• Around 450 the Roman Empire began
• This was the beginning of the “dark
• Life was hard and full of migrations,
upheavals, and wars.
• In the later Middle Ages churches
and monasteries were constructed,
towns grew, universities were
• This was a time of three social classes:
• Nobles were
• The men were
during war time.
• In peace time,
• Peasants – the majority of people –
lived miserably in one-room huts.
• Many were serfs, bound to the soil
and subject to feudal overlords.
• Homes were damp and cold. The
entire family shared two rooms.
• For protection, there were no
• Monks in monasteries held a
monopoly on learning; most people –
including the nobility – were illiterate.
• The church was the center of musical
• Musicians were priests and worked for
• An important occupation in
monasteries was liturgical singing.
• Women were not allowed to sing in
Music in the Middle Ages
• Most medieval music was vocal.
• The church frowned on instruments.
• Around 1100, however, instruments
were used increasingly in church.
• The organ was most prominent.
• At first it was primitive and could only
be played by hitting it with your fist.
• It was so loud that it could be heard
for miles around.
• The music of the church was
• It is a single line (no harmony) sung by
many to convey a calm quality.
• It represents the church.
• It has flexible rhythm, without meter,
and little sense of beat.
• Exact rhythm is uncertain, because
precise time values were not notated.
• Free-flowing rhythm gives the chant a
floating, improvisational feeling.
• The melodies moved by step and
were sung in Latin, the language of
• At first, the melodies were passed on
by tradition, but as the numbers grew
to the thousands, they were notated
to ensure uniformity.
• The earliest manuscripts were from
• Besides Gregorian chant in the
church, there was much music
outside of the church, too.
• The first music that has survived in
notation was composed during the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries by
French nobles called troubadours.
• Many of the songs they sang have
been preserved because nobles had
clerics write them down.
• Some 1,650 melodies have been
• During the Middle Ages, wandering
minstrels performed music and
acrobatics in castles, and towns.
• They had no civil rights and were on
the lowest social level. It was a tough
• Without newspapers, the music of the
minstrels was an important source of
• For centuries music had just a single
• But sometime around 700 – 900 monks
began to add a second melodic line
to Gregorian chant.
• At the beginning, it was usually
• Listeners at that time must have been
music in the
• Polyphonic music (music with more
than one part) was developed mainly
in Paris at the Cathedral of Notre
• Using precise rhythms, this was the first
time in music history that notation
indicated precise rhythms as well as
• Soon music had more than two
voices. Music with three parts began
to develop, although the range was
still small and hollow sounding.
• Secular music became more
important in the lives of the people in
• This was due to many factors
including the Hundred Years’ War, the
black plague (which destroyed ¼ of
the population of Europe), the
weakening of the feudal system, and
the fighting of the Popes in the
• The changes in musical style were so
many that this era was named the
time of “new art”.
Guillaume de Machaut
• Guillaume de Machaut was a priest,
but spent most of his life working with
the noble families of France.
• Machaut travelled to many courts
and presented beautifully decorated
copies of his music to the nobles.
• Because of this, his music has survived
for us to enjoy today.
• This piece you are hearing (The Agnus
Dei) is possibly the finest composition
known from the Middle Ages.
• This piece is from a Mass, which is a
sacred piece of music.
• It is written in four voices, some of
which are doubled by instruments.
• The Agnus Dei is a prayer for mercy
and peace and is solemn and
• It is in triple meter.
• This piece is based on Gregorian
Chant, but you can hear how much
this idea has developed.
• Like the chant it is based on, it has
• The form for this piece is: A B A
• In Machaut’s time, music was meant
to appeal to the mind – as well as to
• Although this sounds so different to us
today, it is pleasing to our ears.