Ancients and moderns in medieval music theory: From Guido of Arezzo to Jacobus

Constant J. Mews, Carol J. Williams

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Medieval discourse about both the theory and practice of music featured much debate about the views of moderni and antiqui from when Guido of Arezzo devised a new way of recording pitch in the early eleventh century to the complaints of Jacobus in the early fourteenth century about new forms of measured music in the ars nova. There was also a shift from a Boethian notion that practical music was a manifestation of cosmic music, towards a more Aristotelian model, that privileged music as sensory experience. That this could have a profound effect on human emotion was articulated by Johannes de Grocheio writing about music c. 1270 and Guy of Saint-Denis soon after 1300 about plainchant. Jacobus, writing in the 1320s, was troubled by this shift in thinking about music not as reflections of transcendent realities, but as sounds of human invention that served to move the soul. He argued that musical patterns should reflect a transcendent harmony that was both cosmic and celestial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-315
Number of pages17
JournalIntellectual History Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017


  • Aristotle
  • ars antiqua
  • ars nova
  • Boethius
  • cosmic music
  • emotions
  • Guido of Arezzo
  • Guy of Saint-Denis
  • Jacobus
  • Jerome of Moravia
  • Johannes de Grocheio
  • John of Garland
  • music theory
  • Peter of Auvergne
  • plainchant
  • Thomas Aquinas

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