Medieval (500 – 1400)

The Medieval Period began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and ended with the emergence of the Renaissance in the early fifteenth century. Establishing exactly when the Medieval Period ended and the Renaissance began can be disputed, but music historians reckon the ‘musical medieval period’ did not end until 100 years later than in other disciplines.

The earliest evidence of music being written down in the Western world is in the form of Gregorian chant which dates from Medieval times. During the Middle Ages, new types of singing emerged, namely organum, the singing involving multiple melodic parts and polyphony.

Instruments used in Medieval times included many that still exist in a more elaborate form, such as the flute and recorder as well as early versions of the guitar, violin and cello, such as the lute, lyre, gittern and psaltery. Many plucked and bowed stringed instruments have since become obsolete.

Medieval music was both sacred and secular. During the early medieval period, liturgical music, predominantly Gregorian chant, was monophonic – melody without harmony. Polyphonic genres  began to develop during the high medieval era, becoming prevalent by the later 13th and early 14th century.

The thriving of the Notre Dame school of polyphony from around 1150 to 1250 coincided with the equally significant achievements in Gothic architecture and the centre of activity was at the cathedral of Notre Dame itself. Sometimes the music of this period is called the Parisian school, or Parisian organum, and represents the beginning of what is conventionally known as Ars antiqua. This was the period in which rhythmic notation first appeared in western music, mainly a context-based method of rhythmic notation known as the rhythmic modes.

This was also the period in which concepts of formal structure developed which were detailed in proportion, texture, and architectural effect. Composers of the period, included Léonin, Pérotin, W. de Wycombe, Adam de St. Victor, and Petrus de Cruce (Pierre de la Croix).

Medieval secular music was usually passed along orally and very rarely written down, so little has survived.

Hildegard of Bingen

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