The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years

Feast of Eulampius & Eulampia the Martyrs
Christian_West_and_its_Singers_Square.jpegThe Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years by Christopher Page

READING this account of liturgical singing in the early Church, one marvels at the detective work of Dr. Page, a reader in Medieval Literature and Musicology at Cambridge. No musical scores survived this period (staff notation itself was first developed in the 11th century, as an aid to church singers) and our knowledge of early liturgical practices is decidedly sketchy. But Page ferrets out bits of evidence from unlikely sources—funerary epitaphs, cathedral architecture, fragmentary chronicles, saints’ lives—to construct a fascinating picture of how the Church's musical ministry emerged, and flourished. As he recreates the social context of psalters, lectors, cantors, monks, and scholae cantorum (the specialized groups who originated Gregorian chant), Page gives us “people, real flesh and blood,” as one reviewer notes. “We have a full list of those who gathered for a Eucharist at Abitina in North Africa in February 304, and what they sang before they were marched off to be martyred.” There are glimpses of early talent scouting, with priests on the lookout for musical ability among orphaned boys, and of outright jealousy: one 10th-century composer “studied music in secret, on account of the envious.” Enhancing the book’s exhaustive research and literary pleasures are color photographs of mosaics, tombs, landscapes, and medieval cathedrals, all on art-quality paper.

694 pp. hardcover $85.00

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