Music of the Middle Ages
From Gregorian Chant to the
On the Misery of the Human Condition, c. 1200
inspiring words from Pope Innocent III
. . . man was formed of dust, slime, and ashes: what is even
more vile, of the filthiest seed. He was conceived from the itch
of the flesh, in the heat of passion and the stench of lust, and
worse yet, with the stain of sin. He was born to toil, dread,
and trouble; and more wretched still, was born only to die. He
commits depraved acts by which he offends God, his
neighbor, and himself; shameful acts by which he defiles his
name, his person, and his conscience; and vain acts by which
he ignores all things important, useful, and necessary. He will
become fuel for those fires which are forever hot and burn
forever bright; food for the worm which forever nibbles and
digests; a mass of rottenness which will forever stink and reek.
There were two schools of music
during the Middle Ages
Ars Antiqua 11001300
Ars Nova 1300 1450
Ars Antiqua began in Paris at the Cathedral de
Representative Ars Antiqua Composers
• Leonin (11631190)
• Perotin (early 13th century)
• Hildegard von Bingen (10981179)
• Anonymous (?)
What is Ars Antiqua?
• Literally means “old art”
• Stemmed directly from Gregorian Chant
• This style of music can be characterized as adding hollow sounding
harmonies(perfect 4ths & 5ths) to existing chants.
• This type of music is called organum.
• Originally, one voice would be added above the existing chant. The chant
would be sung very slowly it was called the cantus firmus.
• Polyphony means more than one pitch played at
the same time what we typically call harmony.
• The first type of polyphony was called parallel
organum. Here the cantus firmus and the higher harmony
mirrored each other.
• Eventually composers like Leonin and his student
Perotin began adding a third and fourth part above the
cantus firmus, and moved away from the eerie sounding
Meanwhile, in Germany…
• Hildegard von Bingen, who herself was a nun with reported
mystical powers, began composing music different from the
Notre Dame school.
• Von Bingen wrote music that sounded wildly different than
plainchant, which some attributed to her lack of musical
training. Her melodies, even today, seem contemporary.
What kind of music was happening outside of
• Secular music, or popular music, has existed throughout
history, especially during the Middle Ages.
• Secular music of the Middle Ages was the first to be written
down on paper and preserved. Today, performances of
secular music is possible using these surviving pieces of music.
• Troubadours were French musicians who traveled
across Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries.
• They sang mostly love songs.
• They accompanied their love songs with instruments,
unlike the church.
Adam de la Halle (1237-
• The most famous troubadour ever
• Wrote the first ever musical theater piece Le Jeu de Robin et
• Inventor of the Motet
• Motet a piece of music where two or more different verses
are fit together simultaneously, without regard to harmony
• Instruments in early secular music were used to accompany
• Musicians usually improvised the simple accompaniments.
• While the accompaniments were melodically simple, they
were rhythmically lively.
• Let’s take a look at the many different instruments used in
• 14th & 15th century France
• The invention of modern notation
• The creation of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass
• The popularity of the motet
Representative Ars Nova Composers
• Guillaume de Machaut (13001377)
• Francesco Landini (13251397)
• Anonymous (?)
Guillaume de Machaut
• A poet & a musician
• Created the first Ordinary for the Catholic Mass
• Created many of the musical forms of today (rondos
• Master of counterpoint
Examples of Ars Nova Music
Music from this period
was the first to add
stems to the nuemes,
thereby creating our
modern system of
This piece is called
“Sumer is icumen in”
and is the oldest
• Most Medieval composers wrote mainly for
the church and remained anonymous.
• These early composers did not take the art
of composition seriously. It was more a
necessary function, or duty.
• Most secular musicians had day jobs. Full
time musicians were poor.
• While music itself was held in high regard,
those who made it were not. This is very