Monday, 24 June 2013

Do, Re, Mi, The Birth of John the Baptist and Music Being the Food of Love

It's the feast day of St John the Baptist. One of the reasons I enjoy The Fellowship of St James Daily Devotional Guide lectionary so much is because of occasional commentarial gems such as this: 
In 1050 a monk named Guido died in his hometown of Arezzo in Italy. Few people nowadays seem to have heard of him, but Guido d'Arezzo is one of the most important names in cultural history. Nearly anyone with even a nursery level education is in debt to Guido d'Arezzo. It was Guido who invented the system of staff notation used in music to the present day. He is also the inventor of solfeggio to designate the notes of the diatonic scale. The final syllable of his name, Guido, provides the first note used in solfeggio—the note do. 
Now, just why are we talking about Guido d'Arezzo on the feast of St. John the Baptist? Well, three hundred years before Guido there lived another monk named Paul the Deacon. This monk is best known for his history of the Lombards, but he also composed liturgical hymns in his spare time. One of those hymns he wrote for today's feast, the birth of St. John the Baptist. Remembering that Latin word order depends very little on logical sequence, we consider the first stanza of that hymn, which goes like this:
Ut queant laxis = "so that your servants" Resonare fibris = "may sing with relaxed throats"Mira gestorum = "of the marvels of your works"Famuli tuorum = "your servants"Solve poluti = "release the stain of"Labii reatum = "their sinful lips,"Sancte Johannes = "Holy John" 
Looking closely at these lines, we observe that if we read the first syllable of lines two through seven in sequence, we get: "re-mi-fa-so-la-si." Each of these syllables in the hymn moves up one note on the diatonic scale. 
When, three centuries later, Guido d'Arezzo worked out the details of his solfeggio, he simply took each note from the first syllable of the lines of Paul the Deacon's hymn for the feast of John the Baptist. The hymn's first syllable, ut, not conducive to being sung by itself, was changed to do, the second syllable of Guido's name. (Respectfully to Julie Andrews, it has nothing to do with a female deer or a needle pulling thread.)
Music to my eyes. The wonderfully whimsical commentator is Patrick Henry Reardon. (“Summer 2013 - The Daily Devotional Guide by Patrick Henry Reardon.” The Fellowship of St. James. iBooks.)