Six musical tones

«Ut queant laxis
resonare fibris,
mira gestorum
famuli tuorum,
solve polluti
labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.»

[«Para que lassas
ressoem as fibras,
mira os gestos aos
fâmulos teus,
solve a poluição dos
lábios reactivos,
São João.»]

[So that loosened
resound the fibers,
look at the gestures of
your famuli,
solve the pollution of
reactive lips,
Saint John.

– Paulus Diaconus (720-799), “Hymnus in Ioannem“, written in Sapphic stanzas.

The first syllable of each hemistich (half line of verse) from Ut queant laxis were used by Guido of Arezzo, in the eleventh century, to name the successive six musical tones. The “si” was added much later, in the 18th century.

The hymn was usually sung on June 24, the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, and was divided into three parts, with:
– “Ut queant laxis” sung at Vespers (18h-21h),
– “Antra deserti teneris sub annis” sung at Matins (0h-3h),
– “O nimis felix, meritique celsi” sung at Lauds (3h-6h).

Guido of Arezzo also used a mnemonic system to teach musical reading, where note names corresponded to parts of the human hand:



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