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Listen To a 1,000 Year-Old ‘Lost’ Song From the Middle Ages Brought Back to Life

A song that hasn’t been heard for 1,000 years can now be heard once again. The 11th century song was reconstructed by researchers from the University of Cambridge.

The “Songs of Consolation,” which it is known as, is a retelling of Roman philosopher Boethius’s magnum opus, the Consolation of Philosophy, which was one of the most widely-read and important works of the Middle Ages.

It was written during Boethius’ sixth century imprisonment — before his execution for treason. It was seen to be so important that many major figures had translated it, which included King Alfred the Great, Chaucer, and Elizabeth I.

Hundreds of Latin songs were recorded in neumes (symbols that represented musical notation) from the 9th through to the 13th century. It was common practice to take classic works like Horace and Virgil or late antique authors such as Boethius, and assign a melody to the texts. It is believed that this was done to learn and ritualize the texts, which most often consisted of love songs and laments.

For the researchers this was not an easy task, because 1,000 years ago music was written in a way that recorded the melodic outlines, not “notes” as today’s musicians would recognize them, but they relied on aural traditions and the memory of musicians to keep them alive.

Because these aural traditions had died out in the 12th century, it was thought to be impossible to reconstruct the “lost” music from this era as the pitches are unknown. The entire song is well over an hour, but the video is just a short excerpt of the recovered work. The performance is quite dreamy and whimsical, with the Latin lyrics placing the work firmly in the Middle Ages, which evokes images of monks chanting in medieval cathedrals.

After the rediscovery of an 11th century “Cambridge Songs” manuscript, Sam Barrett, a musicologist  from Cambridge University, was able to reconstruct the melodies. Dr. Barrett said in a statement:

Dr. Barrett has spent the last two decades identifying the techniques used to set these verse forms, with the recovery of the missing leaf; he was able to do the actual reconstruction, saying that:

Barrett has managed to put together about 80 to 90 percent of the melody. He then enlisted Sequentia — a three-piece ensemble that specializes in medieval music — to help him understand what the songs actually sounded like, and to refine his initial reconstructive work. Barrett said that when Ben Bagby from Sequentia:

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