Rosslyn Chapel music score 'decoded'

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
Image: Anne Burgess.

Carvings on the 600 hundred year old Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland represent a coded form of a musical score, the father-and-son team of Tommy J. Mitchell, 75 and Stuart Mitchell, 41, say.

"[The] Rosslyn Chapel holds a musical mystery in its architecture and design. At one end of the chapel, on the ceiling are 4 cross-sections of arches containing elaborate symbolic designs on each array of cubes (in actual fact they are rectangles mostly). The 'cubes' are attached to the arches in a musically sequential way. And to confirm this, at the ends of each arch there is an angel playing a musical instrument of a different kind. After 27 years of study and research by [Stuart's father Thomas J. Mitchell], we believe he has found the pitches and tonality that match the symbols on each cube, revealing its melodic and harmonic progressions," said T. Mitchell on a statement posted on his website.

Thomas J. Mitchell.

The musical score has been "frozen" in the chapel for 600 years. Inside the chapel, there are 13 angels T. Mitchell calls the "orchestra of angels," which are carved into the chapel's arches and who appear to be musicians.

Surrounding the angels are 213 geometric symbols that were found to resemble sound waves at different pitches. After decoding all the symbols to match the soundwaves, they found the song which researchers say is part of the "cymatics" music system, also known as the "Chladni patterns" which is the study of wave phenomena associated with the physical patterns produced through the interaction of sound waves in a medium.

"It is what we could call 'frozen music', a little like cryogenics. The music has been frozen in time by symbolism, it was only a matter of time before the symbolism began to 'thaw out' and begin to make sense to scientific and musical perception," said T. Mitchell.

Mitchell describes the song as sounding like a celtic melody or a nursery rhyme.

"The unusual combination of instruments, their dynamics, tunings and textures re-create a sound long forgotten from the past. The melodies are simple but harmonically develops and unfolds in the most simplistic but charming way. The sequential arrangement of the cubes at many times is a series of repeated notes/symbols signifying a more functional than aesthetic sense to the music. Sometimes it sounds a bit like a 'nursery rhyme' and there is also a feeling of a 'Celtic air' about the music," added Mitchell's statement.

The Mitchells have added words from a contemporary hymn to the music and have named the composition The Rosslyn Motet, which is performed by the Tallis Chamber Choir and produced by Stuart Mitchell.

It is currently available on CD and is opening in a world premier concert on May 18 which will be performed inside the Rosslyn Chapel.

The chapel has seen a rise in visitors, tourists, and researchers since it was featured in the book and movie The Da Vinci Code.


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