We must start with an an apology or two. First, we only consider Western music in this lesson. We are aware that there are other rich musical civilizations, but we don't have the time or space to cover them, and Western music is rather a common denominator. Second, much about music history and music theory must be ommited for the purposes of this lesson. There are, however, suggested reading lists at the bottom of many pages.
Western music essentially began with Gregorian Chant, or plain-song. Gregorian chant has one line of music. From there, it developed slowly into polyphony. Polyphony can be considered many threads of music occuring simultaneously that are bound musically, but are each equally important threads of the total piece of music. They are, in esscence, many melodies occuring at the same time.
From there, music theory developed, and polyphony, for all intents and purposes, soon died. Harmony was invented (or discovered, depending on how one looks at it), and some of the threads of music took a back seat to others. Specifically, harmony was created for the purpose of augmenting the melody. The lines of harmony aren't meant to be self-contained packets or ideas in any given piece of music.
We'll jump ahead a couple hundred years to Wagner (1813-1883). When he came onto the music scene, opera was the thing to be composing. He was a contemporary of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), who is considered by many to be the king of opera composition. The problem that Wagner noticed with opera was that the integration of singer with orchestra was far from seamless. The orchestra would get some great orchestral interludes, but while singers were singing, they were often confined to playing chords and were mere accompanyment for the singers. Wagner saw singers and players as equal. He considered them all to be threads that wove together to form a rich tapestry that was the opera. So he composed that way, and in his operas, the two parts do, indeed, have a more equal sharing of musical material.
From this, we can see that from close to the beginning, right up until close to the present day, music has always been thought of as threads that are to be individually manipulated and sent in one direction as a whole. We can also see that, conceptually, we have come full circle, from equal importance to equal importance. The difference now is that we are more technically and musically prepared to accomodate that concept. When polyphony was invented, music was really just beginning. It had been around for hundreds of years before that as Gregorian chant, and for hundreds of years before that in other, earlier forms.
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Where we're coming from historically
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