Did a medieval monk predict the double-dip?

Paul Mason (left) and musicians Paul (left) as musical director at Loughborough University in a rehearsal for Carousel (1986)

I have always been fascinated by patterns and lines in music - I studied the rise of musical notation, in the form of the "tonic sol-fa" invented by Benedictine monk Guido d'Arezzo in the 10th Century, and the early system of lines and "neumes" (notes) he proposed.

In the beginning, notes on a stave were used to write down and pass on songs that had been rote learned.

But once you get notation, you get theory. And musical theory allowed composers to create tunes and harmonies out of their heads, on paper: to disrupt and play around with tunes instead of simply writing down what flows naturally from the human voice; to create sounds that shocked their audience instead of soothing them.

One of the earliest examples of this is the Kyrie Osbornum, an anonymous manuscript recently found in the archives of an English Cathedral. Written using the Gregorian notation, the piece is remarkable for the way it departs from the "normal" ebb and flow patterns we are used to in Gregorian chant.

The first phrase is a classic, wavering melody, sublime but unremarkable.

The second (on the word Eleison) suddenly dips an entire octave in mid-phrase, stretching the capabilities of the monastic choir to breaking point - only then to soar high above its starting point, giving the whole passage a manic-depressive feel quite unprecedented in the music of the time.

In the final phrase, the voice rises falteringly, only to fall back again - not as deeply, but settling on the "dominant" (sol in Guidonian notation), giving the whole melody the feel of being unfinished.

What has startled musicologists is the similarity of the Kyrie to a graph of the UK's quarterly GDP growth figures since before the Lehman Brothers crisis.

Like the UK economy, the melody starts stable, plunges to unheard of depths, recovers, but falls again at the end. And like the Kyrie, the UK growth graph speaks of disruption, depression, failed recovery, uncertainty.

UK economic performance graph
Music notation

Controversy rages about the Kyrie, with some scholars determined to prove it is a fake, planted perhaps by an economist who is also a musician, and who has simply projected each 0.25% rise or fall in output onto a four-stave graph.

This school of thought has dubbed the piece the Kyrie Darlingianum.

On Tuesday 11 September at 3.00pm on Radio 4, I'll be digging further into the mystery of this remarkable piece in the first of a new series entitled Short Cuts: Tracing the line.

Paul Mason, Economics editor, Newsnight Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    An amusing item in the best tradition of English whimsy. Don’t know why some folk have taken against it. Jock McGovern would be pleased to see what you are getting up to these day and that music making covers all manner of human activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Not sure what you've been smoking Paul, but I'll have some

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I'm a teeny weeny bit peeved!! Some confusion over time of broadcast and I've missed it ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Prudeboy @16
    "No Patterns"?

    Missed Paul's punch-line, but 'something nasty' happened to 'the pattern' of a peaceful chant - someone coughed or choked on an illicit sweet perhaps

    Perhaps 'a pattern' in the monks' response?

    Hands raised, all fall to groaning

    No CPR needed: but what will the papers say?

    All we needed was a Lehman's food bank - we were feeding them anyway - 'til proper jobs found

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "Theory of Everything"
    There’s room in higher dimensions to put all forces together, but 4 dimensions is not big enough to accommodate all these. When you expand to 11 dimensions, everything works perfectly.
    I think Paul may be onto something, but I can't keep up. I am not Einstein, but I have always known we are too primitive to see REALITY, far less work with it, which one day we will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Universe is symphony of vibrating strings. So what would be Mind of God? Einstein puzzled for last 30 years of his life. Theory: Mind of God = cosmic music resonating through 11 dimensional space. We live on vibrating strings & membranes. But why 11? It turns any other number creates instability; mathematics needs universe of 11 dimensions.
    But don't ask me how this fits with the Kyrie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Michio Kaku: "The Universe Is a Symphony of Vibrating Strings."
    Kaku works in String Theory. Latest version of String Theory is called M-Theory, “M” for membrane. We now realize that strings coexist with membranes. Subatomic particles we see in nature e.g. electrons are nothing but musical notes on a tiny vibrating string. The universe is music. But don't ask me how this fits with the Kyrie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Since when was 10th September 1st of April ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    There are no patterns.
    Why should there be?

    We are living real life.
    If there are similarities with the past it can only be because folk are acting out past trends - because the media is telling them to do so.

    Which is why the fourth estate is important.
    Which is why Politicos pay homage to Murdoch.

    But nothing is pre ordained. Think. Why should it be?


  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Synchronicity: quite Jungian really.

    If you really were a medieval monk, Paul you would always be trying to see God in nature.

    On the other hand as an economist you can only explain thereby legitimising hell on earth.

    The medieval church had its good points.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.


    In this Dark Age, dark despite fanfares, of comfort to hear any tune that carries hope, some refrain of humanity

    What is it about the US Open, or the lost-and-found Kyrie, that 'should' encourage us - for the economy or our souls - 'to pick-up a tennis racket' or tune-in at 3 this afternoon?

    Hope 'the line' fed not just enough 'to hang' a good voice

    I expect to have to LIsten Again

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The best connection of GO with music is that his policies seem to be stuck in the same record groove of Ravel's Bolero. Given his level of sophistication in economics perhaps G Bizet's Jeux d'enfant would be more appropriate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Well, scientists recently announced that they believe the universe hums, has a musical note. Those of us who have lived in London know that London hums. Economists will tell you that London, disproportionately, drives the UK economy.

    If London stops humming - watch out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is a belated April Fool joke, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    but I m not sure I really got it.
    Kyrie Eleison= Lord Have Mercy
    Kyrie Osbornum=Lord Osbourne
    Are we talking here some type of cryptic scoop about forthcoming knighthoods?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    there was nothing stable about 2000-2008 it just looked like it.

    rescession 1 drops by about 5.0%

    rescession 2 drops by about 1.5 %

    cleary a massive difference, and started end 2010 6 months after election so most of that was already comign around the corner.

    what the UK requires is some objective reporting by the BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Ha-ha. Nice one: You "fooled" some people here. Keep up the good "Mickey"-taking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Perhaps a Rondo or indeed Carousel(top photo) might more accurately describe boom & bust,or as the bank propagandists(economists) laughingly call it the business cycle
    It's only been with us as long as fractional reserve banking & that's no coincidence
    A Copernicus moment is needed.The issuance of money should be solely a state prerogative.There's a reason the church put Galileo under house arrest

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    'Controversy rages about the Kyrie, with some scholars determined to prove it is a fake'. C'mon! Simple testing of manuscript and ink could surely authenticate this. If the illustration above is the original - its a fake! Probably scribbled by someone on a train to while away the time ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I wonder about the piece having a manic-depressive feel, which is stark but clearly does describe the breadth of the pattern. I would rather think of it as being inspiringly original and far reaching in it's breadth, not hide-bound to the conventions of the day.

    An apposite name for the piece, given your analogy! Could it help inspire George Osborne to a resolution of the present fiscal mess ..


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