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Harmonia Time Capsule: 1163

Let’s take a quick look back in time . . . to the year 1163. The news is of death and rebirth.

Héloïse d’Argenteuil, a French nun, writer, and renowned scholar, requests that her body be buried alongside that of her lover Pierre Abélard.  To this day, doubt exists as to whether Héloïse and Abélard remain physically separated in death, as they were throughout much of life.  Two Parisian cemeteries lay claim to the remains of Abélard and Héloïse.  The precise location of their resting place is still unknown.

In that same year, Saint-Étienne (or St Stephen’s), which had stood since the 4th century, gave way to what would become Notre Dame de Paris.  The year 1163 marks the laying of Notre Dame’s corner stone.  According to myth, the construction of a new cathedral near the Right Bank of the River Seine was masterminded by Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris, who sketched his glorious vision of Notre Dame de Paris on the ground before Saint-Étienne.  It is uncertain whether Maurice de Sully or Pope Alexander III–both of whom were present at the foundation laying ceremony—laid Notre Dame’s corner stone.

The construction of Notre Dame de Paris coincides with the development of musical practices that would come to be codified in the “Magnus Liber,” the “Great Book” of organum.  The Magnus Liber Organi of master Leonin may be one of the first large-scale musical undertakings of any composer known to us today.  A 13th-century English music theorist known as Anonymous IV names both Leonin and Perotin as greatest “composers” of different types of organum.

Like the foundation supporting Notre Dame Cathedral’s towering framework, the foundation for organum is plainchant.  Plainchant served as a musical foundation for a polyphonic framework of multiple voices.

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Additional information about people, music, and events mentioned in this time capsule

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Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Early Music is a nationally syndicated weekly early music radio program, podcast and blog produced by WFIU Public Radio.

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