Middle Ages:  450-1450

Dark Ages:  450 to 1000

•       disintegration of Roman Empire

Romanesque:  1000 to 1150

•       Romanesque churches and monasteries

Gothic: 1150 to 1250

•       Gothic Cathedrals

•       founding of Universities

Middle Ages:  Society

Nobility: mostly illiterate

•       fortified castles

Peasantry: illiterate

•       subject to feudal overlords

•       bound to the soil

Clergy: literate

•       Roman Catholic Church

•       Monasteries held a monopoly on learning

Music in the Middle Ages

Most important musicians were priests

•       Only sacred music was notated

Women did not sing in church, but did sing in convent

Gregorian Chant:  The official music of the Roman Church

Sacred Latin text

sung a cappella, without accompaniment

monophonic texture: unison

Rhythm  is unmeasured

Melody has a narrow range and moves by step


Rhythm: The ordered flow of music through time.

beat:  The regular recurrent pulsation that divides music into equal units of time

meter:  The organization of beats into groups

Melody:  The tune

pitch:  The relative highness or lowness of a sound.

Gregorian Chant: Source

Mostly unknown composers, Jewish temple rites and oral tradition

Pope Gregory the Great

•       Reorganized the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Listening:  Alleluia:  Vidimus stιllum

Sacred Latin text

monophonic texture

mode: an eight-note scale which is neither major nor minor

step-wise melody with a narrow range

ABA Form

Hildegard of Bingen

Abbess of Rupertsberg, Germany

Noble Birth

Raised by Benedictine Nuns

Listening:  O successores by Hildegard of Bingen

Words came in a vision

Two drones played on a fiddle

•       drone one or more long, sustained tones accompanying a melody.

•       fiddle medieval bowed string instrument

Wider skips in the melody, wider range

To be sung by nuns in the convent

Secular Music (12th & 13th centuries)

Troubadours (S. France)

Trouvθres (N. France)

•       Noble birth

•       Included men and women

•       Subject matter: Love songs, Crusade songs, Dances, and Spinning songs

•       Instrumental dance music

Listening:  Estampie

•       Medieval dance music

•       Strong beat (for dancing)

•       Single melody line is notated

•       Performers improvised instrumental accompaniment

•       Pipe

The Development of Polyphony:  Organum

Polyphony: Simultaneous performance of two or more independent melodic lines

Organum: Medieval music that consists of Gregorian Chant and one or more additional lines.

Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

Leonin added second, faster, voice above the plainchant

•       Lead to measured rhythm

Perotin added third voice above Leonin’s

Listening: Alleluia - Perotin

Melody in lowest voice

Lead to four parts:

•       Soprano - superious or highest

•       Alto - altus or high

•       Tenor - held voice, chant melody

•       Bass - bassus or lower, added in 14th century

The Ars Nova in France & Italy - 1300s/14th Century

The Hundred Years War

Bubonic Plague

Weakening of the feudal system

Weakening of the Church

The rise of secular music

Papal court at Avignon was mostly secular

•       secular themes including drinking songs, hunting songs, bird calls, dog barks

•       Not based on Gregorian Chant

Musical style known as new art (ars nova, Latin)

•       New music notation system evolved

•       Beats could be subdivided into 2 as well as 3

•       Syncopation became important rhythmic practice

Guillaume de Machaut

b. Champagne, France


worked for Nobility

•       love songs

Canon over France

•       Cathedral at Reims

•       Notre Dame Mass

Notre Dame Mass by Machaut

Greatest composition of the 14th Century

First full setting of mass ordinary: 

Ordinary: the texts remain the same from day to day throughout most of the year

Proper: the texts change from day to day

Mass Ordinary

Kyrie: prayer for Mercy

Gloria: hymn praising God

Credo: Creed or statement of faith

Sanctus: hymn praising God

Agnus Dei: prayer for Mercy

Listening: Notre Dame Mass

Agnus Dei

•       cantus firmus in the tenor

•       cantus firmus, pre-existing melody, usually chant

•       ABA form