Write a brief survey of the main liturgical offices during the medieval day and year and the placing within them of the principal genres of plainsong.

Essay by flyingcircusfreakUniversity, Bachelor's April 2004

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Medieval monastic foundations sang nine times each day: eight Offices or Hours, and a Mass. These offices have their roots in early Christianity: before Christianity was legalised in the Roman Empire, Christians were forced for safety?s sake to hold vigils during the night, rather than worship during the day. The Jewish Sabbath (the equivalent of our modern Saturday) was replaced as the holy day of the week by Sunday, with its connection to the Resurrection; so the vigils began late on Saturday night and continued until the early hours of Sunday morning. From these vigils evolved three of the medieval offices: Vespers, originally held at sunset in anticipation of the night?s vigils); Nocturn (later called Matins), the central portion of the vigils; and Lauds, which originally took place just before the Eucharist, before daybreak. According to this sequence of events, the celebration of a Sunday began on the Saturday evening, a custom which not only survived to the medieval period but was also standard practice up until at least the Second Vatican Council; thus many Sundays and most feast days had both First and Second Vespers, the former prescribed for the eve of the feast.

Hoppin (1978) suggests that the musically most important Offices are these ancient Offices; along with Compline, which is an addition from a later period, these form a set of four longer Hours.

The Lesser or Little Hours are those originally celebrated by individual Christians at home, being Prime, Terce, Sext and None at 6am, 9am, noon and 3pm respectively. These hours not only resemble the traditional Jewish hours of prayer, but the latter three are also linked to the times of Christ?s judgement, crucifixion, and death. As their name suggests, they are shorter and contain less musically interesting material.

All the offices apart from Compline...