JULIE ANDREWS frolicked across the Alps singing it in The Sound of Music and generations of children have learnt their musical scales by remembering it.
Now Do-Re-Mi has been traced back more than 2,000 years to one of the greatest poets of ancient Rome.
According to a book to be published next month, the origins of the song lie far from the female deer and ray of golden sun in the Rodgers and Hammerstein version sung by Andrews to the von Trapp children. Instead, it was penned as a mnemonic by a medieval Italian monk who drew on a melody which accompanied Horace’s Ode to Phyllis, written in the 1st century BC.
The research has been carried out by Stuart Lyons, who won a classics scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge. A businessman who chairs the Airsprung Furniture Company, he did the work in his spare time.
“The monk who invented Do-Re-Mi took the music from a song written 1,000 years earlier by a pagan poet and songwriter and told a lie about it because he didn’t want to go to the stake (for heresy),” Lyons said.
In his book, Horace’s Odes and the Mystery of Do-Re-Mi, Lyons argues that Horace was a writer whose words were set to music rather than the conventional wisdom that he was a lyric poet. It shows that the missing link between The Sound of Music and Horace was Guido D’Abruzzo, an 11th-century Benedictine and music scholar born in Pomposa, a monastery on the Adriatic coast.
It has long been known that D’Abruzzo wrote the words to the mnemonic - although the original, taken from a medieval Latin poem, begins “ut (rather than do), re, mi, fa, so, la”. D’Abruzzo’s tune was different from the modern version, but used the same system of ascending notes.
Lyons believes he has found clear evidence that D’Abruzzo borrowed the tune from Horace. The link appeared when he unearthed a 10th-century manuscript of Ode to Phyllis at Montpellier University in France.
The notation above the words - although not recognisable as the modern tune of Do-Re-Mi - was almost identical to the tune used by D’Abruzzo.
“The melody truly belonged to the Ode,” said Lyons. “It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me in academic discovery. It is incredible to solve a mystery that is 1,000 years old.”
Stephen Harrison, professor of classical language and literature at Oxford University, said Lyons was in “respectable scholarly company” in his belief that Horace’s odes were originally sung to music. But he said it was “speculative” to suggest that a Horatian tune could have survived on a manuscript to be read by a monk almost 1,000 years later.
Richard Davis observes:
I know this is the fault of the Times rather than you, but wasn't it Guido of AREZZO who wrote "Ut queant laxis"?
Absolutely! See, e.g., the Wikipedia article on Ut queant laxis ...