Same words, different tune

Charlemagne had a problem. He had an empire full of churches and no two of them sang a hymn the same way. They knew the words, but it was tough to remember the tune for every hymn. Remember, there was often a lot of distance between churches. Communication of words was made easier with the standardization of writing. Tunes you had to memorize. Maybe by the time a monk got from one church to another he might forget the tunes to all the hymns and te Deums and requiems and responsories. So they made ‘em up. One church might sing a hymn to a particular tune:
And another church would sing the same hymn but with an entirely different tune:

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.


3 responses to “Same words, different tune

  1. Even today, long after Charlemagne there is rarely a traditional prayer or hymn that hasn’t undergone multiple musical iterations. Religious liturgy remains a musical Tower of BabeI that I personally find distracting to the extent that I am uncomfortable participating in these parts of a service. Even if the tune is nice and the lyrics are in English! Perhaps I am just a creature of habit but really, I think that in the context of religious services, particularly those performed in a foreign language, a song’s tones and rhythms are effective memory tools and would remain so if musical standards had been established firmly. Da-da!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Alcuin solves the problem | John Manders' Blog

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