Around the year 600, the great scholar St. Isidore of Seville lamented that “unless sounds are remembered by man, they perish, for they cannot be written down.” In fact, the Babylonians and the Ancient Greeks had independently invented systems of musical notation more than a thousand years earlier, but after the decay of their civilizations these methods had been completely forgotten. This meant that for many centuries, the only way of preserving a musical composition was through a continuous tradition of performance, passing it on from generation to generation.

However, a century or so after St. Isidore’s time, monks started experimenting with ways of making a written record of the chants they sang, and in the 11th century ...

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