this program, various types of Notre-Dame organum will be on display, as well as the related forms of conductus and in particular the motet, whose subsequent development led to further compositional innovation in the 13th and 14th centuries.

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