Heavenly Music

“To sing,” or some variation of the Latin verb canere, is found at least 300 times in the Christian Bible. The first mention of music, appearing in the book of Genesis, credits a man named Jubal with inventing the harp and the flute. It is later in the Exodus story that singing is introduced in the context of the Hebrews joyously singing after crossing the Red Sea. Music and singing played significant roles in the development of Jewish prayer. Eventually, this form carried over into daily rituals among Christians and the monastic orders. Medieval Gregorian Chant, as it is often referred, originated in the 5th century and continued into the 15th century Renaissance. In time, clergy presented the vocal music tradition to parish churches as part of the mass and other religious festivals.

Although early chant music had to be learned by rote, written systems of musical notation were developed between the 10th and 11th centuries. By the 12th century, religious song became universal among the monastic orders. As a way to unify liturgy, chants and response songs called antiphons were arranged into books for choirs to perform at various services throughout the calendar year. Produced mostly as large leaf collections known as antiphonals and graduals, these pages share many qualities with scripted text and hand-rendered illuminations featured in bibles, psalters, missals and Books of Hours.