Music Feature: Our Lady of Paris

Simon Russell Beale explores Notre Dame’s cultural influence

TV & Radio Information
BBC Radio 3
Saturday, September 7, 2013 - 12:15


2013 sees the Cathedral of Notre Dame enter its 850th year. To mark the anniversary, Simon Russell Beale looks at the history of the building and explores the tension between Paris’s sacred and secular sides as expressed in the musical and cultural life of the city.

Architecturally iconic, this magnificent church has also influenced western music in an unprecedented way. Mediaeval musicians relinquished the single line plainchant in favour of multiple voices and complex harmony; the new craze for polyphony soon caught on and changed the face of music across Europe.

These advances came into conflict with the conservatism of the Catholic Church, however, and the emphasis in music turned from the sacred to the secular as composers sought a sphere in which they could express themselves.

Despite France’s official separation of Church and State, the sense of the sacred is deeply intertwined in French cultural life, and as Beale discovers here, the history of music is no exception. 

For more information, visit the Radio 3 website.

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