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Unit Summary

Medieval Music

The time included in the Medieval period (500-1450 C.E.) is far greater than that in any other period.
Beginning with the Renaissance, and continuing to today, the Middle Ages has been perceived as a
period of stagnation. In fact, it was a period of great change. Consequently, one can make very few
statements about this period that are valid for the entire era. We begin the study of European music
with the Medieval era because we can trace a period of unbroken activity and development, beginning
with the development of chant.

Major Developments

Gradual development and standardization of Gregorian chant throughout Western Europe

Although sacred music was preeminent, secular song traditions did emerge (1100-1300)

Troubadours (northern France)

Trouvères (southern France)

Minnesänger (Germany)

Instrumental music played a secondary role as accompaniment to song or dance

Polyphony developed from improvised practice sometime during the 9th century

Notre Dame Organum marked an important next step in the development of polyphony

Developed in late 12th century

More than one voice added to the plainchant

Relationship of the voices was controlled by the rhythmic modes

Polyphonic sacred composition concentrated on the Mass Ordinary during the later Medieval Era.




Agnus Dei

Ars Nova was an important late development that opened the way to the Renaissance

Rhythmic innovations

Duple rhythm

More complex rhythmic relationships

The late Medieval period includes increased cultivation of polyphonic secular forms

Music notation developed in response to the evolution of musical styles

Medieval Instruments to know by sight and sound

Wind instruments


flutes (various types)


Bowed Strings



Keyboard instruments

organ (positive and portative)

Plucked Strings








bells of various kinds

Some important composers

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) one of the earliest identified composers of chant

Léonin (fl. 1163-1190) first important figure in Notre Dame polyphony

Pérotin (fl. ca. 1200) successor to Léonin at Notre Dame

Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377) pre-eminent master of late Medieval polyphony

John Dunstable (ca. 1390-1453) English master of the late Medieval era