NewCA Blog How To
View Cart
Use Facebook login
LOGOUT  Welcome

Medieval Celebration

Medieval Period
Medieval Celebration
Play a "1-Click Concert™"

The music of the Middle Ages (c.600-1420) reveals the very origins of Western musical thought and practice, and offers the modern listener a rich and tremendous diversity of styles, techniques, and aesthetic approaches. From the ecclesiastical roots of Gregorian chant to the chivalric expressions of the Troubadours and Trouvères to the earliest experiments in polyphony to the first master composers of the Western canon: Pérotin, Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut, and Francesco Landini. This “Medieval Celebration” is the next in our series of features devoted to the nine principal periods of music history, whereby we invite our visitors – regardless of experience – to explore and discover the many composers and works that exalt the era, and some of the outstanding artists that successfully bring it to our modern ears. Specifically, this Feature includes a brief written Overview of the Medieval era, as well as a useful index of key composers, works, and artists – each of which is linked to the related page on our site. In addition, we provide a two-hour 1-Click Concert (full streams to our subscribers only), a featured “sampler” album, and a set of “Medieval” videos. Enjoy!

“Music is an art which likes people to laugh and sing and dance. It cares nothing for melancholy, nor for a man who sorrows over what is of no importance, but ignores, instead, such folk.”
– Guillaume de Machaut

Medieval Period Overview

The Medieval Period, or Middle Ages (from the Latin medium aevum), is a commonly used expression referring to the vast period between the fall of the Roman Empire (c.476) and the beginning of the Renaissance in the early 15th century. It is perhaps the most misunderstood era of European history among the general public, partly due to the widely used term "Dark Ages" to which it is often equated. While it is true that many aspects of classical education and civic society were lost or compromised in the chaotic years following the fall of Rome, the era as a whole witnessed dramatic achievements in politics, science, and the arts that continue to shape our world today. As urban society crumbled, learning and unity were initially fostered by the Church, and indeed the Early Middle Ages (6th-11th c.) is appropriately called the Age of Faith. The dominant musical impulse, therefore, was to compose music that complimented the rituals of the Catholic Church, giving rise to a huge body of Gregorian chant – monophonic (single-voiced) settings of liturgical and related texts associated with Christian worship; these years also saw the gradual creation of a system of musical notation, whereby this huge repertoire could be widely disseminated.

The advent of vocal polyphony (two or more voices in counterpoint) arose only in the so-called High Middle Ages (12th-13th c.), and is particularly associated with the great Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The music composed at Notre Dame, by such early masters as Léonin and Pérotin, included organum, conductus, and the motet, which soon became the dominant genre of the era. By the early 13th century, secular texts, particularly those associated with Courtly Love, began to stand aside purely religious ones - both in polyphony and in the monophonic songs of the Troubadours and Trouvères Instrumental or dance music, too, increased in popularity at this time, though maintained a decidedly secondary status compared to vocal music. The Late Middle Ages (14th c.) saw the rise of the first towering figures of Western music, most especially Guillaume de Machaut, who composed elaborate religious motets, secular chansons, and the first setting of a polyphonic Mass - the Messe de Nostre Dame. As the 14th c. came to a close, however, the complexities of Late Medieval polyphony (e.g., the so-called "ars subtilior") began to stimulate a reactive move toward a more simplified approach - and the dawn of a new era, the Renaissance.

Principal Medieval Composers, Schools, and Repertoires

Here is a list of some of the principal composers of the Medieval era:

Gregorian Chant (6th-11thc.)
Principal genres: Chant, Sequences

Adam of St. Victor (d 1146)
Principal genre: Sequences (chant)

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
Principal genres: Sequences, Antiphons, etc.

Troubadour (anonymous, 12th-13th c.)
Principal genre: Cansos (Troubadour songs)

Raimbaut de Vaqeiras (1150-1207)
Principal genre: Cansos (Troubadour songs)

Trouvères (anonymous, 12th-13th c.)
Principal genre: Chansons (monophonic)

Gace Brulé (b 1160)
Principal genre: Chansons (monophonic)

Alfonso X (el Sabio) (1221-1284)
Principal genre: Cantigas

Aquitanian Repertory (anonymous, 10th-13th c.)
Principal genres: Chant, Monophonic Songs, Conductus, Organum

Notre Dame School (anonymous, 12th-13th c.)
Principal genres: Conductus, Organum, Motets

Léonin (d1201)
Principal genre: Organum

Pérotin (12th-13th c.)
Principal genres: Organum, Clausulae, Conductus

Philip the Chancellor (1165-1236)
Principal genres: Conductus (monophonic and polyphonic)

Adam de la Halle (ca. 1240-1287)
Principal genres: Motets, Chansons

Medieval Polyphony – various sources (anonymous, 12th-14th c.)
Principal genres: Conductus, Organum, Motets

Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361)
Principal genres: Motets

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)
Principal genres: Chansons, Motets, Mass

Jacopo da Bologna (c.1310-1386)
Principal genres: Ballate, Madrigals

Francesco Landini (1325-1397)
Principal genres: Ballate, Madrigals

Johannes Ciconia (1335-1411)
Principal genres: Ballate, Madrigals, Motets

Matteo da Perugia (1380-1410)
Principal genres: Chansons, Ballate, Motets

Solage (fl. late 14th c.)
Principal genres: Chansons

Key Medieval Works

Here is a short, and quite partial, list of some of the many masterpieces of the Medieval era. Use this list as a springboard for further musical exploration. In addition, please enjoy the 1-Click Concert above, which is in large part based upon these selections.

Gregorian Chant, Alma Redemptoris Mater (Marian antiphon)

Gregorian Chant, Hodie Christus natus Est (Christmas antiphon)

Gregorian Chant, Pange lingua (Passion hymn)

Gregorian Chant, Victimae paschali laudes (Easter sequence)

Adam of St. Victor, In natale (sequence)

Hildegard von Bingen, O clarissima mater (response, for the Virgin Mary)

Hildegard von Bingen, O quam mirabilis (antiphon, for Trinity)

Raimbaut de Vaqeiras, Kalenda maia ni fueills de faia (estampie)

Gace Brulé, La douçour de la bele saison

Alfonso X (el Sabio), Cantiga de Santa María 10: Rosa das rosas e Fror das frores

Anonymous, Ludus Danielis (The Play of Daniel; medieval mystery play)

Aquitanian Polyphony, Quam felix cubiculum (2-part organum)

Notre Dame School Polyphony, Veni creator spiritus (3-part conductus)

Léonin, Viderunt omnes (organum, a2)

Pérotin, Viderunt omnes (organum, a4)

Philip the Chancellor, Luto carens et latere (rondeaux, a3)

Adam de la Halle, Le jeu de Robin et de Marion (jeux)

Anonymous Instrumental (Italian), Lamento di Tristano

Anonymous Instrumental (French), La 3e Estampie real

de Vitry, Imprudentor circumivi/Virtutibus (isorhythmic motet, a3)

Machaut, De toutes flours (ballade, a3)

Machaut, Rose, liz, printemps, verdure (rondeau, a4 or 5)

Machaut, Messe de Nostre Dame (a4)

Jacopo da Bologna, Aquil' altera; Creatura gentil; Ucel de Dio (madrigal, a3)

Landini, Non avrà mai pietà, S.144 (ballata, a3)

Ciconia, Una panthera in compagnia de Marte (madrigal, a3)

Matteo da Perugia, Ave sancta mundi salus / Agnus Dei (motet)

Solage, Fumeux fume par fumée (rondeau, a3)

Medieval Artists

Vocal and Mixed Early Music Ensembles

Anonymous 4   Gothic Voices
Ars Nova Ensemble   Hilliard Ensemble
CantArte Regensburg   Il Dulci Jubilo
Capella Antiqua München   Martin Best Medieval Ensemble
Chanticleer   Newberry Consort
Ensemble devotio moderna   Orlando Consort
Ensemble Für Fruhe Musik Augsburg   Oxford Camerata
Ensemble Gilles Binchois   Pro Musica Antiqua
Ensemble Mediatrix   Schola Cantorum Riga
Ensemble P.A.N.   Theatre of Voices
Ensemble Unicorn   Tonus Peregrinus
Estampie - Münchner Ensemble Für Frühe Musik   Trio Mediaeval

Instrumental Ensembles

Clemencic Consort   Pro Arte Recorder Ensemble


Martin Best   Jeremy Summerly
Graham Derrick   Alberto Turco
Paul Hillier   Dominique Vellard
Joseph H. Jennings   Hubert Velten
Konrad Ruhland    

Instrumental and Vocal Soloists

Robert Harre-Jones (countertenor)   Donald Perry (tenor)
Paul Hillier (baritone)   Michael Posch (recorder)
Shira Kammen (vielle)   Barbara Thornton (soprano)
Laurie Monahan (soprano)   Margriet Tindemans (fiddle, psaltery)
Russell Oberlin (countertenor)    

© 1994-2022 Classical Archives LLC — The Ultimate Classical Music Destination ™