IB Music/Music History/Medieval Period

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Medieval Period 450 - 1450

Music of the Medieval Period was categorized into sacred and secular music. Sacred music was music that was used by the Roman Catholic Church and secular music was music that had no relation to the Church.


Sacred Music[edit]

Gregorian Chant[edit]

Sacred music evolved from a form called the Gregorian chant. Gregorian chants were named after Pope Gregory I and they are the official pieces of the Catholic Church.

Characteristics of Gregorian chants[edit]

  • Melody - The melody of a Gregorian chant is very free-flowing. The chant moves up and down by steps and small leaps within a narrow range. Melodies are often melismatic- syllables are held out over multiple notes.
  • Harmony - Gregorian chants are monophonic in texture, so have no harmony.
  • Rhythm - There is no precise rhythm for a Gregorian chant. Notes may be held for a duration of “short” or “long,” but no complex rhythms are used.
  • Form - Some Gregorian chants tend to be in ternary (ABA) form. A cantor begins the piece with an introductory solo, called an incipit. The choir then sings the piece and at the end the cantor concludes with his solo, which was often in a reduced dynamic level and featured a narrower range of pitches.
  • Texture - Gregorian chants are one of the few pieces of music that are entirely monophonic. There is only one melodic line in a Gregorian chant.
  • Medium - Gregorian chants are traditionally sung by all-male choirs. Some Gregorian chants, however, were written for women choirs.
  • Context - Gregorian chants were used by the Church to aid prayers. Monks (and occasionally nuns in convents) would sing them.

Significant Composers[edit]

  • Hildegard of Bingen - The first woman composer with a significant output of works.
    • Important works
    • O Successores
  • Most other composers are unknown since works were given to the Church.
    • Other works
    • Alleluia: Vidimus Stellam

Organum[edit]

The Gregorian chant began to evolve around 700. From 700 - 900, composers would write a line in parallel motion to the chant at a fixed interval of a fifth or a fourth above the original line. This technique evolved further from 900 - 1200. During this period, the upper line moved independently of the original chant. After 1100, upper lines even began gaining rhythmic independence.

A Gregorian chant to which additional lines were added is called organum. The original Gregorian chant on which the upper lines are based is called the cantus firmus.

Two composers, Leonin and Perotin, were instrumental to the development of organum. Leonin was the director of music at the Notre Dame Cathedral and Perotin, his pupil, succeeded him. These two composers and their students are thus appropriately referred to as the School of Notre Dame.

Significant Composers[edit]

  • Leonin- He is the first known composer to use measured rhythm in his compositions.
  • Perotin- He is the first known composer to write three simultaneous, distinct lines.
    • Important works
    • Alleluia: Nativitas

Sacred music was primarily vocal. This was mostly due to the connection of instruments to pagan rituals. Nevertheless, instruments did become more important over the span of the Medieval Period. The most important instrument of sacred music in the Medieval Period is the organ. Early organs are not like modern organs; though they were loud, they were much more difficult to operate and required a great deal of physical strength.

Secular Music[edit]

Unlike sacred music, secular music had a more clearly defined beat and its texture was closer to homophony or polyphony. (It was not true homophony since chords were only implied). Like sacred music, the texture was primarily vocal, though it didn’t regard instruments with as much suspicion as the Church.

Troubadours & Trouvères[edit]

Much secular music during the Medieval Period was written by troubadours and troubavères. These were French nobles and they often wrote music to gain prestige.

Significant Composers[edit]

  • Guillaume IX, duke of Aquitaine
  • Chastelain di Couci
  • Beatriz de Dia (a woman troubadour)

Jongleurs[edit]

Jongleurs also composed and performed secular music. Jongleurs were wandering minstrels that would entertain towns with music, juggling, and drama. They had no civil rights but were important parts of society since they spread news from town to town. One form of music they played is the estampie. An estampie is a fast dance in triple meter.

Ars Nova[edit]

Around 1350, a new style of music called Ars Nova (New Art) emerged. Ars Nova includes both sacred and secular music, though secular music gained importance during this period.

Important characteristics of Ars Nova are:

  • Development of polyphony
  • Use of duple meter
  • Syncopation

Sacred Music[edit]

Ars Nova saw the appearance of a grand form for sacred music- the mass ordinary. The mass ordinary consists of five prayers set to music as five different movements. The prayers are:

  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Credo
  • Sanctos
  • Agnus Dei

Secular Music[edit]

Because of diminishing influence of the Church, secular music became more prominent in the Ars Nova Period. Instruments were used more often, though the music was still primarily vocal. A new secular form of the Ars Nova period is the ballata. The ballata is a dance in the form of A BB AA.

Significant Composers[edit]

  • Guillaume de Machaut
    • Important works
    • Notre Dame Mass - This is the first known polyphonic mass.
  • Francesco Landini
    • Important works
    • Ecco la Primavera - This is an example of an Ars Nova ballata.

Instruments of the Period[edit]

  • Organ
  • Pipe
  • Rebec
  • Psaltery
  • Fiddle
  • Lute
  • Sackbut
  • Shawm

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