go to home page go to byland abbey pages go to fountains abbey pages go to kirkstall abbey pages go to rievaulx abbey pages go to roche abbey pages
The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Monastic Devotion: Music


Monk at the organ, from a 13th century antiphonary.
© Cistercians in Yorkshire
<click to enlarge>
Monk at the organ, from a 13th century antiphonary.

Where, I ask, do all these organs in the church come from, all these chimes? To what purpose, I ask you, is the terrible snorting of bellows, more like a clap of thunder than the sweetness of a voice?
Why that swelling and swooping of the voice?(9)

[Aelred of Rievaulx <read more>]

The Cistercians ruled against musical embellishment and strove to keep the chant as simple as possible, to ensure devotion and guard against frivolity. The General Chapter prescribed that monks should sing in manly voices without frills and trills, which were distracting and vain. In the mid-twelfth century Aelred of Rievaulx vehemently denounced musical embellishments. In a colourful invective he criticised the ‘swelling and swooping’ of voices, the ‘din of bellows and the humming of chimes’, and argued that far from enhancing religious observance, these histrionic displays and ‘saucy gestures’ made a mockery of worship. Aelred stressed that sound was of secondary importance and should merely augment the meaning (read more).
The Cistercian monk in Idung of Prüfenings’ twelfth-century Dialogue criticised the Cluniacs for taking expensive liquorice cordials to help them reach the high notes when singing the Office; in the fourteenth century an English Cistercian, John Anglicus, debated whether or not choir monks should suck lozenges to improve their singing.

To ensure that music was kept as simple as possible the General Chapter prohibited organs in Cistercian churches until 1486. This ban was not heeded everywhere, for the earliest surviving organ music, which comes from Robertsbridge in Sussex, dates from c. 1350 and the abbey of Meaux in Yorkshire had two organs in the fourteenth century. (10)

<back> <next>