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Music History
Medieval Music
1066 - 1500
A Medieval overview…
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During the Medieval era, the church dominated the
lives of the people.
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From birth to death, whether you were a peasant, a
servant, a noble, a lord or a King.

Civilization progressed slowly and science was
looked upon with distrust.
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Communication between and within countries was
tedious and primarily sent word-of-mouth.
Historical Context

Battles/War
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Battle of Hastings (1066)
Hundred Years War (ended 1453)
Black Death (1347-1351)
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A plague that killed a large number of people - over 1/3 of
the population; attacked young and old, rich and poor.
Historical context cont’d…
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Focus on life of the Christian Church
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Main reason – people worried about life after death:
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“The problem with life is that it is short and we don’t
know what came before life or what will happen after
we die.”
Believed that the Church was giving the correct answers.
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Period of Change
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Population growth, then huge decline with the plague,
sometimes at a rate of 200 people a day.
Woods were cut and fields ploughed to have crops to feed
the population; change in environment.
General Musical Context
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Sacred – music dedicated to deity or to some
religious purpose.

Secular – music that is not regarded as
religious, spiritual or sacred.

Notation: no bar lines, small strokes between
notes

General trend was moving toward more
complex pieces through the use of harmony
and rhythm
General Music Context cont’d...
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Primarily music was sung (or played) without any
other accompaniment. The term for this was
monophonic

The next step was to add accompaniment – or
homophonic

Then composers began to create music with two or
more independent melodic parts sounding together – or
Polyphonic.

Instruments used: Pipe organs, lute (bowed), harps,
recorders, kettledrums, flutes, ivory horns,
guitars, bagpipes, trumpets, drums
and cymbals.
Musical Context: Sacred Music

Music and religion were a shaky pair during the medieval times.
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The church did not want to promote something that was seen as a ‘sinful’
act, but people enjoyed it so much that several musical styles came about
that praised God in the ‘proper way’.
One of the earliest forms of music is known today as Plainchant.

Plainchant – unaccompanied, single line of melody sung in unison.
Catholic church by the monks. Used in religious service.

Descants – counterpoint to the tenor

This a wordless melody that accompanies the main plainchant

Guido d’Arezzo, an Italian composer and monk who
invented a 4 line staff.

Neumes – short hand to show the direction of the pitch.

These symbols above the words tell the singer which
direction the notes should go.
Composers:
Gregorian Monks…

Gregorian monks were the primary creators of sacred music during this era.
They had 9 services a day and performed music for these services.

Monks divided their day into Hours, which they also called Offices - specific
music that was sung every day.
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Lauds
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Matins
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Prime
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Terce
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Sext
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Nones
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Vespers
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Compline
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Any work was immediately ceased at these times of daily prayer. The nuns and
monks were required to stop what they were doing and attend the services.
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Listening: Office of the Second Vespers, Nativity
Composer:
Hildegard de Bingen (1098 – 1179)

A German composer and nun
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Sacred music – 77 chants and the first
musical drama

Visionary – she had visions of sacred
events and God

One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is quite
possibly the first staged liturgical drama, and
may be considered a distant precursor to opera.

This morality play portrays 16 female virtues like
Humility, Love, Obedience, and Faith; a Happy Soul, an
Unhappy Soul, and the Devil.

Listening: In principio omnes (from Ordo Virtutum)
Musical Context: Secular Music

Much of this music was lost because it was
not notated

Often composers of secular music wrote
pieces for the service of ladies and about
the poet’s pleasure and love. They used
French texts of courtly love, rather than
Latin liturgy.

Ars Nova (“New Art”) = a new, more
detailed rhythmic notation.
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Isorhythms – periodic repetition or
recurrence of rhythmic patterns.
Musical Context: The Musicians

Troubadours: singing and traveling musicians.
Sang to make money and food.

Goliards: wandering scholars; made up songs
about drinking and love, also wrote parodies of
religious songs. Traveled in search of education.

Guilds: unions in the 13th century, because of the
amount of wandering musicians.
Formes Fixes
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French poetic forms of the 14th century, translated into musical
forms.
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Ballades: a one movement musical piece with lyrical and
dramatic narrative qualities
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Rondeau: a form of French poetry with 15 lines written on two
rhymes.
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form is aaB - B being the shorter line
Music-wise it consists (usually) of 13 lines of 8 syllables plus 2
refrains using 3 rhymes.
form AAaAabAB capital letters refer to the refrain text, and lower case
means new text was used
Virelai: similar to a rondeau. Each stanza has 2 rhymes, the end
rhyme recurring as the 1st rhyme of the next stanza.

Musical structure (usually) looks like AbbaA, with the first and last
sections having the same lyrics.
Danse Macabre
based on the Black Death
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Folk dances were very important during this era:
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Round dances
Caroles
Stamping dances
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One example of this is the Danse Macabre - this
particular dance was create to represent how the
plague attacked people from all walks of life.

The people are typically shown as skeletons or
corpses in a procession, usually dancing.

The theme of the Danse Macabre has been used
since the 15th century in paintings, theatre, music,
literature, and later in film.
Composer:
Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)

French poet and composer who wrote
mostly of courtly love

Large number of motets and songs ~
Wrote both sacred and secular music

He would use the same established
forms as everyone else, but made
subtle changes to add personal touches
and a more dramatic emphasis.

Considered ‘avant guarde’

Pieces were very lyrical in spirit.
• Listening: Rondeau: Rose, Liz, Printemps, Verdure
Piece for 4 voices – 2 men, 2 women
Rose, liz, printemps, verdure
Rose, liz, printemps, verdure
Fleur, baume et tres douce odour
Belle, passes en doucour
Et tous les biens de Nature
Avez, dont je vous aour
Rose, liz, printemps, verdure
Fleur, baume et tres douce odour;
Et quant toute creature
Seurmonte vostre valour
Bien puis dire et par honnour:
Rose, liz, printemps, verdure
Fleur, baume et tres douce odour
Belle, passes en doucour
Rose, lily, spring, greenery
Flower, balm and sweetest perfume
Beauty, you surpass them in
sweetness.
And all the gifts of nature
You have, for which I adore you.
Rose, lily, spring, greenery.
Flower, balm and sweetest perfume
And since all creatures
You surpass in worth
I must say in all honor:
Rose, lily, spring, greenery.
Flower, balm and sweetest perfume
Beauty, you surpass them in
sweetness
Important Terms
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Plainchant
Descant
Sacred
Secular
Neumes
Monophony
Homophony
Polyphony
French formes fixes
 Ballades
 Virelai
 Rondeau
Ars Nova
isorhythms
Danse Macabre
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