The musical component of the medieval period is noted to have been one of the most important musical experiences in history. Every aspects of medieval music that have survived left legacies that deeply impact both the sacred and secular musical structure of today. Nonetheless, the music that permeated at that period has tangibly contributed in the musical heritage and tradition of present day society, most especially those of the Catholic Church. In this regard, it is therefore an imperative to look back on the historical overview of medieval music and its importance in the field of music as a whole.
Medieval Music Medieval music is identified as the music that permeated in Europe during the middle or medieval ages. The said era covered the periods ranging from the Roman Empire’s fall and ascent of Gregory the Great to papacy, until approximately the early fifteenth century. This form of music excludes that of the Byzantine Empire, which is noted to have a separate development.
Basically, medieval music is divided into two principal categories: the sacred and secular. As Christianity was a dominant force during the medieval era, entire musical style was developed in order to support it.
Therefore, sacred music was either inspired or set by the biblical text. Sacred music was originally composed in order to pay homage to God. Unlike sacred music, secular music has not been observed early in the said period. Yet medieval secular music played a significant role during the medieval period as it was created for the purpose of its entertainment value such as for dance or expressing ones love, which deeply reflects the lifestyle during that era (“Medieval music: Birth of polyphony”). Early Medieval Sacred Music Chant
The earliest body of song documented from the medieval period was the chant, which is sometimes referred to as plainchant or plainsong. Chant is a monophonic, or music with just one part, which has been the earliest form of music used by the Catholic church. The account of the nun Egeria from her pilgrimage to Jerusalem from circa 400 AD was noted as the earliest evidence of plainchant practice. The account includes descriptions pertaining to psalms and singing (Cyrus). The evolution of chant was accounted to various regional liturgies like the Roman, Gallican, Celtic, Ambrosian, Mozarabic and the likes.
Likewise, the traditions of the Byzantine Church as well as the Jewish synagogue’s psalm singing were pointed as strong influences in the emergence of chants (“Medieval music”). Over the next years, the practice of chant continued to develop until it became an important component in the mass and office that is familiar among the students of the medieval church (Cyrus). It is noteworthy that the adaptation of chant in the liturgical practice was a result of the religious reforms spearheaded by Charlemagne, who perceived the church as an important body that would enable him to unify his empire.
He then replaced the regional varieties of plainsong with a single unified version. According to biographers, approximately in the ninth century Charlemagne decided to ask for the supervision of Rome in order to have the doctrinally unified versions of the chant. The resultant liturgical practice is commonly known as the “Gregorian Chant,” which is acknowledged as the central musical tradition in Europe during the medieval period (“Medieval music” n. p. ).
Gregorian chant was named so in honor of Pope Gregory I, who is believed to have organized around 3,000 melodies for the Roman Catholic worship. Such form of chant interblend ancient melodies, coming from the oral traditions of sources like Greek, Hebraic and Eastern, with the early Christian churches liturgical prayers (Pen). It is believed that many of the Gregorian chants were written in the western monasteries during the reign of Charlemagne (“Medieval music”). The music of the church is divided into chants used for the mass and for the office.
Chants for the mass are a combination of celebrating the word of God and the Holy Eucharist, while chants for the office or ordinary are those that are part of the churches daily services which includes psalms and prayers. The text that change daily are known as “proper,” while the stable texts which are repeated for most of the church services are tagged as “ordinary” (Cyrus n. p. ). Plainchant fuses text and tunes so as to function as a prayer, while the Latin text serves as the musical rhythm dictator in order for the text and tune to exactly correspond with each other.
Normally, the melodic contour of such music is shaped by the words direction, which is set syllabically, making the text understandable. Other chants are also set in a melismatical manner where in “one syllable is sustained over several notes” for the purpose of ornamenting and emphasizing important syllables (Pen 119) and neumatic melodies where the music contains two to five notes for each syllable. Every service is embedded with a mixture of the said styles, making the liturgical action more dramatic (Cyrus). Notation The Carolingian cantors adapted almost four thousand chants every church year.
In order to organize the imported chants they developed systems that organize the musical materials involved. As music during the early medieval period was not written down, the pressures of memorizing every song is perhaps the very reason why the Carolingian cantors created the system of notation. The system of church modes, wherein chants are classified according to their range, central pitch or final and melodic idioms were also developed. Alongside with the development of notation systems, liturgical books became widespread, regularizing the liturgical practice (Cyrus).
Notation Improvements By the end of the ninth century until the 12th century both composers and performers created means for the liturgical process to prosper. Various feasts were developed alongside with new chants. Liturgical compositions from the past were copied through the use of a new system known as staff notation which was developed by Guido of Arezzo. Such notation was able to specify pitches of a melody through the combination of staff or set of horizontal lines and one or more clefs in order to identify the pitches of the chant.
Guido also created a sightsinging system involving solmization, a process where pre-assigned syllables are used for certain pitches (Cyrus). Additionally, other improvements in the sacred medieval music were observed such as the polyphony. Early polyphony As plainchant was sung slowly and without rhythm or harmony, perhaps sacred composers grew weary of the chants and began experimenting with their music by adding musical lines in order to create harmony. This is known as polyphonic music, which gave birth to harmony. Around the end of ninth century, monastery singers like Switzerland’s St.
Gall added voice in parallel motion to the chant, wherein they can sing in perfect musical intervals of the fourth and fifth together with the original tune. Such development is known as “organum,” which is considered as the beginning of “counterpoint,” an important feature of music where “two or more melodic strands occur simultaneously” (“Medieval music” n. p. ). From then on, the organum developed into several ways. The “Florid organum” is one of the most significant forms of organum that was developed around 1100 in the south-west of France.
Also referred to as the school of St. Martial, named after a monastery in France that is noted to have the best-preserved manuscripts of such musical style, “Florid organum” is incorporated within the chants in such a way that the original tune is being sung in long notes, while another voice would serve as an accompaniment by singing many notes to each of the original piece that is often done in “highly elaborate fashion” in order to further emphasize the perfect consonances of the music (“Medieval music”n. p. ). Middle Medieval Music
Subsequent developments of the organum took place in England, specifically at Notre Dame in Paris, which is said to be the center of musical creativity all through the 13th century. The emergence of the Notre Dame School of Polyphony around 1150 until 1250 is said to be the vehicle for a more modernized form of the organum, and paved way for the beginning of “Ars Antiqua”—a period in which rhythmic notation is recognized in the Western music; a period that greatly applies the method of rhythmic notation which is known as the rhythmic modes (“Medieval music” n. p. ).
Basically, Notre Dame organum employs three distinct rhythmic styles that adheres to the rhythmic modes: (1) “organum purum” wherein both upper and lower voice freely moves without a specific rhythm to follow, (2) “copula” which upper voice moves in accordance to a strict rhythm while the lower voice moves freely, and (3) “discant” wherein both the upper and lower voice follows a strict rhythm (Cyrus n. p. ). Also this period, the concept of formal structure emerged, allowing composers to become more attentive with proportions, architectural effects and musical texture.
Composers of the said period created various musical forms such as the “clasulae,” melismatic (technique of placing several noted in a single syllable of text) parts of the organa are extracted and fitted with new wordings so as to improve musical elaboration; the “versus’ or the “monophonic conductus” has a structure known as strophic, wherein the music is repeated for each successive stanza of the liturgical reading or poetry; and the “trope” where new musical and textual materials are added to a pre-existing liturgical composition, most especially the introductory chants of the mass and the short chants of the ordinary.
Trope singers, which are usually soloist, can come before, in the middle or after the host chant or choral; they simply amplify the meaning of the original composition. In some cases, tropes inject dialog and short interludes within the music; as such, they are though to be the forerunners in the field of liturgical drama which also emerged in this period (Cyrus n. p. ). “Sequence” also emerged during the era of liturgical consolidation in the medieval period. “Sequence” is identified as a separate form of choral composition that follows the Alleluia during mass.
Credited to Notker Balbulus, sequence is a syllabic genre that contains irregular phrase lengths. In this type of chant genre, the musical lines normally contain one to four clauses, while the entirety of the music is often repeated before starting a new musical material (Cyrus n. p. ). The “motet” is profoundly one of the most significant forms of music created during the Middle Ages, specifically during the early parts of the Notre Dame period. Made out of the clausula, motet is focused on the usage of multiple voices, as stated by European composer, Perotin.
Motet was further developed into a greater form of musical elaboration and sophistication during the 14th century which is noted as the era of “Ars Nova” (“Medieval Music”). Secular Music Although the plainchant was dominant in the sacred musical landscape of the middle age, other musical forms were used for the purpose of secular expression (Pen 119). Secular music existed in the shadow of secular music during the medieval period as most of the music scribes in this era were inclined in the creation of sacred music.
Likewise, Medieval secular music was usually passed along orally and are rarely written down. As such, only limited number of composition has survived. Nonetheless, those existing copies of secular music serve as a vehicle for present day people to view the life at court in town during Middle Age. One of the earliest surviving music in secular form was accounted to the Goliards, who are wandering poet-musicians in Europe during the tenth until the mid-thirteenth century. Their secular compositions were consolidated in an early thirteenth century musical collection known as the “Carmina Burana.
” However, due to the unclear notation, the reconstruction of the actual secular melodic sounds created by the Goliards was impossible, except for some pieces that have similarities with sacred music (Cyrus n. p. ). Most of the poetry created by the Goliards are secular in form, while some songs celebrate religious ideals and others are notably profane that tackles drunkenness, lechery as well as debauchery (“Medieval Music”). The secular music of the Troubadours of southern France and the Trouveres of the northern region are said to be the largest collection of secular music.
The music created by the said groups are from their poems and utilized the vernacular tradition of monophonic secular music that are probably accompanied by varying instruments and performed by professionals ranging from skilled poets, singers and instrumentalists. Likewise, their poems have adopted the language of their regions—Troubadours used lyrics written in Occitan also referred to as old Provencal or langue d’oc while the Trouveres used old French or langue d’oil.
The music of the Troubadours was complimentary with the cultural life of Provence. Typically, their music describes war, courtly love and chivalry. Troubadour musical period lasted through the twelfth century until the first decade of the thirteenth century. The abrupt end of the Troubadour period was accounted to the Albigensian crusade, a campaign spearheaded by Pope Innocent III, which aims to eliminate Albigensian heresy, thererby eliminating the whole civilization of the Troubadours.
Troubadour survivors of the fierce campaign migrated to Spain, Northern France or Northern Italy, where their musical inclination is said to have contributed in the secular music tradition of the said places (“Medieval Music”). The music of the Trouveres, on the other hand, was similar to that of the Troubadours. However, they were unaffected by the extermination directed towards the Albigenses unlike the Troubadours, allowing their music to survive until the thirteenth century.
Most of the 2,000 surviving songs of the Trouveres showed musical sophistication that deeply highlights the poems it accompanied. Other than the Goliards, Troubadours and Trouveres, vast numbers of secular songs were also composed by civilization such as the Minnesingers, who are said to be the German counterpart of the Troubadours and Trouveres, and the Flagellants, who were noted for the geisslelieder songs that aims to appease the anger and wrath of God through this penitential music along with the mortification of their bodies (“Medieval Music”).