Medieval music

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The music of the Middle Ages or Medieval Music refers to a European music as it was written down since the 9th century and was created in the following period up to around 1430. The Musicology divides the musical Middle Ages into three periods:

  1. the time from the emergence of Gregorian chant up to around 1100 with predominantly monophonic music
  2. the music of the 12th and 13th centuries ( Notre Dame school ) with the development of polyphonic music
  3. the music from about 1300 to 1450 ( Ars nova, Trecento ) with an increasing differentiation of different styles in different countries.

The music of the Middle Ages belongs to early music in musicology and was replaced by the music of the Renaissance in the 16th century .

Early middle ages

Gregorian chant (liturgical music)

The Holy Spirit, represented as a dove, gives Gregory I the chorale melodies, who dictates them to a scribe (from the Antiphonary of Hartker von St. Gallen , around 1000)

The unanimous, unaccompanied, liturgical chant of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin represents the most important source of our knowledge of the state of musical development in the early Middle Ages.

The recollection of Pope Gregory I († 604) as the author of the chorale of the 9th century is likely to go back to an attribution by Johannes Diaconus in his Vita Gregorii , who describes that Pope Gregory I received the chorale from the Holy Spirit, an idea which can be found in numerous medieval book illustrations, which show Gregory with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dictating the melodies to him. It is now considered certain that the several thousand chorale melodies do not go back to one person. The Schola Cantorum in Rome, founded in Gregory's time, could be one of the roots. It is also unclear whether the repertoire of Gregorian chant goes back to a single collection written in neumes in the Carolingian era . The Gregorian chant was possibly dependent on the ancient Roman chant , which was recorded in Rome in the 11th century. Older practices, such as the Gallican and Mozarabic chants , as well as the Ambrosian chant , were largely superseded by Gregorian chant.

In the Middle Ages, the chant was a functional part of the liturgy of Mass and Office ( Liturgy of the Hours ). At any Hore include psalms with the corresponding antiphons , hymns and canticles and the reading of Scripture with the corresponding Responsorien or vesicles .

The melodies and texts for the Liturgy of the Hours ( Matutin , Laudes , Terz, Sext , Non , Vespers and Compline ) are compiled in a liturgical book, the Antiphonale . Musically, Matutin, Laudes and Vespers are outstanding. Vespers includes the Magnificat , laudes the Benedictus , in Compline, in addition to the Nunc dimittis, depending on the time in the church year, one of the four Marian antiphons, Alma redemptoris mater , Ave Regina caeloreum , Regina caeli or Salve Regina is sung.

The liturgy of Holy Mass includes a variable part, depending on the church year and special feast days, and an unchangeable part. The variable portions are called the Proprium Missae , the fixed portion Ordinarium Missae . The chants Introit , Graduale , Hallelujah , Tractus , Offertorium and Communio belong to the proprium . The ordinarium consists of Kyrie , Gloria , Credo , Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei . The chorales for the Proprium and Ordinarium of the Mass have been combined in the Graduale Romanum . Chorales from antiphonals and graduals, which are particularly frequently used, were also noted in the Liber Usualis . The texts of the mass can be found in the missal , those of the office in the breviary .

The role of Gregory from the perspective of the 19th century

In the 19th century, with the beginning of scientific research into the music of the Middle Ages, Gregor was identified as the creator of numerous musical phenomena. This assessment was based on an uncritical preoccupation with the then newly discovered sources in which Gregorian chant was presented as the basis of all sacred music. Today it is assumed that in the Middle Ages music as a whole was often only traced back to Gregory in order to derive new phenomena from the divine inspiration of the chorale to Gregory, and thus as God given. This corresponds to the medieval scientific method of deriving everything new from a recognized authority ( auctoritas ) and ultimately establishing the unity of knowledge.

The lexicon text from Meyer's Konversations-Lexikon from 1880 is a good example of the 19th century attitude towards Gregor:

“Of the utmost importance, however, are the progress that music owes to Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). He completed the system of church modes by adding four more to the four Ambrosian keys, the so-called authentic ones, which were called plagalous keys [...] The close association of authentic and plagalic tones (whose relationship is described by the writers of the Middle Ages as' male 'and' female 'is aptly characterized) is shown most clearly in the fact that the musical focus, the basic or final note, is common to both [...]

Another merit of the music gained Gregor by improving of the city founded by the popes Year's Eve and Hilary on the 4th and 5th century church music schools , as well as compilation of the known in his time hymns in the so-called Centone Antiphonarium that up to the present, the The basis of Roman church chant has remained. The pinnacle of his music reformation activity, however, is the introduction of the manner of presentation named after him, the Gregorian chant or cantus planus (Latin flat chant ), so named because it does not, like the ancient and Ambrosian chant, demean the current value of the tones Subordinated meter to poetry, but left it to the singer [...] to stretch and shorten the text syllables as he liked, as in expressive speech. "

Extensions, polyphony and music theory

During the Carolingian period, various extensions of Gregorian chant emerged, which gradually became independent. They include melisms , tropics , the alleluia , sequences . The earliest written evidence is the tones , documented since 800 , in which the melodies are listed in order of key. The short treatise Musica Albini (also handed down as De octo tonis ) is devoted to this question of the keys (modes ). This text is u. a. Quoted in the music theory text Musica Disciplina , written around 850 . Within the Organum , the beginnings of polyphony also originated in two-part form ( Musica enchiriadis ).

Hucbald of Saint-Amand: De harmonica institutione

The first to set up fixed rules for the simultaneous sounding of two or more rows of notes was Hucbald (or an unknown author who is referred to as "pseudo-Hucbald"). He followed in part the ancient music theory, which in the Latin arrangement of Boëthius († 525) had again become the subject of study at his time, and in part the practical experience he had already made on musical instruments before him; the names he used Diaphonie (" sound ") and Organum ("musical instrument") point to one source as well as the other.

Hucbald's method initially consisted in adding a second to a series of notes in the fifth, which was already recognized by the Greeks as the most perfect consonance; then he gains parallels of fourths in the two upper voices by doubling the octave of the low voice; finally, by doubling the octave of the second voice, a four-part movement, e.g. B. In addition to this purely mechanical tone combination, he also recommends another of only two voices, one of which usually lingers on the same pitch while the other moves around it at different intervals.

Hucbald expressed himself enthusiastically about the effect of this “lovely harmony”, but only with this a very simple form of polyphony was created.

Guido of Arezzo (Micrologus): around 1025

A century later, the Benedictine monk Guido von Arezzo († 1050) achieved great fame as a music reformer (main work Micrologus de disciplina artis musicae ). It is thanks to an important advance, the formation of a corresponding increase in the needs of music notation . The Greeks used the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet (for the instruments in the wrong position), Gregory the Great used those of the Latin alphabet , correctly recognizing the need to simplify the ancient notation, only the first seven to denote the diatonic scale. Both types of notation, however, suffered from the flaw that they did not clearly depict the rise and fall of the melody.

A third tone script, which was already known in Gregory's time and also used by him in addition to letters, was able to do this, the neumes , consisting of a large number of characters, dots, dashes and squiggles, whose origin to a certain extent in the accents of the written Greek language to look for; but the position of the individual ascending and descending tone signs was, as long as it was not specified with the help of a system of lines, too vague not to allow the most varied readings. Guido now remedied this problem by bringing the attempts of his predecessors to a conclusion with first one, then two, sometimes black, sometimes colored lines, by using four lines in addition to the spaces in between, thus gaining the opportunity to use the neumes to the extent of one Octave (exactly one ninth) to assign its specific place.

Guido were, for. Sometimes wrongly attributed to many other innovations. especially his singing teaching method, with which he claimed to be able to complete the training of a singer within a year or at most two years. This method consisted of the pupil grasping the interval relationships of a song to be learned more quickly by comparing it with something he already knew. As a suitable type of melody for such comparisons, Guido recommended the John Hymn by Paul the Deacon , in which the singers implored the hoarseness of John the Baptist, the "patron of the bright voice" ( vox clamantis ), to be healed: the advantage that this hymn has offered the pupil was twofold: on the one hand, because their individual melody phrases ("bars" in today's terminology) represent the interval relationships characteristic of the church modes, and on the other hand because the initial notes of these phrases form an ascending diatonic scale. This fortuitous circumstance later led the Romansh peoples to designate the notes of the scale with the syllables ut re mi fa sol la . The “si” for the seventh degree was only added later in France after the octave system had been generally introduced.

Another aid for orientation in the pitch space, the introduction of which is attributed to Guido, was the Guidonic hand .

Folk music

The parallel early development of folk song, folk dance and minstrel music can only be deduced with difficulty from the available, much later sources.

Handwritten sources

  • Codex Blandiniensis , Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, Codex 10127-10144, created 8./9. Century - one of the oldest manuscripts with the texts of the mass chants

Notre-Dame and Minnesang (approx. 1100-1300)

From the end of the 12th century, the polyphonic composition became more and more important, initially especially in the genres Organum and Conductus of sacred chant. Important representatives of the so-called Notre Dame School were the composers Léonin and Pérotin . As the number of voices increased, it became necessary to precisely fix the rhythm of the pieces, which had previously not been possible. This function was initially fulfilled by the modal notation , which was replaced a little later by the mensural notation , the rules of which were first formulated by Franco von Köln (late 13th century).


Like his predecessors, Franco also starts out from the Greeks, initially only adopting two note values, the longa and the brevis , corresponding to the long and short syllables of ancient prosody . The union of these two types of notes, the latter of which counted half of the former, results in the mode which appears either as a trochaeus or as an iambus , but of course always consists of three parts; This explains why in the earliest times of mensural music the three-part rhythm was used alone and, when the two-part rhythm later came into use, it was called the perfect, but the latter the imperfect. In the further course of his presentation, Franco abandons the traditions of antiquity, because here the double longa ( maxima ) and half brevis ( semibrevis ) appear as new note values .

With these signs, to which there is also that for the break , it was already possible to notate rhythmically varied music; only the mensural notation of the Middle Ages suffered from the problem that the value of the notes was determined not by their shape alone, but also by their position in relation to the neighboring note, which made their decipherment very difficult. The difficulties increased with the so-called ligatures , i. H. Groups of several notes drawn together into one character, which were sung on a syllable, and in which the value of the individual notes was determined by the ascending or descending line on the right or left, etc.

In addition, the important aid for the exact reproduction of mensural or, as it was also called, figure music , the bar line , was still unknown at this time; it did not appear here and there until the sixteenth century until it came into general use in the early seventeenth century.

Trobadors and Trouvéres

Another important field of music practice took place in the early medieval courts. In southern France the Trobadors cultivated the minstrel in the ancient Occitan literary language used at times in almost all courts in southern Europe . Wilhelm IX is the oldest representative . of Aquitaine . In northern France, namely Normandy , and from 1066 at the English court, the trouvères (troubadours) chant in the old French language (or Anglo-Norman ). At the Franconian and Alemannic courts, under their influence, the tradition of Minnesang in Middle High German developed .

Court music was supported by the bourgeois circles of merchants and craftsmen and the previously neglected instrumental and dance music in guild-like cooperatives and promoted the understanding of poetry and music. The schools of the Mastersingers in Nuremberg, Ulm, Strasbourg, the instrumental cooperatives Nikolai Brotherhood in Vienna (1288) and Confrérie de Saint-Jullen des ménestriers in Paris (1330) are examples of this. Equally important is the development of folk song, from whose high bloom at that time z. B. the so-called Lochamer songbook written in the 15th century gives testimony.

Handwritten sources

Ars nova, Trecento: approx. 1300–1450

Manesse's song manuscript . Is shown Heinrich von Meissen

The new art of polyphonic composition at the time of the Marchettus of Padua and Johannes de Muris , doctor of theology at the University of Paris (around 1300), is at a much higher level . In the writings of these men first appears the prohibition of the fifths and octave parallels, which Hucbald praised for their euphoria, along with various other teachings that still apply today for polyphonic composition. De Muris also uses the word counterpoint instead of the expression Discantus, which was used up until then, as a term for a two-part composition.

However, the polyphonic music did not fully develop until the end of the 14th century with Guillaume Dufay , who, as a member of the papal choir after the transfer of the Holy See from Avignon to Rome, opened the most successful period for the training and teaching of counterpoint here, which after the mainly here participating nation is called the Dutch. It was of great importance for the effectiveness of the Dutch composer school that in the meantime not only sacred music but also secular music had come to life.

The training of the vulgar languages , the educational efforts of the since the time of Charles d. Size flourishing universities and monastery schools, the latter of which, in particular, the one at St. Gallen also zealously cultivated music, and finally the influences of the Orient partly from Moorish Spain, partly during the Crusades, all of which helped to unleash the artistic, especially the poetic and musical instincts of the occidental peoples.

The rise of secular singing and the Dutch counterpointists mainly took place in the field of the technique of polyphonic composition, while folk singing provided them with the melodic material for the compositions.

This explains the use of popular melodies for the thematic content of the masses , motets and other church compositions of the Dutch school, as well as the even more striking practice of that time, the melody taken from popular chant, provided it was heard as a counterpart to a melody of Gregorian chant, with its secular text to make the Latin sing the other melody.

The exclusive pursuit of mastery of form and the joy of overcoming contrapuntal difficulties were finally also the cause of the tendency characteristic of the Dutch school not to diminish the previously mentioned complexity of the mensural notation, but even to deliberately increase it.

In particular, the imitations in canon form seemed intended to put the acumen of the composer and the performer to the test, and if one was content at first to write down only one part , as is the case today, when a canon is notated, and to indicate the entry of the other parts by a symbol, So it was later undertaken to notate voices that came in at the same time with just one row of notes, leaving it to the singer's art to decipher the composer's intention from the added symbols.

This direction reached its climax with Johannes Ockeghem (employed around 1455 to 1490 at the court of the kings of France), of whom there is, among other things, a mass in which the kyrie is only provided with a question mark instead of the key, time mark, etc. Nevertheless, this master, who is rightly regarded as the father of counterpoint, shows, in addition to scholastic artistry, the striving for expressive tone design, and it only took a generation of further work to achieve the spiritual content of music in the fight against brittle matter help to victory: with Josquin des Prés (d. 1521), a pupil of Ockeghem and like him predominantly active at the French royal court, the period of development of the Dutch counterpoint has been overcome and the laborious combination of voices has been replaced by the free development of the creative spirit; He is the first of the Dutchmen whose works are filled with genuine genius, and his contemporary Martin Luther could rightly say of him: “Josquin is a master of notes; they had to do as he wanted, other composers had to do as the notes wanted. "

Most song manuscripts and song books were written down and published during the Trecento period. However, they also bear witness to a much older tradition.

Study opportunities

  • The world's only undergraduate full-time practical music course for music of the Middle Ages is offered at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis - the University of Early Music in Basel.
  • Two-year extra-occupational training is offered at the Academy Burg Fürsteneck under the direction of Marc Lewon and Uri Smilansky .
  • Since 2011, the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen has offered a two-year, part-time master’s course "Music of the Middle Ages", which requires a relevant musical or musicological bachelor’s degree and is headed by Stefan Klöckner , among others .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Andreas Pfisterer: Cantilena Romana. Investigations into the transmission of Gregorian chant. Paderborn 2002, p. 193. ISBN 3-506-70631-4 online

See also


  • Hartmut Möller, Rudolf Stephan (ed.): The music of the Middle Ages. New manual of musicology. Edited by Carl Dahlhaus . Vol. 2. Laaber, Laaber 1991. ISBN 3-89007-032-9
  • Bernhard Morbach: The music world of the Middle Ages. With over 50 works on audio + data CD. Bärenreiter, Kassel 2004. ISBN 3-7618-1529-8
  • Marco Ambrosini , Daniela Herzog: Introduction to Medieval Music. Publishing house of the miners , Brensbach 1992. ISBN 3-927240-13-3
  • Sabine Žak: Music as honor and ornament in the medieval empire. Studies of Music in Medieval Life, Law and Ceremonial. Guitar + Lute (Verlag Dr. Päffgen), Cologne 1979, ISBN 3-88371-011-3 .

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