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Music in the Middle Ages


Short introduction to medieval music – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Music in the Middle Ages

  • The Christian Church in the Middle Ages
    disapproved the use of music as simple
    entertainment because they thought it would bring
    to the memory of the Christians the past pagan
    world (musical instruments and dancing were very
    important among Greeks and Romans).

  • The main purpose of religious music in the Middle
    Ages was to teach people (who were mostly
    illiterate) the ideas of the Catholic Church,
    through chants just like painting and sculpture
    represented scenes of Christs and the Virgin
    Marys lives, the Apostles, the Final Judgment,

The Adoration of the Magi
  • This painting represents the moment of Christs
    birth so that the common people could see with
    their very eyes what really happened (this kind
    of paintings were exhibited in the churches).

  • Thus in the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great
    unified and recompiled all music the monasteries
    had produced and established a series of
    conditions under which all Christian churches
    would sing in the same way. Thanks to this
    initiative, the sense of Christian unity and
    identity was promoted throughout Europe, and this
    chant became the official singing of the Catholic
    Church named Gregorian in his honour.

  • Singing schools were created, called scholae
    cantorum, the most prominent in Rome, to preserve
    and transmit these chants nevertheless, music
    teaching had been treated almost only
    theoretically until this time (included in
    science studies) because music performance was
    considered suspicious of being sinful and lacking
    intellectual interest (as a body exercise opposed
    to the soul).

  • In the beggining, singing was transmitted by oral
    tradition (by imitation and vocal instructions),
    it was not written down. The first signs used to
    indicate different notes were known as NEUMS,
    written over the texts without any staff lines
    and depending on their position (higher or lower)
    to represent the notes. Later on, one, two and
    finally four lines were employed, and neums were
    transformed into square-shaped symbols SQUARE

Neums over one line
Square notation
Characteristics of Gregorian chant
  • Latin
  • Monophony just one melody.
  • A capella no instrumental accompaniment.
  • Rhythm dependent on the text.
  • Types of chant
  • - Syllabic one note per syllable.
  • - Melismatic more than three notes per syllable.

The upper example corresponds to a syllabic
style, and the lower one to a melismatic (more
than fifty notes in the syllable cé-
Text comentary
  • Music as an element in worship, filling a
    necessary place in the ritual, has to be
    correctly sung. A mistake in the music of
    worship, like a mistake in word, gesture or
    movement, was held to have invalidated the
    celebration which had therefore to be repeated.
    For this reason music had to be taught and its
    correct forms memorised methods of notation had
    to be devised and developed to asist the
    musicians memory, so that the history of the
    development of western notation is a history of
    the attempts of ecclesiastical musicians to
    ensure the accuracy of the rite, from Henry
    Raynors A Social History of Music.

Text comentary (questions)
  • Why do you think it is so important not to commit
    mistakes during the religious celebrations?
  • Is the music in religious ceremonies a kind of
    concert so that people enjoy it?
  • Is the music in the Christian faith a sign of
    Gods creation harmony?
  • Why did the Church create a system of musical
    writing? How did it influence the accuracy of the
    singing? (Think on whether it is easier and more
    precise to recite a book by heart or by reading.
    There were more than three thousand songs in this
  • When did the first musical signs appear?

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  • Distinguish which of these auditions are
    interpreted in a syllabic style and which in a
    melismatic one. Does the soloist in the fourth
    audition sing a somewhat more elaborated chant?
  • Specify whether the beat is constant or not.
  • Reflect on why Latin is the language used in
    Gregorian chant.

  • Although the Church disapproved of the use of
    music outside the religious sphere, popular songs
    and dances have always existed amongst the
    population. In the early Middle Ages, the most
    common theme were the heroic deeds in battle of
    the nobility.

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  • The JOGLARS, called minstrels in English, were a
    type of travelling singer-musician who were the
    first to popularise profane music in this period.
    They made their living by staging shows using
    conjuring tricks, acrobatics and maybe trained
    animals, at castles and in villages, and played
    their own songs or those of other composers on a
    variety of instruments. The Church had in such a
    low steem this type of music that they even
    refused to give the joglars their last sacraments
    when they were about to die.

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  • As the society changed through the centuries,
    cities grew and so commerce, and consecuently
    values and forms became more refined, and the
    place of women in a less warlike environment
    improved (courtly love became the main theme in

  • The 12th century brought the rise in the south of
    France of the TROUBADOUR MOVEMENT, which helped
    to lend a certain dignity to profane music. The
    troubadours were a sort of singer-songwriter, as
    they composed their lyrics (poetry) and set music
    to it. They were cultured and even belonged to
    the nobility (on the contrary, joglars were
    musicians and actors from poor families who added
    in this time to their repertory the love songs
    composed by troubadours).

  • The music performed by troubadours has a clear
    and measured rhythm in contrast with the rhythm
    of Gregorian chant. These songs were written in
    romance languages (French, German, etc.), not in

  • The troubadours in Germany were called
    Minnesingers. Of note in Spain is Alfonso X the
    Wise (1221-1284), the king who promoted the arts
    and sciences during his reign. Alfonsos most
    outstanding work is the collection known as the
    Cantigas de Santa María, of which more than 400
    have been preserved.

Text commentary
  • Jaufre Rudel was the Prince of Blaye and a
    troubadour of the earlymid 12th century, who
    probably died during the Second Crusade. He is
    noted for developing the theme of "love from
    afar in his songs.
  • According to his legendary vida, or fictionalised
    biography, he was inspired to go on Crusade upon
    hearing from returning pilgrims of the beauty of
    Countess Hodierna of Tripoli, and that she was
    his amor de lonh, his far-off love. The legend
    claims that he fell sick on the journey and was
    brought ashore in Tripoli a dying man. Countess
    Hodierna is said to have come down from her
    castle on hearing the news, and Rudel died in her
    arms. From Wikipedia, Jaufre Rudel.

Text commentary
  • Marcabru was a troubadour from Gascony and was
    the son of a poor woman named Marcabruna.
  • Marcabru was abandoned at a rich man's door, and
    no one knew his origin. He learned to make poetry
    from Cercamon. He became famous, and the lords of
    Gascony, about whom he had said many bad things,
    eventually put him to death.
  • Forty-five poems are attributed to Marcabru,
    learned, often difficult, sometimes obscene,
    critical of the morality of lords and ladies. He
    experimented with the pastorela, which he uses to
    point out the futility of lust. One tells of how
    a man's attempt to seduce a woman whose husband
    was at the Crusades is firmly rebuffed. Among his
    patrons were probably, Alfonso VII of León.
    Marcabru may have travelled to Spain in the
    entourage of the Count of Toulouse, in the 1130s.
    In the 1140s he was a propagandist for the
    Reconquista and in one famous poem he called
    Spain a lavador (washer) where knights could go
    to have their souls cleansed fighting the
    infidel. From Wikipedia, Marcabru.

Text commentary (questions)
  • What main themes do the texts speak about?
  • Which historic events do the texts cite? Speak
    very briefly about them.
  • What is a pastorela?
  • Look for information about courtly love.

Text commentary (second task)
  • Invent the biography of a troubadour.

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  • Do you think this music is monophonic (Gregorian
    chant only one melody) or polyphonic? Compare
    with the following audition from the Renaissance
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  • Are they written in a rhythmic metre, one in
    which you can mark out the beat?
  • Write down the family of the instruments that
    accompany the voice.
  • Mark one or two differences you find with the
    auditions of Gregorian chant.

  • Elaborate a Power Point presentation about
    medieval musical instruments, classifying them
    according to the instrumental families string,
    wind (wood and brass) and percussion.

Birth of polyphony
  • As the monasteries recruited very young boys from
    the villages, those gifted with a specially
    beautiful voice, to enlarge the schola with
    future good singers, the practice of singing
    evolved very slowly towards a polyphonic concept
    as the children have a higher voice, and
    sometimes had to improvise some notes because of
    difficulties to sing the same notes than men.

  • Ars Antiqua 12th and 13th centuries.
  • Ars Nova 14th century.

Ars Antiqua
  • This school of music was centered in Paris.
  • The most relevant composers were Leonin
    (diminutive of Leo), and Perotin (diminutive of
    Peter). They were the first composers of
    religious music to trascend anonimity (that is a
    sign of extraordinary prestige).
  • Listen to that audition to have a notion about
    how this music sounded
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Ars Nova
  • During the 14th century, society began a slow
    progression towards the secular. As the middle
    class (merchants and artisans) flourished, the
    popularity of the Church began to decline, given
    that new earthly interests aroused in consecuence
    (how to make more economical profit).For this
    reason, secular music became more important than
    religious music. Nevertheless the Church still
    retained very much power in society.
  • The most representative composer of the period
    was Guillaume de Machaut.
  • Listen to that auditions
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  • (See how different, as religious music, this
    second audition sounds from
  • Gregorian chant).

Text commentary
  • The extent of the new styles progression is
    indicated by the bull Docta sanctorum, by Pope
    John XXII, issued in 1323
  • The voices incesantly to and fro, intoxicating
    rather than soothing the ear, while singers
    themselves try to convey the emotion of the music
    by their gestures. The consecuence of all this is
    that devotion, the true aim of all worship, is
    neglected. Therefore we hasten to forbid these
    methods, or rather to drive them more effectively
    out of the house of God. From Henry Raynors A
    Social History of Music.

Text comentary (questions)
  • Why do you think the Pope John XXII was contrary
    to the use of this type of music in Church?
  • Do you think he was succesful in his prohibition?
  • Is it common that the old and the new generations
    dislike each others music? Why do you think that
  • Is the conservation of the earlier music a value
    as a token of respect to the past?