Structure and Society: Understanding the Context of Medieval Music

As I am now about halfway done with my first week of research, I am gaining more of an idea of the background information necessary to guide my research goal. I have mainly been reading source materials and taking notes on what I feel may be applicable to my research and to my understanding of the time period. The majority of my sources so far have been print books, reference books, and journal articles. I have been reading information on the changes to music and society brought by the Ars nova. In addition, I am looking at the works and impact of composers Guillaume de Machaut and Philippe de Vitry and the different forms of motets during that time. My main obstacle for the next few days will be finding relevant source materials that provide more than just the same information and perspectives that I have already read. While the availability of sources is slightly limited by the time period (14thcentury), I feel like there will still be sources I can find.

Through reading, I have realized that, in my final product, I want to include a description of the Ars nova innovations in musical notation and rhythmic structure prior to discussing isorhythm and retrograde motion. I feel like these ideas really form the basis for the complete understanding of an isorhythmic motet. The changes to the understanding of perfect vs. imperfect rhythmic structures at this time lead to fascinating ideas of their implications on religion, music theory, and even seemingly unrelated topics, like economics!

In addition, I would like to possibly add a discussion of the societal aspects of the music to my final product, specifically the impact of Christianity. Religion was such a huge part of the culture in the Medieval era. Musicians, especially, gained favor and recognition through church settings. However, most of the pieces that I am currently considering focusing on are secular. While a large aspect of the music of the Ars nova was focused on the deviation from religion being the sole focus of music, there were still so many Christian religious references hidden beneath the surface of even the secular pieces. I am considering discussing the religious significance of the pieces, in addition to the mathematical applications of isorhythm and retrograde motion. I could even combine the math and religion topics by seeing if Medieval number symbolism has any relevance to the pieces I study. Either way, I feel like a study of music in the Medieval era would be incomplete, if not impossible, without at least briefly touching on the topic of Christianity.

While I am currently nowhere near starting my final product, I am considering what I want that final product to be. Currently, the most reasonable end goal seems to be writing a research paper. There is so much information on my topic that I want to include, and a paper would be the most cohesive way of presenting all of that information in a way that is logical and effective.

At this point, I will still be finding and reading through general information source materials for the next few research days, at least. After this step, I plan on reading into materials on the specific pieces that I have chosen to analyze and begin my analyses of the pieces. My project advisor, Professor Payne has provided me with some examples of analysis that I can work off of in order to view the process. In the coming days, I will need to look more into the specifics of isorhythm and retrograde motion. The materials I have found so far, specifically for isorhythm, have been sparse and a bit confusing. I need to look more in depth into these processes in order to be able to organize the information I read and perform effective analyses of the pieces.

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