Throughout history, there are many core styles of music that have laid the foundations for the contemporary music of today. Central to the development of contemporary music’s notation, textural and modal techniques is Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is one of the most significant traditional Western plainchant styles, essential to the liturgical music of Christianity. Its monophonic texture and flexible rhythm attracted widespread appreciation throughout Europe during the 10th to 13th centuries, whilst also acting as the infrastructure for Western musical progression to occur.
Today, musical notation acts as a universal method for musicians to read music. The origins of this musical code lie in the early transcriptions of Gregorian chant. It was Pope Gregory, the bishop of Rome from the years 590 to 604, who first ordered the transformation of music into written records. This early form of notation began with nuemes, small marks that indicated the “shape” of a melody. Yet, no precise melodic contour could be deciphered from these scores, rhythm had to be drawn from context, influencing musical theorists of the time such as Johannes de Garlandia and Franco of Cologne to produce staff notation. Staff notation suspended nuemes on lines which each signified a different pitch, their distance apart indicated the time between them. This was the foundation for the musical notation of today. Gregorian chant motivated the development of notation, shaping countless characteristics of contemporary music.
The polyphonic nature of present day music is known and accepted. However, before the 10th century, polyphonic music had scarcely been exposed to a Western audience. With the growing use of notation, newly composed music was combined with traditional Gregorian plainchants, creating two distinct melodies that worked in unison. This style of composition was known as organum, a method that introduced polyphony to western music, “Organum’s open fifths were, indeed, the doorway to polyphony”, states Alison Hope. Gregorian chant’s widespread appreciation, “By the 12th century, Gregorian chant had supplanted or marginalized all the other Western plainchant traditions” [ Willi Apel p.53], motivated the growth of polyphony in western music. Its influence on notation also coincides with the growth of polyphony, “the last rapid steps to polyphony were taken with the development of notation”. [Alison Hope]
Ironically, the rise of polyphony reduced the popularity Gregorian chant, “With the development of polyphony began the Church's continuing battle to maintain or restore chant to its central place in the liturgy." [Vincet Higginson p. 23] From the 13th century onwards Gregorian chant “sank into a downward spiral of disuse and misinterpretation.” [Daniel Saunier p.109]. However, its influence on music continued to grow.
During the 20th century a renewed interest in Gregorian chant arose. Maurice Duruflé’s, “Quatre motets sur des themes Grégoriens”, not only references Gregorian chant in the title but also through its choral setting. Gregorain chant has also been appropriated into contemporary rock and pop music. The German band Enigma, with their piece "Sadeness (Part I)", incorporate chant style vocals into rock backings. This is also the case with German techno group E Nomine; their vocals draw heavy influence from Gregorian chant.
New age music of the 1980’s and 90’s also embraced Gregorian chant, with the Benedict monk’s iconic album “chant” reinventing the perspective of Gregorian chant as “tranquilizing music” [Francis Boothe]. It has also had an influence gaming sound with traditional Gregorian chant being used as the soundtrack for the well-known Xbox game “Halo”. In Imogean Heap’s “Chasing Cars”, a single vocal melody closely mirrors textural techniques of Gregorian, appropriating Gregorian chant into a contemporary music context.
Gregorian chant laid the foundations for musical notation and polyphony to expand and progress, acting as the forefront to musical development over time that has shaped the music of today.
Willi Apel, 1960, Gregorian Chant Midland Book, Indiana University Press
Daniel Saunier, 2009, Gregorian Chant a Guide to the History, Paraclete Press
Vincet Higginson, 1949, Revival of Gregorian Chant, Hymn Society of America, New York
Alison Hope, 2004, History of Gregorian Chant, Oriens Journal, Last viewed 21/04/2011
Francis Boothe, 1999, Gregorian Chant Resources and History, Music Outfitters, Last viewed 26/04/2011
The word influence cannot be limited in its definition to mean to only simplistic adoption. It encompasses similar ways of thinking, connections and associations between any two things. It is from this, that the influence of the Javanese Gamelan orchestra is recognised throughout the world. The Gamelan orchestra are an Indonesian percussion ensemble, most prominent in Bali and Java. Their primary instruments include metallphones, usually in pelog or slendro scales, drums, gongs and the bamboo flute. This sacred and secular music played a prominent role in the everyday life, a necessity for the cultural activities of the time.
One of the first Dutch expeditions to Indonesia in 1595 reported “a lively musical and cultural life; various types of drums, cymbals, gong chimes and dances were illustrated.” [Asia Sound Bali] Although at this time the beauty of Gamelan was recognized, it was not until the Exposition Universelle 1889, a world fair in Paris, that its true influence on the rest of the world began.
After the fair, a fascination for Balinese music ran wild throughout Eastern Europe. The most notable and immediate influence of the Gamelan ensemble was on the French composer Claude Debussy. Debussy was marveled by the sounds and compositional techniques of the orchestra, as he states in a letter to Pierre Louys (1895) “Do you not remember the Javanese music, where tonic and dominant became naught but vain ghosts for unruly children?” Gamelan’s musical tendency to move in “cycles” by not developing harmonic progression, but instead leaving the harmony static, impacted Debussy’s writing processes. He also began to give a static quality to his music. This is recognized in his piece Pagodes (Estampes 1903), in which the use of ostinato and pedal points restricts a sense of development, bringing a sense of stillness to the piece of music. The superimposing of different timbres and rhythms within Pagodes has also been identified as a Gamelan influence [Annegre Fauser p.199]. Other recognizable influences include layered instrumentation, notable in Nocturnes (1887-99).
Many other composers at the time were also enthralled by the Gamelan, showing signs of impact from the Balinese phenomenon within their writing. Mesmerizing and repetitive rhythms, core to the musical structure of Gamelan music, are recognized in Erik Satie’s piano piece, Gnossienne. The hypnotic qualities of Gamelan have also been attributed to the “the birth of ambient music”, according to David Toop. Olivier Messiaen’s recording of the Turangalîla-Symphonie also mentions a Balinese influence in the sleeve note [Amelia Puspita]. Moving through the 20th century, John Cage shows a Gamelan influence through the use of gong like sounds in his Prepared Piano Pieces (1948).
The Gamelan also had a strong influence on ethnomusicology and the growth of world music. Colin Mcphee studied the Gamelan extensively and also wrote pieces, such as “Tabuh-Tabuhan: Toccata for Orchestra” (1936), that mixed traditional Balinese and Western instruments decades before world music became widespread. Western music stores now selling Gamelan instruments, such as the UK based “Drums for Schools”, are physical representations of the Gamelan influence on world music.
Western music also had an influence on Gamelan music through the development of European notations in Java, “Beginning in the second half on the 19th century…notating gamelan compositions became increasingly widespread.” [Judith Becker p.3]
AlthoughnBalinese music’s influence throughout the world continues to grow, Gamelan music was not adopted or recreated through its Western influence. The instrumentation, rhythmic, timbral and tonal techniques of Gamelan were appropriated into Western forms, bringing new ways of experimentation and innovation to contemporary music.
Annegre Fauser, 2005, Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, University of Rochester Press, New York USA
Colin Mcphee, 2000 (Originally published 1947), A House in Bali, Periplus Editions
Judith Becker, 1972, Western Influence in Gamelan Music, University of Texas Press
David Toop, 2001, Ocean of Sound, Serpents Tail, United Kingdom
Amelia Puspita, 2008, The influence of Gamelan on the music of Oliver Messiaen, University of Cincinnati
Asia Sound Inc, 1999, A Brief History of Music in Bali, viewed 24/04/2011
Brent Hugh, 1998, Claude Debussy and the Javanese Gamelan, Brenthugh.com, viewed 24/04/2011
James Pritchett, 2007, John Cage and the Prepared Piano, Rose White Music, viewed 25/04/2011
Music has always expressed a deeper meaning that builds emotion within ones self. There is no single definition as to why this occurs; it is a subjective and personal experience. However, symbolism in music can create specific emotions or represent particular things to the listener. It gives new meanings to music, allowing it to trigger more than just aural senses. Symbolism has always had an influence on music, without it music would merely just be arranged sounds.
The history a culture can be embedded in its traditional music through symbolism. For example, Aboriginal dreamtime songs use many symbols to retell the history of the dreamtime. To convey a relationship with the land, an event or ancestor each song has totemic “lines”, each being one melody, that are used to tell a specific story. The use of totems symbolizes the spirits of the ancestors depicted; the length of melodic line is drawn from the extent of the ancestor’s travels. Rhythmic changes within these songs builds tension and also gives relief, which emphasizes the sense of narrative. These songs link the past with the present, as they are performed, the events portrayed are relived. Symbolism allows this to occur, it is the tool that lets the history of the dreamtime to be expressed.
Symbolism’s role in music has always been to add an extra layer of communication to music. However, its influence has changed over time. Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” expresses stories of his father’s expeditions as a sailor. La Mer’s irregular rhythms induce a sense of freedom within the piece whilst the use of extended tonality allows rapid shifting and movement [Cox p.33 ]. These techniques reflected impressionist ideas of the time, “to suggest rather than depict”[Thompson p.21]. Debussy’s “impressionist” harmonies in La Mer "served the colouristic purpose of expressing moods and pictures" [Arnold Schoenberg]. Although there is much debate about the term “impressionist” being placed on Debussy, his use of symbolism has not been only been tagged responsible for impressionist music, but also intertwined art forms.
Pop music today often takes a much more commercial approach to symbolism than that of Debussy’s innovative use of the technique. Product placement has had a significant influence on contemporary music. In most cases, product placement in music comes from artist preference. For example, Run DMC’s “My Adidas” [Raising Hell 1985] closely references the Adidas brand through symbolism. Although the song was not commissioned by Adidas, soon after its release talks between Run DMC and Adidas eventuated in “an unprecedented paid product-placement deal.” More recently, companies have paid artists to include brands in their lyrics. The Kluger agency, who describe themselves as the “music industry’s leading brand partnership agency”, pay to reference brands through artists such as Flo Rida and Lady Gaga. In their “recent work” video, both artists reference brands such as Virgin Mobile and Zoosk, along various fashion labels. Although symbolism’s most significant influence on contemporary music is positive as it allows artists to represent ideas, its influence on pop music is aiding the rise of commercialism in music today.
The influence of symbolism on contemporary music has deepened the meaning sound, allowing music to develop into an art form that can represent more than just noise. From this, mediums of art have been interconnected and artistic movements created. Yet as sectors of society have realized the commercial potential of symbolism in music, it has been rendered as a tool to promote consumerism. To many this is a negative influence of symbolism on contemporary music, the true essence of symbolism has been lost.
Cox, David Vassal, 1975, Debussy Orchestral Music, University of Washington Press 1975
Oscar Thompson, 1937, Debussy Man and Artist, Mead and Company, New York
Jane Resture, 2010, Aboriginal Music, Jane Oceania, Last Viewed 19/04/2011
Shengdar Tsai, Impressionist Influences Clause Debussy, ICARUS, Last viewed 19/04/2011
Kluger Agecny, 2011, The Work, Last viewed 19/04/2011
Katherine Neer, 2010, Product Placement in Songs, Product Placement Journal, Last viewed 19/04/2011