Guido d’Arezzo and the birth of the musical staff

Guido d’Arezzo is famous in the world for the invention that transformed the story of music: the music notation. A thing like the staff which today may seem familiar to everyone, in reality is an extraordinary invention, worthy of a true revolutionary mind.

The beginning of a great cultural revolution

Guido Monaco was in the abbey of Pomposa (Ferrara) when he laid the foundations for written music but the success of his invention turned against him. The cultural revolution which he was giving birth to was a real innovation for the Middle-Age because he would bring erudite music outside the abbeys, making it affordable for everyone.
We are in the year one thousand when the Benedictine monk and music teacher starts to try out the notation on Gregorian chants in the cathedrals of Arezzo and Pomposa. Day after day he accounts for all the difficulties which monks have to remember traditional Gregorian chants and he starts thinking how to help his brothers.

Obviously, before him there was a notation system, it was the one called Neumatic which was not based on the music notes, but it was based on signs and chants that were applied to every single syllable on the transcription of a melodic and rhythmic formula. This system was intricate and complex to decode; moreover much of the teaching and music transmission was related to verbal tradition.Anteprima modifiche (si apre in una nuova scheda)

His innovations found a lot of resistance and in order to escape from envy and accusations he decided to hide himself in Arezzo. To welcome with open arms Guido d’Arezzo there was the flourishing chant school of the cathedral with its bishop Tebaldo who was ready to protect him. It is not by chance that the Micrologus of Guido d’ Arezzo, that was the most widespread essay and text during the Middle-age, was dedicated to Tebaldo.

Concorso Polifonico Arezzo

The music notes, the tetradrachm and the Guidonian hand

Starting from the first syllables of the Anthem to Saint John the Baptist written by Paolo Diacono that were “Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si”, Guido d’Arezzo gave the names of the music note. The “Ut” will be replaced with the Do by Giovanni Battista Doni a few centuries later.

Moreover, he decoded the way to write notes defining the note positions on a great music staff, proposing a unified system for writing notes. He used the symbol of a square for the terminal tetradrachm part of the note which will later become a rhombus and finally our oval.

Guido d’Arezzo introduces, for the first time in the history, the great staff on which to point at the note pitch following their position, the tetradrachm. Unlike the modern pentagram which has 5 rows, the tetradrachm had four.

Guido d’Arezzo invented also the mnemonic  system of the “Guidonian hand” for helping the exact intonation of note level and the solmization system which was a first form of solfége.

These inventions made him very famous in the Middle-Age, so famous as to be invited to Rome to meet  Pope John the XIXth.

Guido Monaco: His Square and His Statue in Arezzo


Arezzo dedicated to this famous son its Piazza Guido Monaco with the big statue of Guido d’Arezzo, inventor of the music notes,  in the middle.

Piazza Guido Monaco is considered as the anteroom of ancient Arezzo. It is a fundamental passage for who comes from the South and wants to enter the beauty of Roman, Medieval and Renaissance Arezzo. It is  one of the most important junctions in the city, in the heart of the ancient walls and it is the first monument we can see as soon as we exit the train station.

In the monument to Guido d’Arezzo, realized by the Leghorn sculptor Salvino Salvini in 1882, Guido Monaco is drawn with the Benedictine dress while posing the right hand on the antiphonary containing the verse of the anthem to Saint John from which the music notes had the name.

The house in Talla in Casentino and the Musicalis way route

Guido Monaco was born in Talla, a Medieval hamlet in Casentino, between 992 and 995. Here you can visit the House of Guido Monaco which has a documentary and didactic staging with ancient musical instruments coming from the Franciscan monastery of La Verna.

Everything is enriched with a musical interactive path which links the house museum of Guido Monaco to the hamlet of Talla, the Musicalis route. The path is curated by the artist Marco Ermini who pays tribute to the universe of Guido d’Arezzo with a series of sonorous interactive installations inspired by past musical instruments.

Arezzo and its territory celebrate Guido, the monk who invented the notes and changed the world, because without the genius of Guido Monaco and his system of music notation the music we play, we write, and we listen to would not even exist today. At least not as well.

house museum of Guido Monaco

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