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Guido of Arezzo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Statue of Guido in Arezzo
Statue of Guido in Arezzo

Guido of Arezzo or Guido Aretinus or Guido da Arezzo or Guido Monaco (991/992 after 1033) was a music theorist of the Medieval era. He is regarded as the inventor of modern musical notation (staff notation) that replaced neumatic notation; his text, the Micrologus, was the second-most-widely distributed treatise on music in the middle ages (after the writings of Boethius).

Guido was a monk of the Benedictine order from the Italian city-state of Arezzo. Recent research has dated his Micrologus to 1025 or 1026; since Guido stated in a letter that he was 34 when he wrote it, his birthdate is presumed to be around 991 or 992. His early career was spent at the monastery of Pomposa, on the Adriatic coast near Ferrara. While there, he noted the difficulty that singers had in remembering Gregorian chants. He came up with a method for teaching the singers to learn chants in a short time, and quickly became famous throughout north Italy. However, he attracted the hostility of the other monks at the abbey, prompting him to move to Arezzo, a town which had no abbey, but which did have a large group of singers needing training.

While at Arezzo, he developed new technologies for teaching, such as staff notation and solfeggio (the "do-re-mi" scale, whose syllables are taken from the initial syllables of each of the first six musical phrases of the first stanza of the hymn, Ut queant laxis). This may have been based on his earlier work at Pomposa, but the antiphoner that he wrote there is lost. Guido is also credited with the invention of the Guidonian hand, a widely used mnemonic system where note names are mapped to parts of the human hand. The Micrologus, written at the cathedral at Arezzo, contains Guido's teaching method as it had developed by that time. Soon it had attracted the attention of Pope John XIX, who invited Guido to Rome. Most likely he went there in 1028, but he soon returned to Arezzo, due to his poor health. Nothing is known of him after this time, except that his lost antiphoner was probably completed in 1030.

Guido's House
Guido's House

In Guido's method, the simple placement of lines allowed those reading musical notation to know where on the scale a particular note should be sung, moving from a relative scale (useful to those needing a reminder of where to sing) to an absolute scale.

Newly discovered influences on Guido's work. There are some revealing events which suggest that Guido was influenced by Muslim work, especially in the use of syllables for the musical scale. Soriano revealed that Guido had studied in Catalogna, a region neighbouring Andalusia renowned for teaching music in its colleges as early as the 9th cenury. Ibn Farnes (d.888), for example, was the first to introduce it as an integral part of the department of the quadrivium. The famous musician Zariyab (789-857) was also renowned for his teaching of music in Spain as well as for the foundation of the first conservatory in the world. Evidence shows at least one scholar who, acquiring a vast knowledge of musical art from the Muslims, taught in European circles. Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II) (d.1003), known for playing a very important part in the renewal of scientific thought in Europe, was also influential in disseminating Muslim musical knowledge, including their musical theory. He studied in Andalusia and was nicknamed the Musician . Gerbert also taught the quadrivium which consisted of the four subjects in the upper division of the seven liberal arts: arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music. Gerbert taught Arabic numerals; evidence of this is found in "Cita et vera divisio monochordi in diatonico genere", a work of Bernelius (c 990), his former pupil, which contained the Arabic numerals . This teaching was soon spread abroad by Gerbert's pupils Bernelius, Adalboldus (d.1027) and Fulbertus (d.1028). These numerals are also found in Pseudo-Odo of Cluny (d.942) in a tract entitled "Regulae Domni Oddonis super abacum". Odo of Cluny, in discussing the eight tones, referred to Arabic and Jewish names including buq, re, schembs and so on . Meanwhile, Fulbertus is known to have taught in Chartres, and therefore musical knowledge must have taken similar courses. (see Soriano Fuertes Hitoire de la musica Espanola', vol.1, p.152)

Hunke established that these Arabic syllables were found in an eleventh century Latin treatise produced in Monte Cassino, a place which had been occupied by the Muslims a number of times, and was the retiring place of Constantine Africanus, the great Tunisian scholar who migrated from Tunis to Salerno and then to Monte Cassino. It is very unlikely that Guido, the monk, would have missed this treaty. (see Hunke, S. (1969), 'Shams al-'Arab Tasta'a 'ala Al-Gharb', 2nd edition, Commercial Office publishing, Beirut, p.182)

Guido of Arezzo is also the namesake of GUIDO Music Notation, a format for computerized representation of musical scores.

See also

  • Solfege
  • Guidonian hand


  • Claude V. Palisca: "Guido of Arezzo", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed July 14, 2005), (subscription access)
  • Richard H. Hoppin, Medieval Music. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1978. ISBN 0-393-09090-6
  • Guido d'Arezzo : Hymne Saint Jean an electronic version

External links

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