Gamut - Encyclopedia

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GAMUT (from the Greek letter gamma, used as a musical symbol, and ut, the first syllable of the medieval hymn Sanctus Johannes), a term in music used to mean generally the whole compass or range of notes possessed by an instrument or voice. Historically, however, the sense has developed from its stricter musical meaning of a scale (the recognized musical scale of any period), originating in the medieval "great scale," of which the invention has usually been ascribed to Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century. The whole question is somewhat obscure, but, in the evolution of musical notation out of the classical alphabetical system, the invention of the medieval gamut is more properly assigned to Hucbald (d. 930). In his system of scales the semitone was always between the 2nd and 3rd of a tetrachord, as G, A, 5 B, C, so the q B and $$ F of the second octave were in false relation to the 1,B and 11 F of the first two tetrachords. To this scale of four notes, G, A, 5 B, C, were subsequently added a note below and a note above, which made the hexachord with the semitone between the 3rd and 4th both up and down, as F, G, A, 5 B, C, D. It was at a much later date that the 7th, our leading note, was admitted into a key, and for this the first two letters of the last line of the above-named hymn, "Sanctus Johannes," would have been used, save for the notion that as the note Mi was at a semitone below Fa, the same vowel should be heard at a semitone below the upper Ut, and the syllable Si was substituted for Sa. Long afterwards the syllable Ut was replaced by Do in Italy, but it is still retained in France; and in these two countries, with whatever others employ their nomenclature, the original Ut and the substituted Do stand for the sound defined by the letter C in English and German terminology. The literal musical alphabet thus accords with the syllabic: La, B, Ut or Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol. In Germany a remnant of Greek use survives. A was originally followed in the scale by the semitone above, as the classical Mese was followed by Paramese, and this note, namely 5 B, is still called B in German, English q B (French and Italian Si) being represented by the letter H. The gamut which, whenever instituted, did not pass out of use until the 19th century, regarded the hexachord and not the octachord, employed both letters and syllables, made the former invariable while changing the latter according to key relationship, and acknowledged only the three keys of G, C and F; it took its name from having the Greek letter gamma with Ut for its lowest keynote, though the Latin letters with the corresponding syllables were applied to all the other notes.

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