WHEN YOU THINK OF CHARLEMAGNE, “Charles the Great,” you think of a powerful military leader who lived a very, very long time ago and who consolidated a great deal of power and territory. Rather than simply being a warrior, he was a man who valued education, which included the study of foreign languages, the preservation of important historic documents, and music. The monks of that day were busily working away in the monastaries, copying the Biblical texts. We have The Book of Kells today because of their work.
The music which was most significant in the every day lives of people then was the music of worship. Chanting was the common form of singing in that day. Think of chanting as just a fancy way to speak, of speaking in a musical way. When a selection was sung by a group, it was sung in unison (think “uni” one and “son” as coming from the word sound.) The group was singing together as a single voice.
As for the music itself, think of it as moving gradually higher pitches and lower pitches, stepwise, not in making leaps. Listen to a sample here, a piece entitled Veni, Creator Spiritus, attributed to Rhabanus Maurus, 776-856. (Can you figure out what the name of the song is in English?) what you hear in “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “My Bonnie lies over the ocean.” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” moves in step-wise fashion.
Musical notation was just in its infancy and didn’t have much detail to it. Written music in Charlemagne’s day was used more as a memory booster, a guide for someone who had learned the selection orally directly from another singer. In fact, we really can’t determine exactly what the music sounded like, as not enough detail was written down to pass the information down throughout the ages. We do know that the words which were sung were either from the Psalms or of the church liturgy, the creeds, for example.