Guido d’Arezzo or Guido Aretinus

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Guido d’Arezzo or Guido Aretinus

Guido d’Arezzo or Guido Aretinus, famous Italian music theorist; b. c.991; d. after 1033. He received his education at the Benedictine abbey at Pomposa, near Ferrara. He left the monastery in 1025, as a result of disagreements with his fellow monks, who were envious of his superiority in vocal teaching; he was then summoned by Bishop Theobald of Arezzo to the cathedral school there; it was because of this association that he became known as Guido d’Arezzo. In 1028 Pope John XIX called him to Rome to demonstrate his system of teaching. In his last years, he was a prior of the Camaldolite fraternity at Avellano. Guido’s fame rests on his system of solmization, by which he established the nomenclature of the major hexachord Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, from syllables in the initial lines of the Hymn of St. John:

Ut queant laxis Resonare fibris

Mira gestorum Famuli tuorum,

Solve polluti Labii reatum,

Sancte Joannes.

No less epoch-making was Guide’s introduction of the music staff of 4 lines, retaining the red f-line and the yellow c-line of his predecessors, and drawing between them a black 0-line, above them a black a-line, and writing the plainsong notes (which he did not invent) in regular order on these lines and in the spaces:

Old yellow line e_____

New black line e_____

Old yellow line c_____

New black line a_____

Old red line f_____

He also added new lines above or below these, as occasion required; thus, Guido’s system did away with all uncertainty of pitch. Another invention credited to Guido is the so-called Guidonian hand, relating the degrees of the overlapping hexachords to various places on the palm of the left hand, a device helpful in directing a chorus by indicating manually the corresponding positions of the notes. Opinions differ widely as to the attribution to Guido of all these innovations; some scholars maintain that he merely popularized the already- established ideas and that solmization, in particular, was introduced by a German abbot, Poncius Teutonicus, at the abbey of Saint-Maur des Fosses.


Aliae regulae (foreword to an antiphoner; Pomposa, c. 1020-25); Micrologus de disciplina arils musicae (c. 1026; ed. by J. Smits van Waesberghe in Corpus Scriptorum de Musica, IV, 1955; Eng. tr. by W. Babb in C. Palisca, ed., Hucbald, Guido, and John on Music: Three Medieval Treatises, New Haven, 1979); Regulae rhythmica (c. 1025-27); Epistola de ignoto cantu (c. 1028-29; Eng. tr. in O. Strunk, Source Readings in Music History, N.Y., 1950; rev. ed., 1998, by L. Treitler).


L. Angeloni, Sopra la vita, le opere ed il sapere di G. d’A. (Paris, 1811); R. Kiesewetter, G. von A.: Sein Leben und Wirken (Leipzig, 1840); G. Ristori, Biografia di G. Monaco d’A. (Florence, 1867); M. Falchi, Studi su G. Monaco di San Benedetto (Florence, 1882); H. Wolking, G.s Micrologus de disciplina artis musicae und seine Quellen (Emsdetten, 1930); J. Smits van Waesberghe, De musicopaedogogico et theoretico Guidone Aretino eiusque vita et moribus (Florence, 1953); H. Oesch, G. von A. (Bern, 1954); C. Margueron, Recherches sur Guittone d’A. (Paris, 1966).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire