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Music in the Middle Ages

An overview of the historical context of music in the Middle Ages

John Miller

on 18 August 2011

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Transcript of Music in the Middle Ages

A.D. 476- 1450
Who held power at the time?
Church and State in conjuntion
Power flowed from the king upon approval from the church
In the early Midde Ages
Monasteries served to preserve and transmit education/ knowledge
In the later Middle Ages,
Cathedrals and Universities were built to permeate religion and education
These resulted in the ermegence of cities and towns,
which became centers for culture and art
What was the atmosphere at the time?
Knighthood persisted throughout the period
The church pursued crusades and religious battles
Okay...so what about the music?.......
Nearly all surviving music is sacred
Perfect example
Hildegard von Bingen
Nun who as known to write about history
and medicine also wrote about music.
She has been a huge source for scholars.
Single - line melody - monophonic
Mono = one
Phonic = sound
Early chant is mostly Gregorian
Gregory the Great
Three types
one note for every syllable
Several notes for every syllable
Mostly syllablic, with a few melismas
Church Music
Proper - changed from one service (day) to the next

Ordinary – same every day

Part of the liturgy – set order of services and structure for those services

Mostly handed down by oral tradition
If written, it utilized neumes (directions above the written text
Secular Music
Performed in the courts

Mostly Latin Texts

Most songs were about love, chivalry, and unrequited love

Performers (minstrels) would travel from court to court in various towns

Provided entertainment to the aristocracy but also spread news
Robin M'aime - Adam de la Halle
Performed on Lute
Ars Nova
Latin for new music
Progression toward the Renaissance

Focus on nature and beauty
Guillaume de Machaut
Major composer during the Ars Nova
Freedom of rhythm and syncopation
Fixed forms with verses and stanzas
Instrumental Music
Rarely written down, mostly improvised

Much was used to accompany vocal music

Instruments had very limited ranges compared to now

Organ was already in use at the time

Typical use was for dances
La Quarte Estampie Royal
Progression of Notation
Although most music was passed down through oral tradition, it was often changed as it was learned in new areas.

This caused a lot of complaints from higher members in clergy.

People pushed for a clearer method of notation

First step was to adjust heights of neumes.

Then, people began to add lines as references.
Guido of Arezzo
Put horizontal lines on music

Sometimes the line was labeled, often with F or C…why?

These letters evolved into clef signs

Red line for F and yellow line for C

Then, letters in the margins identified the rest of the notes
Solesmes Monk Chant Notation
Solesmes monks created modern editions of chant

Four line staff

Has a clef that either designates middle C or the F below it

Neumes can only carry one syllable of text
Music Theory/Physics
All sound is first a vibration
This vibration is picked up by our ear drum
The faster the vibration, the higher the pitch.
The slower the vibration, the lower the pitch.
A single note can play in several octaves. A note one octave higher vibrates at twice the speed as the one below it.
An octave is broken into 12 smaller portions
These are called half steps
If you put 2 half steps together, you get a whole step.
Looking at a piano helps us to see this
The space from one note to the very next is a half step
If you put two of these together, you get a whole step
If you put 12 of these together, you get an octave
Major Scale
If you put to these into order like this...
whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half
You get a major scale
Why is this important?
Our brains catch onto patterns
Putting notes into these patterns creates expectations
This even happened in the middle ages
We call them modes rather than scales
There are 7 church modes
Church Modes
The names of the 7 church modes are
Each of these correlate to a major scale
If you play a major scale starting on each scale degree, you will play all of the modes
1 Ionian
2 Dorian
3 Phrygian
4 Lydian
5 Myxolydian
6 Aeolian
7 Locrean
There are a few forms of organum
All of it during the middle ages was based off of an original chant melody.
The ORIGINAL melody is called the principal voice
The other voice is called the organal voice.
There are three major forms
We have already heard OBLIQUE organum
It utilizes a drone tone
There is also parallel organum (fifths)
Later, musicians tried to avoid the tritone by holding to wait for fourths. This is called MIXED PARALLEL organum
If organum has more than one part, then it is no longer...
Music that has 2 or more different parts with differing rhythms is called polyphony.
Poly = many
Many sounds
People began to compose music with 3 or 4 parts as well (triplum and quadruplum)
If the different parts share the same rhythm, it is called homophony
Phon still = sound
Same sound
Viderunt Omnes - Perotin
Example of Organum Quadruplum
Stemmed from two-voice organum
If the upper voice had many melismas, they would write new text to match those melismas.
Then, you would have two lines of text and two lines of music that complimented each other.
This then branched to double motet and triple motet
Same approach was taken for secular music
Two examples of Motet

For a better visual...
This is a group that performs period-style music.
Cantus Firmus
Became the term when an existing melody or song was used for another piece.
Having music with this many voices then led to a need for a clearer form of rhythmic notation.
The new form was called Franconian Notation
Franconian Notation is very similar to Solesmes notation, but more specific and context-based.
That concludes our notes for music in the Middle Ages
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