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Women In Music Of The Middle Ages

1152 words - 5 pages

Women in Medieval Music Women's involvement with medieval music took on a variety of forms; they served at times as audience, as participant, as supporter, and last but not least as composer. The proof of their roles is quite random. Many musical sources have been lost, and those sources that do survive only sometimes provide the composer credit. Information on specific performances is close to non-existent, and what does exist must be interpreted carefully. An artwork portraying a women musician may be representational or symbolic, or both. Yet, despite these handicaps, present day studies reveal many ways in which medieval women were engaged with and enriched by the music that flourished around them.One of the earliest witnesses to Christian church practice was the nun Egeria (ca. 400), whose documentation of her pilgrimage to Jerusalem provides evidence for the emerging office services and for the development of the mass. She was writing for an audience of fellow-nuns, and assumed that they understood the details of the services, but her descriptions give hints of the divisions of services and the types of chants used, as well as details about the rituals involved. From this, she gives more specifically musical details; for example, in a pre-dawn service on the Lord's Day (Sunday), there are hymns and antiphons (sacred songs) alternating with prayers before the service begins, and the service itself begins with the recitation of psalms: "When the first cock has crowed, forthwith the bishop descends and enters inside of the cave to the Anastasis (the sanctuary). All the doors are opened, and the whole crowd streams into the Anastasis. Here innumerable lights are shining; and when the people have entered, one of the priests says a psalm, and they all respond; then prayer is offered. Again one of the deacons says a psalm, and again prayer is offered; a third psalm is said by one of the clergy, and prayer is offered for the third time, and the commemoration of all men is made...." [Bernard, p. 47] From this is can be seen that whatever monks did, nuns did too. With a few exceptions, women's participation in the service closely paralleled that of their male equivalents. Canonesses and nuns were responsible for reciting the "Divine Office" throughout the day, and they participated as choir members and as soloist in the performance of the mass. In the mass, the nuns or canonesses would have sung all of the major musical items. The choir, which usually consists of all of the nuns, presents the ordinary chants with their unchanging texts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei).Women not only read musical books, they also copied them. While not much information about women as musical scribes is available, evidence for women's roles in scriptoria has been accumulating. It is now known that women's monasteries as well as men's often had active scriptoria. Furthermore, an index of works from France reveals a significant number of women who signed...

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