Illustration of The Magic Theatre of memory created by philosopher and magus Giulio Camillo Delmini
Commenting on how the printed page contributed to the demise of ancient memory techniques:
"Perhaps the arrival of the printed book in the scholar’s library heralds the demise of classical mnemonics. Perhaps the beginning of the era in which cultural memory could find a habitation in the printed word marks the end of the era in which cathedrals, palaces,and theaters could be mirrors of the world and of the mind at once, arraying knowledge in their windows and friezes and sculptures,storing images to be brought back to life by those who passed through their haunted walls."
Julie Stone Peters commenting on a passage from Francis Yates "The Art of Memory"
As made famous by the current BBC series "Sherlock" creating a"Memory Mind Palace" was a common way of remembering information from ancient times to the mid fifteenth century and the advent of printing in Europe. Very roughly described, the technique involves creating in your mind a series of places (rooms in a house or larger building.) In each room is a lively scene or image which helps trigger in different ways memories of the knowledge you wish to remember.
After the advent of printing, people continued to develop the art of memory, attaching a magical significance to knowledge that was stored in the mind away from the printed page. They felt it gave people a type of overview, which one does not get from mere reading.
As a musician it is interesting to hear and see the difference when somebody performs or studies a work until it is memorised. The struggle of intensive work needed by most of us to achieve our goal seems to take us onto a different level of musical understanding . Performing from memory is also a high risk activity and for most of us, we do not have the safety net of improvisation. But it is perhaps precisely this stress which releases other qualities in a player. I have seen this transformation many times in students, especially those who are most resistant to playing from memory. The work needed to memorise music, forces the performer to learn the architecture of the piece they are playing and the score as a whole. Key structural points are like a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest of notes, that can lead us through. It is all too easy with a score to have a focus on melody rather than harmony, on magic moments rather than the piece as a whole. There are also physical differences, as the body can concentrate on playing rather than looking, often the head frees up and a physical transformation occurs in the player .Memory work helps gives us a physical and intellectual overview, just as the medieval scholars predicted.