Cathedral for art and history

1500 years of holy music at Notre Dame

From the time the Church was founded, the scholae began to teaching liturgical rites and religious chants. In Paris, there are traces of 6th century music in the former Saint Stephen’s cathedral. From the beginning, music and the cathedral were one and the same. In the late 12th century, the brand new ogival vaults, which sprang up into the heavens to form the church’s choir, called for just as new music. The choir masters and singers of the day came up with a daring singing style with several superimposed voices, which became the Notre-Dame School’s claim to fame, with Léonin, Pérotin and their famous organa. It was at the same time that the Cathedral’s first organ was used. It was a small positive organ that blended with the choir to accompany the plainsong. In the 14th century, the chapter’s archives mentioned Notre-Dame’s children’s choir, whose members sang during services every day with the canons in exchange for musical and general education in Notre-Dame’s cloister.

Starting in 1455, they were housed in the Gaillon canon house. After they put on the choir costume they entered the Cathedral through the Red Door, so they were in just the right spot to sing the service’s hours. First there were eight of them, and then twelve, and starting in 1550, they sang alongside the adults, matins clerks, in front of the great lectern, led by the music master. The first cantors’ Ars Antiqua gave way to other forms of music, but plainsong remained their main art form. In the 17th century, a few of Notre-Dame’s music masters gained renown by being chosen for the King’s Chapel: Jean Villot, Pierre Robert, André Campra and Jean-François Lallouette. In 1992, Notre-Dame de Paris’s Choir School underwent major change under the impetus of the Association for Holy Music at Notre-Dame de Paris.

Just like when it was first built, music still plays a major role in the influence of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris Weekly and monthly organ recitals, concerts given by the choir school, they all testify to the high standards of excellence upheld by Notre-Dame’s musical figures today. Perhaps through this exercise, their prime role, that of bringing splendour to the services, the choirs, organists, choir masters and the cantor come close to reaching brilliant transcendence, which the visitor to Notre-Dame can rarely resist, whether they see it as God’s work or as human genius. These both humble and superb means give genuine soul to this grand building, created to lift humans upwards towards the absolute, the universal, and the sublime.

 
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