De Harmonie der Sferen en het ontstaan van de muzikale modi


Peter Strauven

Jan M.F. Van Reeth


The system of the eight modi for liturgical music has its roots in old
Mesopotamian cosmology and Neo-Platonism, applied to the Biblical imaginary
of Genesis. Thus the eight modi symbolised the seven planetary spheres
of the cosmos and the corresponding degrees of paradise, indicating the
itinerary by which the human soul is to attain its eternal, glorified destiny. In
this contribution, we try to demonstrate that the eight modi originally were
only a speculative theory, developed by Syrian Hellenistic philosophers and
theologians, not by musicians. Only after completing a theoretical form,
musicians were endeavoured to provide compositions according to the system
of modality and to mould older compositions into the newly developed
system. This process, resulting in different forms of modality, was achieved
independently in Syria, the Byzantine world, and also in the West. Latin
theoreticians e.g., although having only a partial knowledge of the original
doctrine composed and adapted their chants to such a theoretical system.