The Gallo-Belgic School

A New Art Centre.

The development of any art, and more especially Music, requires the dominance of wealth, learning and general civilizing forces, to form an epoch-marking school. Paris for a time satisfactorily filled these conditions, and then gave place to a school, stronger and better equipped: that of the Netherlands.

There were several reasons for this change in the centre of musical activity. So long as Paris was dominant in wealth and civilization, and so long as she maintained her supremacy in the intellectual fields of the Church and university, so long did she retain the centre of culture; but when her wealth became such as to produce degeneracy in the taste for pure art, and love of show rather than real worth became predominant, then her native pupils began to lose their intellectual strength, and the pupils from foreign countries began to furnish the real culture.

The establishment of the Papal See atAvignon in the south of France doubtless contributed to the supremacy of France in music and the liberal arts. When the See was restored to Rome, in 1377, Paris and her school of music were relegated to the background. From this period on it was but a matter of time for these pupils to carry the centre of musical culture from Paris to a place possessing a foundation for musical growth, and a greater number of strong minded scholars, and where political conditions were favorable.

The Netherlands surpassed Paris in all of these important particulars, though not at the time when the Paris School ceased to be of importance. There was a school of transition which filled the space left between the important work of Paris and the supremacy of the Netherlands; that school was the Gallo-Belgic, located northeast from Paris on the borderline between France and Belgium, Tournay being the centre.

The school at Paris was occupied in acquiring material for use; the school of the Netherlands developed polyphonic music emotionally; the step from acquisition to arrangement of material was necessary before emotional development could occur, and that was the work of the Gallo-Belgic School. This school was located in the country of Hucbald and Odo, who had built up there, a little while before, a system of music which was the foundation of the polyphonic style, and which had prepared the people for a culture of greater value and importance. Thus we see that musical development followed the line of greatest preparation, and utilized the preparatory work furnished by these two men.

And finally, it was a direct step toward the Netherlands which were even then beginning the struggle in which they were victorious, for supremacy in commerce, art, and music.Contribution of the Paris School.When the Paris school ceased to be of utmost importance to the world of music it had bequeathed to the later schools Measured Music, and its forms of Organum, Motet, Conductus and Roundel, and the use of certain not unpleasing intervals, though occasional consecutive fourths, fifths, and octaves appeared. It was, then, the business of the Gallo-Belgic school to refine these intervals, develop measured music, and so improve and develop these old primary forms, eliminating some and evolving others, as to give the school of the Netherlands, one century later, forms pleasing in intervals and of sufficient unity and design to afford opportunity for the infusion of the emotional.In the matter of intervals much was done to develop and use the old ones, excepting the consecutive fourths and fifths which were abolished never to appear again, and many new, or previously unused intervals, were made use of. In the matter of forms, we hear no more of the crude Organum and Conductus, but a little about the Motet, and nothing at all in regard to the Roundel, as such. It is, however, due entirely to this last form that polyphonic music developed; though we hear no more of the Roundel, we do hear much in regard to the Canon, and the Canon was but a highly developed species of the Roundel.

Imitation and the Canon.

The use of Imitation, as we have seen, gradually became more and more important. The old monks, in the very beginning, imitated melody in the fourth and fifth; at the time of the Paris school these melodies were combined with new ones making Imitation with more than one melody, though the melody underwent no real organic development. Now we see in the inception of the Canon a development of real Imitation of only one melody, but given Variety by use of the devices of Inversion, Augmentation, Diminution, etc. And not only did this occur in the Canon, but we find it also in the other forms, in a freer style, adding materially to the Unity. Imitation is the foundation principle of polyphonic music, and this principle was present in the crude efforts of the old monks, in the more intelligent efforts of the Paris school, and now for the first time, receives, in the Gallo-Belgic school, a partial recognition of its real value, and a commensurate use.

The Value of Imitation.-We must understand, however, that mere Imitation is in itself not a remarkable phenomenon. We imitate, more or less unconsciously, in all arts, and even in our daily habits; but this would be of no lasting importance did we not take that imitation as a foundation for future development, as did the composers of this school. And in these polyphonic schools the imitation was unintentional, as a definite aid to the structure of a musical idea, until it was seen that the imitation must be confined to one definite idea or melody. It was then that the original treatment of melodic development began, and the various devices for developing a melody, without changing its organic structure, inaugurated. This marked the beginning of a school of musical art, a school of definite, and not chance evolution; or in other words, arrangement and development of the earlier acquired ideas.

A Technical Principle.

A little consideration will show how the principle of Imitation was developed. The first step was to imitate a melody at a lower or higher pitch and sing the two or more versions simultaneously; the next step was to bring in the second and other imitating voices successively, at the same or different pitch; thus making the irritation more prominent. So long as composers confined their efforts to using fixed melodies, they could not go far. When they began to adapt well-known melodies and later to invent their own it became possible to make a lengthy work, this leading to a composition in which each of the accompanying voices imitated the first; sometimes only two voices used imitation, the other having a somewhat free part. A next step was to vary the imitation, by changing the motion of the imitating part; if the melody moved up, the imitating part moved downward and vice versa; sometimes the movement was reversed, the imitation beginning with the last note of the phrase and proceeding to the first; sometimes it was made in notes of smaller value (diminution), sometimes in larger (augmentation). These and other devices were experimented with and worked out by the Gallo-Belgic composers. One readily sees that this is intellectual work, that it puts a premium on cleverness and lays expression aside. Yet the technic of an art must first be acquired and the composers of this period were doing this in working out a system of technic in composition with Imitation as the foundation.

The Work of the Gallo-Belgic School.

We note that many of the new ideas came into being at this time, all of them, however, tending toward the arranging of material or the preparing of it for the emotional style. The Canon, and the principle of Imitation, developed a set of strict rules which tended to produce more adequate command of material and assisted in shaping the Fugue; though we, in our own day, regard these rules as positively detrimental to the real expression of emotion, yet they were necessary adjuncts to the real command of technic. With Imitation came Counterpoint of a more highly developed form; an inevitable step toward the fugal style of the later polyphonic periods. And lastly came a use of Folk-music melodies and the Leading Tone, important because they foreshadow the abandonment of the old Church Modes, and the adoption o f the Natural Scale. This marks the important point in the Gallo-Belgic school; for with the introduction of the Natural Scale there came increasing tendency for emotional expression, which could never have occurred had the Church Modes retained their former position in music. The idea of this preparation of material for emotional development cannot be emphasized too strongly. Upon the Gallo-Belgic school rested the burden of preparing this material for the later schools, so that these could demonstrate to the world that while polyphonic music could not be surpassed as a means of expressing certain impersonal, almost religious emotions, it could not express to the fullest, the intimate, personal, emotional ideas of the romantic composers.

The Men.

The men of this period are more important than any that have yet been mentioned, and for that reason require more detailed study. H. de Zeelandia (13–1370), a native of. Flanders, was a teacher and composer, and author of a theoretical treatise with musical examples, “De Musica” ; with him the use of consecutive fourths, fifths and octaves almost disappears, though it remained for a later composer to abolish these entirely. Guillaume Dufay (1355-1435) was the one to whom this reform must be finally accredited. He used in place of the old church form of Cantus Firmus, the popular melodies of the people with their tendency toward the Natural Scale and the use of the Leading Tone and its decisive tonality; it may be said that these melodies were not used in their entirety, or even in their original form, the rhythm and meter oftentimes being altered so that the airs were hardly recognizable, though the essential parts were there. It is Dufay who is responsible for the first intelligent use of Imitation as a basis for the Canon. Gilles (2Egidius) Binehois (1400-1465) was a noted composer and, with Dufay, a joint founder of the Gallo-Belgic school. He is said to have been a soldier before he entered the Church, and must have been of a light-hearted disposition, as he was called “the father of joyousness.” He was the teacher of Okeghem, Firmin Caron and of Busnois. Antoine de Busnois (1440-1481) was the last famous master of this school before it was merged into the school of the Netherlands. In his works one can note a further progress in smoothness of style and examples of well managed imitation. The character of the latter is so scholarly and so clearly not a matter of improvisation that we must consider him a man given to study and reflection, just the kind of character to give scientific study to the principle of Imitation.

The Importance of this School.

This school occupied only a short period of time (I360-I460), as compared to some of the other schools; but in that time much was done. The material taken from the Paris school was great and capable of being developed, though it was encumbered by unusual intervals and a prejudice against the more euphonious ones, and by a number of obsolete forms; so obsolete, in fact, that with perhaps one exception, the Motet, none lasted until the time of Bach. But the use of Imitation and Measured Music was sufficient for the men of the Gallo-Belgic school, and with this as a foundation, and the constantly-increasing tendency to use the Folk-music and the Natural Scale, they succeeded in so arranging their material that the men of the Netherlands had but to infuse emotion to make it produce great music. Dufay and his contemporaries had done this much: to create organically well-ordered tone combinations agreeable both in melodic and harmonic relations. Both artists and public found pleasure in the many transitions, the free use of suspensions, the altered tones and chords borrowed from other scales, in the ensemble of these methods which did not give rise in reality to chord-relations as we understand them, yet suggested something of the kind, and particularly were they pleased with the use of the variety-giving changing notes. Because the Gallo-Belgic school did not invent new forms, or develop old forms to a high degree of perfection, is no reason why it should not be given a high rank among polyphonic schools, for the process of refining and transition is often more difficult than that of inventing.