The history of music is the history of the world. All through history, there has been music and musicians. Even though music did not start in the medieval period, the information that we have about music from this period gives us a lot of details about the world at that time. From the instruments to the composers, here are the most important aspects of medieval music.
The History of Medieval Music
Medieval music is divided into three periods: early medieval music, high medieval music, and late medieval music. Early medieval music was mostly composed of chants or what is called ‘plainsong’ which is just the combination of the words ‘plain’ and ‘song’. This song was a single melody without an accompanied harmony, like we see in more modern music. Eventually, chants would incorporate another voice in parallel above the first voicing. This was called “organum” and is the prelude to modern counterpoint and harmony.
High medieval music was more advanced than the previous plainsong of the early period. In this time, there were poet-musicians called Goliards who wrote and sang songs in Latin. Many of the songs at this time were religious, but the Goliards sang songs about everyday life among other topics. Many of these lyrics have survived in the medieval text The Carmina Burana, although the music itself did not. At this time, professional musicians called troubadours (troo-buh-doors) and trouvères (troo-ver-ays) were developing more complex melodies but were removed from the religious tradition of older music. Troubadours wrote music that was for the common people, using common language. Many of their melodies survive to this day.
Late medieval music was incredibly diverse. As the groups of people who made the music got more advanced, so did the music itself. In fact, music began to get so specific in different parts of the world that different countries began making their own kinds of music. In France, they began working with a practice called ‘Ars nova’ which means “new art”. In this new art secular (meaning non-church) music gained a more advanced type of melody. Even though this term mostly applies to French music, it is often used to describe all music from this part of history. In Italy, their musical movement was called ‘Trecento’. Much of the musical traditions of this time would continue into the next major time period, the Renaissance.
The history of music is a long one that is always changing. During the medieval period, we can see music going through many different changes; from single-note plainsongs to the more melodic work of the troubadours, music is a constantly flowing river that never ever stops.