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date: 23 October 2019

Aelred of Rievaulx [Ailred, Ethelred]locked

  • Andrew Hughes
  • , revised by Randall Rosenfeld

Extract

[Ailred, Ethelred]

(b ? Hexham, c1110; d York, 1167). English saint, theologian and historian. He was brought up in the household of David I of Scotland, and later became an officer (dapifer) there. He was professed a monk of the Cistercian house at Rievaulx in Yorkshire (1134); he became abbot of Revesby (1143), but later returned to Rievaulx as abbot (c1147). Early in his career he gained the respect and support of Bernard of Clairvaux. Music forms only a small part of his writings: the De abusu musice attributed to him by Vander Straeten (Grove3; GerbertS, i, 26) cannot be identified as his, but chapter xxiii of the second book of the Speculum caritatis, a work inspired by St Bernard, deals with the same topic. He questioned the use of organs and bells in church, unfavourably comparing the noise of the former to the human voice. His chief complaint, however, was against the use of a virtuoso, and indeed histrionic, performance style: ‘Why that contraction and effeminacy of the voice? … Now the voice is reduced, then it is broken, at one time it is forced, at another it is enlarged with a more expansive sound. … At times the entire body is agitated with gestures worthy of actors; the lips twist, the eyes roll, the shoulders play, the fingers move in response to every note’. He was a proponent of stylistic moderation in the performance of chant. Some of his words have been understood as descriptions of part-singing and hocket: ‘One voice joins us, another drops out, another voice enters higher, and yet another divides and cuts short certain intervening notes …. At times you might see a man with an open mouth, as if expiring with suffocated breath, not singing, and with a certain laughable hindering of the voice as if menacing silence’. Some of Aelred's statements resemble those of his contemporary John of Salisbury, and may provide some evidence of the cultivation and performance of complex polyphony in 12th-century England or on the Continent; yet his complaint may have been exaggerated....

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The Oxford History of Music (Oxford, 1901-5, 2/1929-38)