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Anicius Boethius: Biography & Music

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt
Anicius Boethius was a philosopher, and scholar of musical theory during the Middle Ages. If anyone lived the life of a celebrity academic, it was Boethius. His story is one of both fortune and disaster, and his work in musical theory helped form the way we think and talk about music. While today's musicians may want to move like Jagger, the teachings in the ''The Fundamentals of Music'' made musicians for over a thousand years want to move like Anicius Boethius!

Anicius Boethius - Biography and Music

It appears clear and certain that music is so much a part of our nature that we cannot do without it, even if we wish to do so. - Boethius

Anicius Boethius
Boethius

Biography

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-526) was born at the beginning of the Middle Ages. This transitional time period followed the deterioration of the Western Roman Empire, and defeat of the Emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476. As a young man, Boethius saw Italy conquered by the Ostrogoth, Theodoric the Great, who proceeded to make himself king of Italy. Boethius, through his talents and connections to his mentor and father-in-law Quintus Symmachus, quickly rose in fame and influence. In time he was established as sole consul to Theodoric, and became the head of his civil administration.

During this time Boethius had it all: fame, fortune, and family! In 522, his sons became joint consuls to Theodoric, and Boethius was living the high life (well, of the 4th century). But in the time span of only one year, it all came crashing down around him. Boethius was accused of treason against Theodoric and jailed in Pavia, Italy. His execution took place shortly thereafter between 524-526. Boethius wrote his masterpiece The Consolation of Philosophy during his brief imprisonment. In the text he finds solace in the philosophy of a universe being ruled by love, and that true happiness could not be found in the fleeting pursuits of status and wealth.

Music

It is against this time and story that we can understand the influences and reasoning of Boethius' The Fundamentals of Music. In what served as the foundation of musical composition in the Middle Ages, Boethius outlines the critical elements of harmony and dissonance. He gives the reader a basis for evaluating how music is composed, and why some compositions are more or less pleasing than others. Boethius writes of music as a force that unites our rational and emotional selves. We listen to music aware of the count of its beat, the intervals between notes, and the way in which harmonies come together with our rational mind. This process of listening to beat, melody, harmony and dissonance, is one that affects us emotionally; it can raise tension, or soothe the soul.

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