A History of Musical Style

A History of Musical Style

by Richard L. Crocker

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A History of Musical Style by Richard L. Crocker

Style — the distinctive manner of presentation, construction, and execution in any art — is a topic of primary importance in music history. This highly regarded text by noted musicologist Richard Crocker (University of California, Berkeley) takes a much-needed fresh look at the subject and attempts to reshape some basic ideas in the light of modern research. Seeking the reasons for stylistic change within the history of style itself (rather than in the history of men or of ideas), this enlightening account shows how music, growing out of its own past, has shaped its own development.
Professor Crocker's exceptionally clear and systematic presentation enables students to easily follow the evolution of Western musical style from Gregorian Chant (ca. 750) to the atonal music of the mid-20th century. The book stresses the continuity of basic musical principles over long periods of history, while it explores in detail moments of high stylistic achievement and the composers who exemplified them.
Drawing of the earliest written records, Crocker begins his description and analysis of Western music's changing style with a discussion of Frankish Gregorian Chant, laudes and melismas, and polyphony — the leading medium of musical development after 1150. The author traces the progression of new polyphonic forms from the Parisian motet of the 13th and 14th centuries through Italian song forms to the Franco-Flemish style of the 15th and 16th centuries. This sweeping survey then documents the emergence of the Classic Style after 1550, embodied in the music of such composers as Palestrina and Byrd, moves through new Italian dramatic styles (1600–1650) and on to the harmonic and polyphonic contributions of the 17th- and 18th-century masters.
With perception and insight, Crocker traces the creation of the German symphonic style, epitomized in the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, and deals with the parallel development of operatic style. An illuminating examination of new styles after 1900, including the serial music of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, concludes this exhaustive study.
Over 140 music examples complement Crocker's lucid text, and lists of Selected Study Materials for each chapter are given at the back of the book. This work will be welcomed by music students at all levels, music scholars, and the interested layman as well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486173245
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 04/07/2014
Series: Dover Books on Music
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 766,583
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

A noted musicologist from the University of Berkeley, Richard L. Crocker was the author of nearly a dozen books on music history and musicology.

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A History of Musical Style

By Richard L. Crocker

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1986 Richard L. Crocker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-17324-5



THE HISTORY OF WESTERN MUSIC PROPERLY BEGINS NOT WITH the Greeks or Romans but with the Franks. These rough, vigorous tribes of redheaded warriors (as they are described) came down across the Rhine into what is now northern France and the Benelux region during the 200s and 300s. The Franks moved into a cultural space called Gallo-Roman, civilized for centuries under the Roman Empire, but now decaying within as fast as it was being infiltrated from without. At first it seemed as though the Frankish ascendancy was just another of the turbulent shifts in power as one tribe after another stormed across the remains of the Roman Empire. But the Franks stayed. They solidified their own position to the point where they themselves could afford to become civilized. Absorbing whatever elements of culture they encountered, they initiated a new phase of cultural synthesis. What made the Franks different from the other barbarians was not their great military aptitude but rather their even greater organizational ability. Rough and uncultured they had been, but they set up a culture that has lasted more than a thousand years.


The education of the Franks began under the Carolingians, the leading Frankish dynasty. Under Pippin III, crowned king in 751, and his son Charles the Great, or Charlemagne (ca 742–814), the Carolingians not only extended their kingship into an empire, but set in motion the process of acculturation through which Frankish energies and talents eventually found their own modes of expression. In their search for cultural values, the Carolingians turned to Rome and the Christian Church. Pagan Rome was a symbol of past greatness, of accumulated learning; as a symbol it was valued highly by the politically astute Carolingians. The Church, on the other hand, was one of the most important social realities on the European scene: it stood for order, and it stood for it in a way that obviously appealed to growing numbers of Westerners. The Carolingian political program, especially in education, came to depend largely on the institutions of the Church.

Surveying the European scene, the Carolingians saw local autonomy and variety. They found in the Roman Church, specifically in the Roman liturgy, the means best suited to producing cultural unity. And the liturgy was largely sung. Pippin III and even more Charlemagne made universal adoption of the Roman liturgy—including its chant—one of their main objectives; their efforts toward this objective were sustained from 750 to Charlemagne's death in 814. They sent to Rome for chant books and for cantors to come to teach the Frankish singers; they sent their own cantors to Rome to learn Roman chant; they not only caused these things to be done, but followed up their execution with a keen personal interest. Although the results of this interest are hard to assess at a distance of over a thousand years, it is clear that by 850 there was in use in the Frankish realm a repertory of Roman chant that had not been there a century earlier. Although the relationship of the imported Roman chant to past and future Frankish music was extremely complex, still the Roman chant set a standard of excellence and a point of departure for the Franks.

The unity we now observe in the repertory of Roman chant seems in large part due to the Franks themselves, whose unsurpassed organizational talents left their mark here as elsewhere. The Franks began by calling this chant Gregorian, after Pope Gregory I (ca 540–604), who was supposed to have set the repertory in order. The propriety of the term Gregorian has long been in dispute, beginning in the 800s, and now more than ever; but the term has stuck.

There are increasing indications, however, that even in Rome all was not pure Gregorian, that there were several repertories of chant, successive or simultaneous, that in fact the local variety prevailing throughout the West was present within the Eternal City itself. Inquiries from the North about Roman practice were sometimes put off with official doubletalk or inscrutable silence by Roman authorities; Northern investigations over the century 750–850 brought back different versions of Roman chant. Things got so bad that the Franks circulated a rumor that Rome had sent North a dozen experts with specific instructions to teach a dozen different versions. The rumor is undoubtedly not true; but given the conditions it reflected, the remarkable thing is how stable the Gregorian repertory turned out to be, even with all the variants and complexities now being scrutinized by specialists.

Without a foundation of written documents, we cannot at present even outline the history of the Gregorian repertory. The earliest surviving chant books, written around 900, include variants and additional material. It is possible to penetrate backward from these earliest books a little way by studying the history of the liturgies which the chant accompanied, but even granting the relationship of music and liturgy, the historical results are not at present conducive to a clear picture.

One has to distinguish among several local rites of greater or lesser importance, including Roman, Milanese or Ambrosian, Mozarabic or Spanish (that is, Toledo), and assorted "Gallican" practices. The Roman rite—or at any rate, the Roman rite that came North— immediately engendered endless local variants due to errors in transmission, if not variation at the source itself. Then, as this imported Roman rite was established in various localities, it acquired in each a different set of additions and expansions. The Franks enthusiastically imitated Byzantine practices, borrowing isolated melodies with or without Greek texts. They also borrowed from the Mozarabic liturgy and probably elsewhere. Nor was all this variation purely local: crisscrossing back and forth went the lines of communication of the great monastic orders, such as the Benedictines, carrying chant versions far beyond the normal barriers of geography, language, and local government.

The most important fact to remember when dealing with these variations—and with the whole Gregorian repertory—is that by the time of our earliest chant books with written melodies (around 900) the Christian Church had been singing for a period almost half as long as its present age; furthermore, that period saw the Church's greatest growth and development. Obviously musical style did not remain static up to 900, nor is it likely that it developed in a single, well-defined direction. At most we can assume only the normal continuity of stylistic growth. Inheriting centuries of accumulated techniques and meaning, the Roman chant of the 700s was highly stylized and extremely sophisticated when, at the end of its long, intricate development, it was taken over by the Franks.

For our purposes, we can pass over the problems of the history of Gregorian chant; we need to be acquainted with it only as a block of music embedded in liturgy. The stylistic development we will be tracing (at least up to 1600) took place in the Frankish sphere of influence. For the sake of understanding that development we need to know the Roman chant only as it was known in the North, in versions resembling those now standard. We need to see the Roman, or better, the Gregorian style as the Carolingians themselves idealized it—perfect, complete, in many ways inscrutable, without a past and largely without a stylistic future.


One of the most orderly features of Gregorian chant is the way various styles of chant are assigned different functions in the worship service. The Gregorian repertory includes a wide range of styles; very simple chant is reserved for simple occasions, or for those portions of festive occasions where the text being sung is far more important than the music, or where both text and music merely accompany an important liturgical action. More elaborate styles are used for more festive occasions, or for those portions of the service whose function is largely musical.

A large part of the Gregorian repertory is "service music" in the sense that its principal purpose is to accompany or solemnify the action of worship; such music does not claim to be a complete artistic experience in itself. Only a few kinds of Gregorian chant are designed to occupy the listener's full attention, and these kinds are carefully placed in the service so that full attention may be given them. In judging and analyzing Gregorian styles, one must know the intended liturgical function of a piece.

The most important service of the Roman Church was, and is, the mass—important first for theological reasons, but important to us because music for the mass is the central part of the Gregorian repertory. Over the centuries this service, originally a simple, direct sequence of events, has been surrounded by much supplementary ritual, as naturally happens to any well-loved, oft-repeated action. For musical purposes, however, we need to know only the main outlines of the liturgical action. Furthermore, we need to concern ourselves primarily with those portions that attracted the attention of composers.

The Roman mass consists of two disparate parts, descended from two distinct services. The first part, called synaxis (cf. synagogue), consists basically of a prayer, a Scripture reading or lesson, the singing of a part of a psalm, and another lesson. The alternation of lessons and psalm singing, descended from Judaic practice, is basic to much of Christian worship. The prayer is called a collect, in that it is a public prayer sung by the priest on behalf of all present. The collect is sung to a simple melodic formula or tone, to be described shortly. It is the prayer of the day, varying from Sunday to Sunday in order to point up the significance of the great feasts, such as Christmas and Easter, and the seasons surrounding them. The first lesson, called the epistle, is usually taken from the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament, and the second lesson, called the gospel, is from one of the four Gospels. As with the collect, there is a different epistle and gospel reading for each Sunday and feast day. Epistle and gospel are sung by the priest to melodic formulas similar to those used for the collect.

synaxis of the mass (oldest elements)
collect (prayer of the day)
epistle (first Scripture lesson)
gradual (singing of part of a psalm)
gospel (second Scripture lesson)

The portion of the psalm sung by the choir between the lessons, called the gradual, is the main musical event of the mass. No other liturgical action goes on. The text of the gradual is very short (two verses of a psalm), unlike the texts of the lessons that surround it; the music of the gradual, however, is relatively long. By the time the Roman mass reached the Franks, the gradual had been joined by another elaborate chant, the alleluia, also a musical event in its own right. Both gradual and alleluia vary from day to day, in melody as well as text. Since the alleluia (Praise the Lord!) is unsuited to times of penitence, it is replaced during Lent by a psalmodic piece called a tract, also very elaborate. In the very joyful season after Easter, the gradual in turn is replaced by an additional alleluia, making two alleluias between the epistle and gospel. The liturgical space between the two lessons of the synaxis is thus filled with the most important music of the mass.

chants between the lessons

or in Lent: or after Easter:
gradual gradual alleluia
alleluia tract alleluia

Substantial additions were made over the centuries at the beginning of the synaxis. By the time the Roman mass reached the Franks it had acquired a solemn processional song for the choir called an introit (going-in song), consisting of verses from a psalm with a refrain or antiphon. (Other now-familiar additions, including Kyrie and Gloria in excelsis, were just receiving artistic definition in Carolingian times; they will be taken up later.) The introit, like the gradual and alleluia (and tract), varies in text and music from day to day. Unlike the chants between the lessons, however, the introit is, or was originally, service music, sung during the procession. More functional, the introit is less elaborate than the gradual or alleluia; but since it is for the mass, it is still festive.

The second half of the Roman mass is peculiarly Christian, performed in obedience to the Lord's command at the Last Supper to take bread and wine, bless them, and eat "in remembrance of me." This part of the mass is called the eucharist (from the Greek word for blessing); it is also called Holy Communion. Basically a series of acts ("Take ... bless ... eat ..."), it offers less opportunity for purely musical display.

The chants for the eucharist are almost entirely functional, deriving their names and forms from the actions they accompany. While the bread and wine are being "taken" from the offerings of the congregation, the choir sings an offertory, which consisted originally of a psalm and antiphon as at the introit. As at the introit, this psalm was once sung complete; after Carolingian times it was eliminated, leaving only the antiphon.

The eucharistic blessing, or rather the beginning of it called the preface, is sung by the priest to an especially elaborate formula or tone. (At the end of the preface comes the Sanctus—but this part does not concern us now.) The main part of the blessing, called the canon, is said by the priest in a low voice. At the end of the canon, the eucharistic blessing is concluded with the Lord's Prayer, sung to a solemn tone. During the communion itself still another psalm and antiphon, called communion, were once sung complete by the choir, but in Carolingian times, this was reduced to the antiphon. (Certain now-familiar additions to the eucharist, the Agnus Dei in particular, will be taken up later.) Functional, like the introit, the offertory and communion changed from day to day.

The five items, introit, gradual, alleluia, offertory, and communion, together with collect, epistle, and gospel, make up the proper of the mass; their texts, changing from day to day, are proper or appropriate to a particular occasion, such as Christmas or Easter. Collect, epistle, and gospel (as well as preface and the Lord's Prayer) are sung by the priest to standard tones that stay the same from day to day. Introit, gradual, alleluia, offertory, and communion are sung by the choir, each proper text having its own melody. This group of five items constitutes the central portion of the Gregorian repertory, as it came North to the Franks and as we know it today. When we speak of the mass propers, or of the proper of the mass, we mean this repertory of texts and melodies provided for the Sundays, holy days, and saints' days of the Christian year.


The melodic formulas or tones for the collect, epistle, and gospel are relatively simple, being purely functional. At the same time, they may be from the oldest preserved strata— along with the more elaborate tones for preface and the Lord's Prayer—and hence furnish a convenient introduction to Gregorian chant. Even if the musical interest of these items is not so great as other types of chant, still they expose to our view tonal progressions of a remote, fascinating quality.

(Throughout this book, tonal will be used as an adjective for tone, rather than for tonality. Thus a tonal progression is a progression of tones, that is, notes or pitches; tonal order is an order pertaining to notes or pitches, as contrasted, say, with rhythmic order. The use of tone in chant to refer to a formula consisting of a few pitches may seem confusing at first, but is actually a logical and useful extension of the use of tone for a pitch, then for an interval. In any case tone, in its Latin forms, was the preferred term in the Middle Ages.)

The ancient prayer tone for the collect consists of only two pitches a whole tone apart. Example 1 contains the ending formula of the collect, a formula in text as well, called a doxology or glorification. The preceding part of the collect, not much longer than this doxology, is sung to the same two pitches arranged in the same pattern. Most of the text is recited on the upper of the two pitches (A), the lower (G) forming inflections at beginning and end of phrases. It is by no means clear from the internal structure of this prayer tone which of the two pitches is to be the final one. This tonal ambiguity, resulting in a sense of suspension, is one of the most characteristic, appropriate, and attractive features of the Gregorian style.


Excerpted from A History of Musical Style by Richard L. Crocker. Copyright © 1986 Richard L. Crocker. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


PART I CHANT 700–1150,
12 HAYDN AND MOZART 1770–1800,
Introductory Note,
Sources of Musical Examples,
Selected Study Materials,
Selected Readings,

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