Aretino, Guido

, celebrated for his musical skill, lived in the eleventh century. He was a native of Arezzo, a city of Tuscany; and having been taught the practice of music in his youth, and probably retained as a chorister in the service of the Benedictine monastery founded in that city, he became a monk professed, and a brother of the order of St. Benedict.

In this retirement he seems to have devoted himself to the study of music, particularly the system of the ancients, and above all to reform their method of notation. The difficulties that attended the instruction of youth in the church offices were so great, that, as he himself says, ten years were generally consumed barely in acquiring the knowledge of the plain-song; and this consideration induced him to labour after some amendment, some method that might facilitate instruction, and enable those employed in the choral service to perform the duties of it in a correct and decent manner. According to the legendary accounts extant in old monkish manuscripts, he would appear to have been inspired, and he seems to lean to this opinion; but graver historians say, that being at vespers in the chapel of his monastery, it happened that one of the offices appointed for that day was the hymn of St. John,

Ut queant laxis REsonare fibris

MIra gestorum FAmuli tuorum

SOLve pollutis LAbiis reatum

Sancte Joannes.

During the performance of the hymn, he remarked the iteration of the words, and the frequent returns of Ut, Mi, Fa, Sol, La; be observed likewise a dissimilarity between | the closeness of the syllable Mi and the broad open sound of Fa, which he thought could not fail to impress upon the mind a lasting idea of their congruity; and immediately conceived a thought of applying these six syllables to perfect an improvement either then actually made by him, or under consideration, viz. that of converting the ancient tetrachords into hexachords.

Struck with the discovery, he retired to his study; and having perfected his system, began to introduce it into practice: the persons to whom he communicated it were brethren of his own monastery, from whom it met with but a cold reception, which, in the epistle to his friend, he ascribes probably to its true cause, envy: however, his interest with the abbot, and his employment in the chapel, gave him an opportunity of trying the efficacy of his method on the boys who were in training for the choral service, and it exceeded the most sanguine expectations. “To the admiration of all,” says cardinal Baronius, “a boy learnt thereby, in a few months, what no man, though of great ingenuity, could before that attain in several years.

The fame of Guido’s invention soon spread abroad, and among other honours bestowed upon him, the pope John XX. or XIX. for this is not agreed on, sent three messengers to invite him to Rome; he complied, and being presented, was received by his holiness with great kindness. The pope had several conversations with him, in all which he interrogated him as to his knowledge in music: and upon the sight of an antiphonary which Guido had brought with him, marked with the syllables agreeable to his new invention, the pope looked on it as a kind of prodigy, and ruminating on the doctrines delivered by Guido, would not stir from his seat till he had learned perfectly to sing a verse; upon which he declared, that he could not have believed the efficacy of the method, if he had not been convinced by the experiment he himself had made of it. The pope would have detained him at Rome; but labouring under a bodily disorder, and fearing an injury to his health from the air of the place, and the heat of the summer, which was then approaching, Guido left that city with a promise to revisit it, and explain to his holiness the principles of his new system. On his return homeward, he made a visit to the abbot of Pomposa, a town in the duchy of Ferrara, who was very earnest to have Guido settle in the monastery of that place: to which invitation | it seems he yielded, being, as he says, desirous of rendering so great a monastery still more famous by his studies there.

Here it was that he composed a tract on music, entitled “Micrologus,” or “A short Discourse,” which he dedicated to Theodald bishop of Arezzo, and finished, as he himself at the end of it tells us, under the pontificate of John XX. and in the 34th year of his age. Vossius speaks also of another musical treatise written by him, and dedicated to the same person. Most of the authors who have taken occasion to mention Guido, speak of the “Micrologus,” as containing the sum of his doctrine: but it is in a small tract, entitled “Argumentum novi Cantus inveniendi,” that his declaration of his use of the syllables, with their several mutations, and in short his whole doctrine of solmisation, is to be found. This tract makes part of an epistle to a very dear and intimate friend of Guido, whom he addresses thus, “Beatissimo atque dulcissimo fratri Michaeli j” at whose request the tract itself seems to have been composed.

Whether Guido was the author of any other tracts, is not easy to determine. It nowhere appears that any of his works were ever printed, except that Baronius, in his “Annales Ecclesiastici,” torn. XI. p. 73, has given at length the epistle from him to his friend Michael of Pomposa, and that to Theodald bishop of Arezzo, prefixed to the Micrologus; and yet the writers on music speak of the “Micrologus” as a book in the hands of every one. Martini cites several manuscripts of Guido, namely, two in the Ambrosian library at Milan, the one written about the twelfth century, the other less ancient; another among the archives of the chapter of Pistoja, a city in Tuscany; and a third in the Mediceo-Laurenziano library at Florence, of the fifteenth century: these are said to be the “Micrologus.” Of the epistle to Michael of Pomposa, together with the “Argumentum novi Cantus inveniendi,” he mentions only one, which he says is somewhere at Ratisbon. Of the several tracts above mentioned, the last excepted, a manuscript is extant in Baliol college, Oxford. Several fragments of the two first, in one volume, are among the Harleian Mss. in the British Museum, but very much mutilated. 1

1 Burney and Hawkins’s Histories of Music. Dict. de Musique de M. Brossard,
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