Guido of Arezzo.

Musical Monk: Guido of Arezzo and His Impact on the History of Music

(Read the article on one page)

Guido of Arezzo was a monk who lived during the Middle Ages, and may be considered as one of the most influential figures in the history of modern music. During the Middle Ages, the monastery was one of the most important European institutions. The worship of God was of paramount importance in the life of a medieval monk, and one of the ways this worship was rendered was through the chanting of sacred music. Guido of Arezzo sought to rectify one of the problems that plagued these chants, and it was because of this contribution that he has made such a big impact on music of the subsequent ages.

The Life of Guido of Arezzo

Guido of Arezzo was originally known as Guido Aretinus, and was born during the last decade of the 10th century AD (the year of his birth is commonly speculated to be either AD 991 or 992 or 995). Guido was born in France, and became a monk of the Order of St. Benedict in the monastery of St. Maur des Fosses, which is located near Paris. Early in his career as a monk, Guido was already aware of the confusion that existed when sacred music was taught and performed.

Guido of Arezzo.

Guido of Arezzo. ( Public Domain )

At that time, it was impossible for composers to record their exact musical works in manuscript. As a result, the melody of sacred music had to be memorized, and was passed down orally from one generation to the next. The way these pieces were chanted, however, changed over time, as a result of memory errors or differences in taste.

During the 9 th century AD, a system of musical notation known as the neumatic notation appeared. These neumes contained general information about the contour / shape of a melody. Nevertheless, as the intervallic distance (the difference between two pitches) between notes were indistinguishable, this system could not record the exact pitches of a melody. Hence, the chanters of sacred music remained reliant on oral tradition when it came to learning the melody of a song.

Guido’s Music Voyage

It was these inconsistencies in the chanting of sacred music that Guido sought to rectify. Hence, Guido began to make innovations on the methods of teaching that were prevalent at that time. It seems that Guido’s undertakings made him unpopular amongst the other monks of St. Maur des Fosses, and led to his removal to the monastery of Pomposa, which was near Ferrara, Italy. Whilst in Pomposa, Guido taught music and developed his educational method. Guido himself claimed that a pupil of this method might learn within five months that which in the past would have taken 10 years to master.  

Monastery of Pomposa, Ferrara, Italy

Monastery of Pomposa, Ferrara, Italy ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Guido began to gain a reputation throughout Italy for his successes. It is said that this made his fellow monks in Pomposa jealous, and that it is likely that they had Guido expelled as well. Guido then moved to Arrezo, a city in Tuscany, Italy. Whilst it is unclear as to the exact date when Guido arrived in the city, we do know that it was during the time when Theudald was the bishop of Arezzo. Whilst Arezzo had no abbey, it did have a cathedral, and it was the cathedral singers that Guido was in charge of training.

The Discipline of Musical Art

It was also in Arezzo that Guido wrote the Micrologus de Disciplina Artis Musicae (A Short Treatise on the Discipline of Musical Art), which was dedicated to his patron, Bishop Theudald. News of this treatise soon reached the Pope, John XIX, who was intrigued by these reports, and invited Guido to demonstrate his teachings to him in Rome. The Pope was so impressed by Guido’s innovations, that he requested the monk to stay in Rome and instruct the Roman clergy in this new system, as well as to introduce it into general practice.

Guido of Arezzo and Tedald

Guido of Arezzo and Tedald ( Public Domain )

The climate of Rome, however, did not suit Guido, and he fell sick shortly after his arrival. As a result, Guido left the Eternal city, went back to Pomposa for a short while, and then back to Arezzo again. Little is known about Guido after this. Whilst one account suggests that Guido died in Arezzo, another claims that he became a prior at a Camaldolese monastery near Avellano, and died there.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Posthumous portrait of Queen Isabella I of Castile.
Isabella I was a Queen of Castile and León who lived between the middle of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries. Her reign is notable for a number of important events, including the completion of the Reconquista, the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, and Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage, which the monarch supported and financed.


Left side view of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan.
Teotihuacan’s Lost Kings, a television special, took an hour long look at the great city, its inhabitants, and the excavation of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, (also known as the Feathered Serpent Pyramid.) The program revealed evidence of advanced engineering built into a tunnel system, and placed directly underneath the Pyramid.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article