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date: 11 December 2019

Early Latin secular songlocked

  • Gordon A. Anderson
  • , revised by Thomas B. Payne


A repertory which, largely because of the nature of poetic transmission in the Middle Ages, comprises much of the earliest surviving European secular song with music. In contrast to the many collections of liturgical chant and Latin sacred songs surviving from the millennium before about 1300, Latin secular songs with music are relatively rare; but secular poems that were probably sung are more plentiful. Of the songs preserved with music, very few notated before the 12th century can be transcribed with any certainty.

From the time of the late Caesars solo song, dance and music for cithara, aulos and lyre accompanied tragedies and pantomimes; other references indicate that the populace would ‘sing and dance in the forum’, and many old musical traditions prevailed throughout the first six centuries of the Christian era, though modified by barbarian invasions and rapidly changing political and social conditions. Christian teaching gradually prevailed over this pagan background, so that by late antiquity the early Church Fathers had considerably curtailed the use of pagan songs, at least among Christians. A new tradition began, issuing from the lyrical hymns and secular songs of writers such as Hilary of Poitiers (...

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