|This is a photo of me hard at work. Gotta love summer!|
Here's my observation:
The story of medieval music (at least up to the twelfth century) is like the opening title of a Harry Potter movie. The screen is black, Williams' reappropriated Saint-Saëns theme commences, and suddenly the title of the movie emerges in huge, metallic or granite lettering, looking like something straight from a dwarfish dungeon or a Celtic ogham stone, powerful, mysterious, daunting, massive. (See below.)
At this point in the analogy, the student of medieval music is learning about liturgical music of the Western Church and, if you're at all like me, you are similarly struck by the imposing order, the solid structure, the imperviousness of a liturgical system that has even survived in many ways to modern time: Mass and Offices, antiphons and responsories, psalm tones and church modes, Matins-Lauds-Prime-Terce-Sext-None-Vespers (with how many Nocturnes?)-Compline, Antiphonals, Graduals, Topiaries, etc., etc. The weight of information is perhaps my main sensation, and I am also struck by the medieval mind's overwhelming desire for law and order.
But then something happens. (Of course talking about it sequentially, and therefore chronologically, is something of a fallacy, but that's the only way I can describe it.) It's as if our stolid Harry Potter title slowly and almost imperceptibly begins to crack. And out of those cracks come trickling little rivulets of water. More and more the waters flow until everywhere you look this impervious edifice is flowing with torrents of gushing, splashing, frolicking, unruly water! It's a deluge! It's the Rock of Horeb! It's a big mess! (The closest I can get to this in an actual movie is in the opening titles of the movie Independence Day, where the shiny, metallic letters literally explode!)
That's my observation. It's only to get more complicated the more I read. At some point you abandon any hope that you could clearly keep it all tucked away safely in your head. Perhaps at that point, you really begin to let it sink in.
Happy reading this summer!