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Sacred Music of the

Middle Ages

From Gregorian Chant to Ars Nova

Learning Outcomes:
• Understand the human condition in the
middle ages
• Understand the challenges that music
presented and how those challenges were
• Understand the characteristics of Medieval
music and the descriptive terms
• Know the influential composers of each
musical era within the Medieval period.
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.
Two era’s of music developed
during the Medieval Period

Ars Antiqua - 1100-1300

Ars Nova - 1300 - 1450
Ars Antiqua began in Paris at the
Cathedral de Notre Dame
Representative Ars Antiqua Composers

• Leonin (1163-1190)
• Perotin (early 13th century)
• Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
• Anonymous (?)
 Single line of song, could be sung by
many voices but the pitch is unison.
 Mono- meaning one
 Type of music composed during the
Ars Antiqua
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.
Early Polyphony
• 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 parallel organum.
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
What kind of music was happening
outside of the church?

• Secular music, or popular music, has always

existed throughout history, but very little
during the Middle Ages.
• 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 (1237-1286)
• The most famous troubadour ever

• Wrote the first ever musical theater piece Le

Jeu de Robin et Marion

• Inventor of the Motet

• Motet - a piece of music where two or more

different verses are fit together
simultaneously, without regard to harmony
Medieval Instruments
• Instruments in early secular music were used to
accompany songs.

• Musicians usually improvised the simple


• While the accompaniments were melodically

simple, they were rhythmically lively.
Muted Cornett
Drum or Tambor
Ars Nova
• 14th & 15th century France
• The invention of modern notation
• The creation of the Ordinary of the
Catholic Mass
• The popularity of the motet
• The introductory use of phrasing and
• An awakening to relationship between
text and music
Representative Ars Nova Composers
• Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)
• Francesco Landini (1325-1397)
• Guillaume Dufay
• Josquin Desprez
• 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 and ballades)
• Began writing patterns and
introduction of cadences.
Father of Modern Notation

 Guidonian Hand- Solfeg

 4 line staff
 Stems on nuemes
Examples of Ars Nova Music

Music from this

period was the first
to add stems to the
nuemes, thereby
creating our
modern system of
notation. (Guido)
This piece is
called “Sumer is
icumen in” and is
the oldest
surviving round.
• 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
different today.