Early Music and Technology

Music has a long history of being both a user and a driver of technological innovations. In the fourteenth century, pipe organs may have been the most mechanically complicated devices being produced.

The early music movement as we know it today is a loose confederation of academics, instrument makers, and performers, both amateur and professional, exploring the music of other times. It can be argued that the current form of this confederation was enabled by the invention of the xerox machine. Before that, the academics were producing editions of renaissance and baroque music in giant tomes which didn't fit on a music stand. So in order to have your recorder group play it, you had to copy it out as many times as you needed for eveyone to see it, which took more commitment than most people have to music they've never heard before. Now, if you want to try a piece, you xerox the right number of copies.

Early musicians use computers (LINUX-based and otherwise) for much the same things that anyone else does. Email makes the worldwide hospitality network function much more smoothly. The existence of various music publishing tools makes it much easier to produce an edition of a given piece of music when there are no published ones, or they don't meet your needs. Instrument makers love computer graphics and tuning tools.

Below are some links which I hope will be helpful in exploring this subject. Please feel free to email me if you know of others which should be here.

Links to Early Music-related computer (not necessarily LINUX) projects

This one was actually one of the first web pages I ever looked at. It had been discussed on the rec.music.early newsgroup some time before I got internet access. It was a while before I found anything else on the web as good as the Vatican Library site. The Music Hall of the Vatican Library site has some very beautiful Renaissance manuscripts on display.

This site bills itself as "The largest reference for European Medieval and Renaissance music on the web".

This one has everything you ever wanted to know about recorders, with a lot of links to other related areas.


My music publishing page is mostly Renaissance polyphony in unbarred parts, done in ABC on my LINUX box.

The ABC page points to +several other people using ABC to typeset early music, even if you make a distinction between early and traditional music, which many performers do not.

MusiXTeX and related programs are another route to typesetting music under LINUX.

Lilypond is another publishing system which can be used for early music.

Christian Mondrup publishes the music he arranges for his recorder group in MusiXTeX and Lilypond.

The Choral Public Domain Library has a huge collection of Choral sheet music, and also links to lots of other free sheet music sites.

The Journal of Seventeenth Century Music is a fairly advanced piece of electronic publishing.


My friend Alain Naigeon is a recorder player who investigates articulation and phrasing by creating MIDI files of his favorite Renaissance works, and composes imitations of Renaissance forms.

The different tuning systems used in different periods are easier to experiment with because of computer tuning programs, such as this one.

Laura Conrad
Early Music Mini Guide

Early Music is generally regarded
as music being within the span of
ancient chants to the
Baroque  - a huge span of
time (around 600 AD to 1650ish AD
to the start of the Baroque

Needless to say a millenium of
music covers many different types
and styles. In the Western
Tradition the Church is the
foundation for most of this -
from the early monophonic chants
through the wonderful flowing
lines of a Josquin de Pre mass
to the rich polyphony of
Palestrina. There are huge
differences of style and
complexity here!

Sub groups include the music of
the Middle Ages, The Renaissance,
and the Baroque period.
Interestingly Renaissance music
originated and developed in
Northern France and Belgium
(Josquin de Pre, from this period,
was a Fleming and was in demand
in Italy for his ability to fill
a church with music with quite
small choirs.)

Middle Ages music is subdivided
into Gregorian chant, Ars antiqua,
Ars nova, and Bergundian school.

The Baroque? (aka 'thoroughbass
period') We're getting closer to
home now and you've probably
heard of Bach and Handel to
name but two of many. And I always
think of Mozart as straddling
the border to Classicism
(well, listen!) even though he
was born in 1756. 

The next great period of music is
described as Classic and includes
Beethoven. The Classic period is
deemed to have started in 1750.

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