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The Art of The Cantus

What does a little creek from the northern Midwest have in common with the pyramids in Egypt or with this little thing called a Cantus firmus? 

 

Well, let’s think about this for a second – this little creek in the middle of the northern Midwest eventually becomes the mighty Mississippi River – in fact, that little creek IS the Mississippi River!

Think about the pyramids – somewhere in the pyramid’s infrastructure is the first brick/stone. That brick/stone is a very key brick/stone as it was the first one upon which every other brick or stone was laid or attached to or connected to in order to make that pyramid as mighty and powerful a structure as it became.

Now – look at the Cantus Firmus, the headwaters, if you will, that became the mighty river of music we experience today. The CF is, in my estimation, where Western music began. What began as a few modes and a Cantus evolved into all that we have today.

Think about this for a second – what is it that makes the music you like memorable to you? For most, it’s the melody you remember and connect with. From 20th century group Boston’s “More than a Feeling” to the memorable melody from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, it’s the MELODY that stays with us. The study of the Cantus firmus is all about learning how to write a good melody – it’s the fine art of voice-leading, which is the basis of a good melody. In fact, the phrase “Cantus Firmus” stands for “fixed melody”.

In the upcoming course we’re going to learn how to write a melody – so don’t approach this product as if it is a dusty and irrelevant course of instruction. It is my contention that the Cantus and the era in which it was introduced and developed (Medieval/Renaissance) is the Genesis of all we have today.

In my personal opinion, the study of the Cantus (and early polyphonic composers) is incredibly relevant to today’s musician’s understanding of the musical craft that is composition. I will be studying and contemplating this subject for the rest of my life, all the while composing music for modern audiences. I will seek to apply the principles from my study of the Cantus without becoming mired in the quicksand of attempting to be the next Palestrina. I want to write a pretty melody. Therefore, I will study the Art of the Cantus.

This is Mr. G – welcome to the study of the Cantus. It’s going to be fun.

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Written By:

Paige Garwood

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