Music from the Middle Ages

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Music from the Middle Ages

Development phase: Late 1980s
Place of origin: Central Europe
Stylistic precursors
Medieval music , folk , pop and rock

The music of the Middle Ages scene describes the music genre that has shaped the Middle Ages scene , especially the Middle Ages markets , since the late 1980s .


The genre lacks a universally recognized name. Designations such as Mittelalternative, Marktmusik , Mittelaltermarktmusik or Medieval are used, but none of them has been sufficiently established so far.

The historical performance practice of medieval music must be distinguished from the music of the medieval scene . This does not represent a new or its own style of music, but aims to reproduce European music up to 1450 as stylistically as possible.


The music of the medieval scene is stylistically broad. It ranges from folk music with vocals , stringed instruments , harps , flutes , crumhorns , shawm , hurdy-gurdies and other historic instruments to loud rock music with market bagpipes and Davuls .

The music of the medieval scene does not claim to reproduce authentic music from the Middle Ages. Rather, their focus is on the entertainment value for market visitors, guests at " knights' meals " and the taste of fans of this music genre. The focus is on fun and the musicians take a lot of artistic freedom, which has led to the development of completely new sounds and musical styles. The genre can generally be counted as underground music . Similar to folk, pop and rock music, the performers are often also the composers or arrangers of the pieces.

Due to its increasing popularity since the advent of medieval markets, music has no longer just become functional music to accompany the markets, but has also become its own, autonomous genre. Performers emerge, give concerts and make recordings without ever having been an active or passive part of the market scene. The music continues to develop and, with its own style, offers an attractive addition to the rest of the music. Since the style of music is still relatively young, it is constantly subject to change and renewal.


Today's music of the medieval scene can be divided into two main styles. The transitions between the different styles, as well as to historical performance practice and to other musical genres, are fluid in practice.

Just as there is still no uniform name for the entire genre, there are still no established names for its styles.

The "folk style"

Folkloric medieval duo

This style of music in the Middle Ages is based primarily on the "romantic" image of the Middle Ages and its minstrels , as we know it from fairy tales, novels or films. There are pieces with singing and purely instrumental pieces, with the singing pieces slightly predominating. The songs often have an entertaining, cheerful character, and there are also serious lyrics. Singing becomes the primary design element. In “La La La” passages, the voice is also used for instrumental design.

The singing is monophonic or polyphonic, arranged in a uniform or varied manner. A wide variety of instruments serve as accompaniment. You can find replicas of real instruments from European music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance music and later centuries (for example hurdy-gurdy , nyckelharpa , cister , portative ) as well as modern instruments such as B. the guitar lute (a guitar with a lute-shaped body), or instruments that have been optically altered to get an exotic, pseudo-historical look. Colloquially, these are then usually referred to as “ lutes ” or “ fiddles ”, without, strictly speaking, falling under this name as musical instruments.

Furthermore, woodwind instruments such as recorders of all kinds or quieter double reed instruments (e.g. krummhorn , rauschpfeife , bagpipes ) are often found in this style . In the case of pure instrumental pieces, the wind instruments are mostly used to lead the melody, in pieces with vocals to double the melody or as an instrumental prelude and interlude.

For percussional accompaniment, drums of various types and sizes, tambourines , ring rings , rattles and ankle cuffs are typically used.


Walther von der Vogelweide
( Codex Manesse , around 1300)

The song material of this genre comes not only from the Middle Ages, but from a wide variety of sources and later epochs. On the one hand, there are traditional pieces that were written by the Carmina Burana (11th – 12th centuries), Walther von der Vogelweide (approx. 1170–1228), Neidhart von Reuenthal (approx. 1210–1240), the Cantigas de Santa Maria ( 13th century), Oswald von Wolkenstein (around 1377–1445) through the Renaissance (14th – 16th centuries) to the 19th and 20th centuries. On the other hand, there are new compositions, new arrangements, text translations and new texts for old songs.

The focus is on songs with a major / minor tonal classification, as they can be accompanied with chordal instruments such as the string instruments used, as well as understandable text, which is why German-language texts from the last 3 centuries or German texts predominate in Germany. Younger songs are also sung (e.g. from the 19th century or songs from the youth movement of the 20th century) if they sound outdated in terms of text or if they fit the historical theme in some other way. The sound of the instruments, which has been trimmed to “old” and the adaptation of the voice guidance and sound conceptions to music suitable for medieval markets, keeps this diversity together and puts it in a new context.

Non-German-language songs are often sung in the original text in Latin, (old) Spanish, (old) Italian, (old) French, etc. There are also performers (including German native speakers) who mainly make music in English. This usually has strong tendencies towards English-language folklore such as B. the Irish folk .


The performers ("minstrels") of this musical genre almost always appear well dressed, whereby the clothing, as usual in the Middle Ages scene, is partly based on reconstructed historical models and partly on imaginative ideas, among other things from the Middle Ages reception of romanticism, films and Books were fed. The minstrels' clothes are usually a little more colorful and unusual than those of other actors in order to show them off as entertainers.

In their announcements, the musicians predominantly use the language common in the Middle Ages scene (“ market speech ”).

The "bagpipe rock style"

In the late GDR , in addition to the folklore style, a new, independent musical style developed within medieval music. In this, the most important and melody-leading instrument is a particularly loud bagpipe type , which was developed around 1980 without a historical model. The instrument is known in the scene as a market sack pipe or "medieval sack" or "market pig". A- Dorian has prevailed as the main mood . In addition to its high volume, the market sack pipe is characterized by a direct, hard sound. It is therefore suitable for unamplified, large-area sound reinforcement at medieval markets. It was originally developed for folk festivals in the GDR, at which medieval music groups such as Tippelklimper or Spilwut performed. The instrument is used as a soloist or in an ensemble, polyphonically or to amplify the sound to double a solo voice.

Due to the high volume, only a few instruments are suitable for accompaniment. Percussion instruments are mainly used , among them oriental instruments such as the davul or darabuka , in some cases other wind instruments also appear, the sound of which is usually as loud as the market bagpipe and which have developed from the same sound ideas. Plucked instruments can usually not be used due to their lower volume. Loud hurdy-gurdy hurdy-gurdy and piercing chord and filler instruments such as cistern or modern key fiddles are usually the instruments of choice.

This style is often performed in a purely instrumental manner, as singing has a hard time competing with the volume of the instruments. The line-up ranges from solo performances to duos (typically: Marktsackpfeife / Davul) to an ensemble of ten musicians, whereby the number of voices is not increased. The individual voices are only cast with choruses.

Despite the relatively strong musical limitations imposed by the main instrument, the bagpipes, an astonishing variety of styles has developed. Unlike in art music, this diversity is not tied to the musical works, but above all to the performers, who often compose their works themselves.


Tigga va Oche on a double-headed frame drum

The song and melody repertoire comes mainly from the same sources as that of the "folkloric style", i. H. from different centuries and regions. It is varied in many ways and especially in this style it is often combined with Balkan melodies and oriental templates. In addition, there are also new compositions that fit into the sound concept that has arisen and expand it. The degree to which one deviates from actual medieval models varies from interpreter to interpreter.


The appearance of the music groups of this style corresponds less to the "romantic" than to the "dark" Middle Ages. To this end, the performers often appear in clothing that is meant to match the rough and loud side of the music. The drapery is very different from interpreter to interpreter. Here, too, there are people who refer to reconstructed clothing from the Middle Ages. Most of the music groups of this style, however, wear fantasy costumes that have nothing to do with historical clothing, but are wild, brutal, sometimes even half-naked. For example, it can happen that a musician is only seen on stage with a leather loincloth, fur gloves and chain mail.

The same applies to speech and announcements. The “market talk” of these groups tends to be rough and loud. A roaring style of speech has developed between talking and shouting, which is suitable for reaching higher volumes without excessive wear of the voice. The announcements and stories are often about the "rough life", alcohol, sex and rebellion against a historical-fictional authority such as the monarch or the church.

Further styles and border types

In addition to the genre dealt with here, there are also styles that seem to have similar working methods, but where the background, philosophy, audience and, above all, sound diverge to such an extent that one can no longer speak of the same genre. This includes, among other things, the interpretation of sources of traditional music from the Middle Ages, the use of elementary compositional techniques and stylistic features of medieval music in order to use them in other styles, such as B. contemporary music styles of all kinds (e.g. avant-garde or pop music ) to use.

Furthermore, there are musicians and bands who enrich and expand their own music (e.g. rock or metal ) with instruments and / or texts from the medieval music scene, but do not fundamentally change them, as well as modern instruments such as electric guitar , E. - Use bass or drums . The best-known example of such a borderline type is medieval rock .

Finally, there are also world musicians and folk groups who play original variants of a piece that is also played by the musicians of the medieval scene. For example, Balkan pieces, which may be known to some from the music of the medieval scene, are also played by actual musicians from the respective cultural affiliation, without this having anything to do with the medieval scene.

The transitions and boundaries are of course fluid. So it must be decided from artist to artist or from piece to piece which genre it can be assigned to.


  • Iwen Schmees: Music in the Middle Ages Scene. Styles, repertoire and interpretation . Diplomica-Verlag, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8366-6263-5 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Historical performance practice - then and now