Friday, January 3, 7800

Charlemagne - Carolingian Renaissance (c. 800)

[Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) - Charlemagne]

Charlemagne (Latin: Carolus Magnus or Karolus Magnus, meaning Charles the Great) (747 – 28 January 814) was King of the Franks from 768 to his death. He expanded the Frankish kingdoms into a Frankish Empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800 as a rival of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. His rule is also associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is numbered as Charles I in the regnal lists of France, Germany, and the Holy Roman Empire.

[France - Bombardes et Binious de Bretagne - Marches et Dans-Tro-Plin]

[Charles the Great and Pippin the Hunchback, 830]

The son of King Pippin the Short and Bertrada of Laon, he succeeded his father and co-ruled with his brother Carloman I. The latter got on badly with Charlemagne, but war was prevented by the sudden death of Carloman in 771. Charlemagne continued the policy of his father towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in Italy, and waging war on the Saracens, who menaced his realm from Spain. It was during one of these campaigns that Charlemagne experienced the worst defeat of his life, at Roncesvalles (778). He also campaigned against the peoples to his east, especially the Saxons, and after a protracted war subjected them to his rule. By forcibly converting them to Christianity, he integrated them into his realm and thus paved the way for the later Ottonian dynasty.

Today he is regarded not only as the founding father of both French and German monarchies, but also as the father of Europe: his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans, and the Carolingian renaissance encouraged the formation of a common European identity.

Pierre Riché reflects:

“ . . . he enjoyed an exceptional destiny, and by the length of his reign, by his conquests, legislation and legendary stature, he also profoundly marked the history of western Europe."


R[abanus Maurus (left), supported by Alcuin (middle), presents his work to Otgar of Mainz]

Alcuin of York (Latin: Alcuinus) or Ealhwine, nicknamed Albinus or Flaccus (c. 735 – May 19, 804) was a scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria. He was born around 735 and became the student of Egbert at York. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure at court in the 780's and 790's. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. He was made abbot of Saint Martin's at Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. He is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.


[St. Matthew from The Gospel Book of Charlemagne, 800]

The Carolingian Renaissance was a period of intellectual and cultural revival occurring in the late eighth and ninth centuries, with the peak of the activities occurring during the reigns of the Carolingian rulers Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. During this period there was an increase of literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical and scriptural studies. The period also saw the development of Medieval Latin and Carolingian minuscule, providing a common language and writing style that allowed for communication across most of Europe.

The use of the term renaissance to describe this period is disputed due to the majority of changes brought about by this period being confined almost entirely to the clergy, and due to the period lacking the wide ranging social movements of the later Italian Renaissance.

Instead of being a rebirth of new cultural movements, the period was typified more as an attempt to recreate the previous culture of the Roman Empire.

The lack of literate persons in eighth century western Europe caused problems for the Carolingian rulers by severely limiting the number of people capable of serving as court scribes. Of even greater concern to the very pious rulers was the fact that not all parish priests possessed the skill to read the Vulgate Bible. An additional problem was that the vulgar Latin of the later Western Roman Empire had begun to diverge into the regional dialects, the precursors to today's Romance languages, that were becoming mutually unintelligible and preventing scholars from one part of Europe being able to communicate with persons from another part of Europe.

To address these problems, Charlemagne ordered the creation of schools. A major part of his program of reform was to attract many of the leading scholars of his day to his court. Among the first called to court were Italians, Peter of Pisa who from 776 to about 790 instructed Charlemagne in Latin and Paulinus of Aquileia from 776 to 787 and whom Charlemagne nominated as patriarch of Aquileia in 787. In 782, the Italian Lombard Paul the Deacon was brought to court and remained until 787 when Charles nominated him abbot of Montecassino. Theodulf of Orleans was a Spanish Goth who served at court from 782 to 797 when nominated as bishop of Orleans. Theodulf had been in friendly competition over the standardization of the Vulgate with the chief among the Charlemagne's scholars, Alcuin of York. Alcuin was a Northumbrian monk and deacon who served as head of the Palace School from 782 to 796, except for the years 790 to 793 when he returned to England. After 796, continued his scholarly work as abbot of St. Martin's Monastery in Tours.

Among those to follow Alcuin across the Channel to the Frankish court was an Irishman, one Joseph Scottus, who left some original biblical commentary and acrostic experiments. After this first generation of non-Frankish scholars, their Frankish pupils, such as Angilbert, would make their own mark.

The later courts of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald had similar groups of scholars. Among the most important was John Scotus Eriugena.

One of the primary efforts was the creation of a standardized curriculum for use at the recently created schools. Alcuin led this effort and was responsible for the writing of textbooks, creation of word lists, and establishing the trivium and quadrivium as the basis for education.

Other contributions from this period was the development of Carolingian minuscule, a "book-hand" first used at the monasteries of Corbie and Tours that introduced the use of lower case letters. A standardized version of Latin was also developed that allowed for the coining of new words while retaining the grammatical rules of Classical Latin. This Medieval Latin became the common language of scholarship and allowed administrators and travelers to make themselves understood across Europe.

Carolingian art spans the roughly 100-year period from about 800–900. Although brief, it was an influential period — northern Europe embraced classical Mediterranean Roman art forms for the first time, setting the stage for the rise of Romanesque art and eventually Gothic art in the West. Illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, small-scale sculpture, mosaics and frescos survive from the period.

Carolingian architecture is the style of North European architecture promoted by Charlemagne. The period of architecture spans the late eighth and ninth centuries until the reign of Otto I in 936, and was a conscious attempt to create a Roman Renaissance, emulating Roman, Early Christian and Byzantine architecture, with its own innovation, resulting in having a unique character.

In Western culture, there had been an unbroken tradition in musical practice and theory from the earliest written records of the Sumerians (c. 2500 BC) through the Babylonians and Persians down to ancient Greece and Rome. However, the Germanic migrations of the 400s AD brought about a break with this tradition. Most in western Europe for the next few centuries did not understand the Greek language, and thus the works of Boethius, who saw what was happening and translated ancient Greek treatises into Latin, became the foundation of learning during this period. With the advent of scholarly reforms by Charlemagne, who was particularly interested in music, began a period of intense activity in the monasteries of the writing and copying of treatises in music theory -- the Musica enchiriadis is one of the earliest and most interesting of these. Charlemagne sought to unify the practice of church music by eliminating regional stylistic differences.

There is evidence that the earliest Western musical notation, in the form of neumes in camp aperto (without staff-lines), was created at Metz around 800, as a result of Charlemagne's desire for Frankish church musicians to retain the performance nuances used by the Roman singers.

Western musical practice and theory of today can be traced in an unbroken line from this time to the present, thus it had its beginnings with Charlemagne.


Neumes are the basic elements of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation. The word neume is a Middle English corruption of the ultimately Greek word for breath (pneuma).

The earliest neumes were inflective marks which indicated the general shape but not necessarily the exact notes or rhythms to be sung. Later developments included the use of heightened neumes which showed the relative pitches between neumes, and the creation of a four-line musical staff that identified particular pitches. Neumes do not generally indicate rhythm, but additional symbols were sometimes juxtaposed with neumes to indicate changes in articulation, duration, or tempo. Neumatic notation was later used in medieval music to indicate certain patterns of rhythm called rhythmic modes, and eventually evolved into modern musical notation. Neumatic notation remains standard in modern editions of plainchant.

Although chant was probably sung since the earliest days of the church, for centuries they were only transmitted orally.

The earliest systems involving neumes are of Aramaic origin and were used to notate inflections in the quasi-emmelic recitation of the Christian holy scriptures. As such they resemble functionally a similar system used for the notation of recitation of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam. This early system was called ekphonetic notation, from the Greek ekphonesis meaning quasi-melodic recitation of text.

Around the 9th century neumes began to become shorthand mnemonic aids for the melodic recitation of chant proper. A prevalent view is that neumatic notation was first developed in the Eastern Roman Empire (see Byzantium and Byzantine music). This seems plausible given the well-documented peak of musical composition and cultural activity in major cities of the empire (now regions of southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel) at that time. The corpus of extant Byzantine music in manuscript and printed form is far larger than that of the Gregorian chant, due in part to the fact that neumes fell in disuse in the west after the rise of modern staff notation and with it the new techniques of polyphonic music, while the Eastern tradition of Greek Orthodox church music and the reformed neume notation remains alive until today.

Slavic neume notations ("Znamennoe singing") are on the whole even more difficult to decipher and transcribe than Byzantine or Gregorian neume notations.

The earliest Western notation for chant appears in the 9th century. These early staffless neumes, called cheironomic or in campo aperto, appeared as freeform wavy lines above the text. Various scholars see these as deriving from cheironomic hand-gestures, from the ekphonetic notation of Byzantine chant, or from punctuation or accent marks.


Cheironomy (or Chironomy) is the use of hand signals to direct vocal music performance. Whereas in modern conducting the notes are already specified in a written score, in cheironomy the hand signs indicate melodic curves and ornaments.

Early music (vocal church music), as far back as the 5th century, required some central direction from a leader in the coordination of singers in their delivery of melodic lines of mostly free rhythm. Traced back to early Egyptian performances through hieroglyphic documentation (etchings in stone depicting a leader employing hand signals to indicate pitch and rhythm details for wind instrument players), this form of conducting seems to predate Guido of Arezzo's designation of joints of the fingers for indicating pitches, and seems to have offered more than limited pitch instruction. These early leaders, or cheironomers, though possessing none of the modern conducting skills developed in the 17th century, using a form of choreographed hand signals, adeptly controlled the movement of the melodic lines, producing incredibly well-synchronized performances.

Cheironomy, though not a commonly used term in today’s reference to conducting, serves, as it did in early music, as the model for the motions necessary to direct some modern music which require individualized direction to specific players, within less metrically structured musical compositions. It is still in use the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church (despite a decline of chant in the late twentieth century), of some Middle Eastern sects and in synagogues to direct the singing of liturgical songs (Hebrews probably learned cheironomy with Egyptians), and, more rarely, in some ancient Western religions.

The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians comments that the method is particularly developed in traditions lacking a written notation, including Vedic, Byzantine and Roman chants.

Jewish religious cheironomy can also be found as mnemonic signs in printed Hebrew Bibles, hanging above the text to be sung, in order to guide the cantor in his rendition of Biblical readings: see Cantillation.


A single neume could represent a single pitch, or a series of pitches all sung on the same syllable. Cheironomic neumes indicated changes in pitch and duration within each syllable, but did not attempt to specify the pitches of individual notes, the intervals between pitches within a neume, nor the relative starting pitches of different syllables' neumes.

There is evidence that the earliest Western musical notation, in the form of neumes in camp aperto (without staff-lines), was created at Metz around 800, as a result of Charlemagne's desire for Frankish church musicians to retain the performance nuances used by the Roman singers.

Presumably these were intended only as mnemonics for melodies learned by ear. The earliest extant manuscripts (9th-10th centuries) of such neumes include:

The abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland

Messine neumes (from the monastery of Metz in northeast France)

Aquitanian neumes (southern France, also used in Spain)

Laon, Chartres, Montpellier


Matters of Charlemagne's reign came to a head in late 800.

In 799, Pope Leo III had been mistreated by the Romans, who tried to put out his eyes and tear out his tongue. Leo escaped, and fled to Charlemagne at Paderborn, asking him to intervene in Rome and restore him. Charlemagne, advised by Alcuin of York, agreed to travel to Rome, doing so in November 800 and holding a council on December 1. On December 23 Leo swore an oath of innocence.

At Mass, on Christmas Day (December 25), when Charlemagne knelt the altar to pray, the pope crowned him Imperator Romanorum ("Emperor of the Romans") in Saint Peter's Basilica. In so doing, the pope was effectively attempting to transfer the office from Constantinople to Charles. Einhard says that Charlemagne was ignorant of the pope's intent and did not want any such coronation:

[H]e at first had such an aversion that he declared that he would not have set foot in the Church the day that they [the imperial titles] were conferred, although it was a great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of the Pope.

Many modern scholars suggest that Charlemagne was indeed aware of the coronation; certainly he cannot have missed the bejeweled crown waiting on the altar when he came to pray. In any event, he would now use these circumstances to claim that he was the renewer of the Roman Empire, which had apparently fallen into degradation under the Byzantines. However, Charles would after 806 style himself, not Imperator Romanorum ("Emperor of the Romans", a title reserved for the Byzantine emperor), but rather Imperator Romanum gubernans Imperium ("Emperor ruling the Roman Empire").

The Iconoclasm of the Isaurian Dynasty and resulting religious conflicts with the Empress Irene, sitting on the throne in Constantinople in 800, were probably the chief causes of the pope's desire to formally acclaim Charles as Roman Emperor. He also most certainly desired to increase the influence of the papacy, honour his saviour Charlemagne, and solve the constitutional issues then most troubling to European jurists in an era when Rome was not in the hands of an emperor. Thus, Charlemagne's assumption of the imperial title was not an usurpation in the eyes of the Franks or Italians. It was though in Byzantium, where it was protested by Irene and her successor Nicephorus I — neither of whom had any great effect in enforcing their protests.

The Byzantines, however, still held several territories in Italy: Venice (what was left of the Exarchate of Ravenna), Reggio (Calabria, the toe), Brindisi (Apulia, the heel), and Naples (the Ducatus Neapolitanus). These regions remained outside of Frankish hands until 804, when the Venetians, torn by infighting, transferred their allegiance to the Iron Crown of Pippin, Charles' son. The Pax Nicephori ended. Nicephorus ravaged the coasts with a fleet and the only instance of war between the Byzantines and the Franks, as it was, began. It lasted until 810, when the pro-Byzantine party in Venice gave their city back to the Byzantine Emperor and the two emperors of Europe made peace: Charlemagne received the Istrian peninsula and in 812 Emperor Michael I Rhangabes recognized his status as Emperor.

[7800 - Gambian Harp / 7800 Charlemagne / 7800 Bedouin Coffee Grind]