Oldest Use of Counterpoint

So I am taking a class at the University, and it is explicitly about Classical Music in the West. This course goes through a thousand-year history of Classical Music throughout Europe. To the commoner it may seem arid but for me, its heaven. As all of my readers know, I absolutely love everything that has to do about classical music. It’s so compelling to be, I had to write about it!

In this class about a week ago, the professor was explaining about the oldest use of secular music ever. I am not familiar with any Medieval Music except the Gregorian Chant, which itself is very monotonous and bleak but what really caught my attention was a piece of music called “Sumen Is Icumen In”.


Lyrics in Middle English:

Svmer is icumen in.
Lhude sing cuccu.
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ the wde nu.
Sing cuccu.

Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ,
bucke uerteþ,

murie sing cuccu.
Cuccu cuccu.
Wel singes þu cuccu
ne swik þu naver nu.

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu.


Lyrics in Modern English:

Spring has arrived,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
Sing, cuckoo!

The ewe is bleating after her lamb,
The cow is lowing after her calf;
The bullock is prancing,
The billy-goat farting,

Sing merrily, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo,
You sing well, cuckoo,
Never stop now.

Sing, cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo;
Sing, cuckoo; sing, cuckoo, now!


“Sumer Is Icumen In” is an English rota composed between the years 1261 and 1264. For those who don’t know what rota is, rota is a round sung in Middle English between the 13th and the 14th centuries. “Sumer Is Icumen In” in Middle English means “Summer is Coming In”. It is also known by “Cuckoo Song”. What really makes this song interesting is that it is one of the most oldest examples of polyphony and counterpoint. The polyphony is reflected by piece by being sung in rota form. The layering of different voices in round form is what creates the various harmonies heard. I cannot make the type of harmonies, but in accordance with harmony used in the Medieval Period, 4ths and 5ths can be heard.

Even though this song is written in English, this song sounds like an Italian tarantella. Almost something you can listen to while on a gondola traveling the canals of Venice.

Ah music.

 

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