Medieval Music
Music of the Middle Ages made great advancements through the centuries, which many
are still evident today.
The Christian Church effected the development of music greatly during the middle ages.
The first major type of music of this time was chanting. “The early Christians inherited the
Jewish chants of synagogues.”(Bishop-324) Chants didn’t have constant rhythm, every note was
about the same length. They had only one melody ,usually in the major key of C. All the singers
sang the same notes together, this is called monophonic. Chants became an significant part of the
church service, they were sung throughout the mass. These first chants were just sung by the
congregation, later on choirs took over.
“Roman Chant became known as Gregorian chant after Pope Gregory I, the great, who
may have composed some of the melodies and who actively encouraged an orderly, ritualized
use of music by the church.”(MS Encarta-1) He also supported the schola cantorum, a singing
school, to teach boys how to chant.
During the ninth century many musicians began to use more than unaccompanied
melody. A new type of chant was formed called organom. Organum was two octaves of
chanting simultaneously. “Organum was important to the history of music, because it was the
first step toward the development of the musical texture known as polyphony (multipart music)
the extensive use of which is the most distinctive feature of Western music.” (MS Encarta-1)
Around the twelfth century Organum was mostly being developed in France, but the English did
have their own version called gymel.
If musicians were to chant many pitches at the same time, they needed a more accurate
musical notation. Before this, the notation being used wasn’t precise at all. “Music notation was
originally merely a set of small marks, a sort of short hand, written above the words to indicate
the rise and fall of the voice and changes in emphasis, without specifying the duration of the
notes or the exact pitch.”(Bishop-325) The new way of writing musical notes was black squares
and diamonds attached to little poles on a staff of four or five lines, very similar to how we write
music today.
Music, during the fourteenth century, made great changes in style. “The new style was
called ars nova (Latin, “new art”) by one of it’s leading composers, the French prelate Philippe
de Vitry. The resulting music was more complex than any previously written, reflecting a new
spirit in Europe that emphasized human resourcefulness and ingenuity.”(MS Encarta-2) De
Vitry also invented the earliest version of the time signature, making it easier to play and write
more complicated patterns. Ars nova composers began to repeat the same patterns of either one
or more voice parts, usually from Gregorian chant, throughout the piece. Over that they would
put other melodies making it polyphonic.
“Nonreligious, or secular, music was composed by wandering poets who sang of chivalry
and courtly love in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.”(Comptons-1) Some of these musicians
made a living of singing, others did it for the enjoyment. These singers, Troubadours and
Goliards, didn’t have a wide range of singing styles. Over 2,000 of these songs have been
written and saved in old documents made after the twelfth century though. “The musician of the
early Middle Ages seems usually to have been minstrel either resident in a large establishment or
traveling from establishment to another, singing the lays and sagas to his own
Musicians were needed to support other types of entertainment as well. Acrobats would
perform to music, just like jugglers, and dancing bears. Poor workers didn’t have much to do for
entertainment except for music. They would tell stories to music or have people sing while they
danced. They probably sang while working together too, like a type of sea chantey. Even
though they were enjoyed by many people, musicians were still considered a very low class.
Many of the first instruments of the early Middle Ages were taken from the earlier
Roman Empire, or from other cultures around the world. One string instrument used a lot was
the lyre. “It is possible that the lyre was carried into northern Europe from Constantinople
during the late Roman Empire, for many of the Byzantime armies, especially the Imperial
Bodyguard, were recruited from the northern peoples.”(Montagu-13) During the early medieval
times it was played by plucking the strings with a plectrum or fingers,. Later in the tenth century
bows became more popular and the lyre was also played with one. The other string instrument
that was popular was the harp. The first harps