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Medieval Music

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Music
The Medieval saw the emergence of great changes in English society including the music played during the Medieval times and era. The violent times of the Dark Ages had led to a primitive society lacking in elegance or refinement. Medieval music consisted of the religious or secular music of the church, however some pagan rituals relating to music and dancing, such as Maypole dancing, continued throughout the times.

The ideals of courtly love were introduced further influencing the content and styles of Medieval music. The subjects of musicians and Musical instruments are also covered in this section. The following links provide facts and interesting information about Medieval Music, Musicians and Musical Instruments of the Middle ages:

Medieval Music
Medieval Dance
Medieval Musical Instruments
Blondel the Minstrel
String Instruments
Percussion Instruments
Woodwind Instruments

Medieval Music and Musical Instruments
There were many Musical Instruments that can be described as part of the following categories including Woodwind Instruments of music which were blown like trumpets or bagpipes, String Instruments of music which were played with a bow or plucked and Percussion Instruments of music including various forms of drums and bells which were used during the Middle Ages.

Pipe Organ
The Bagpipe was made using a goat or sheep skin and a reed pipe

The Crumhorn was introduced in the 1400's as a double reed music instrument

The Gemshorn was made of horn of an ox, chamois or similar

The Cornett was an early woodwind music instrument taking the form of a long tube

The Lizard was a descriptive term for an s-shaped horn

The Ocarina was an egg-shaped woodwind music instrument

Sackbut was a musical instrument resembling a trombone

The Hautboy was a slender double-reed woodwind music instrument with a conical bore and a double-reed mouthpiece

English Horn similar to an oboe. Another name commonly used for the Cor Anglais is the English Horn

Horns - Originally made of a horn (ox or a ram)

The Bombard can be described as a large shawm

Oboe evolved from the Shawm into the hautboy and then the oboe

Trombone, a long tube whose length can be varied by a U-shaped slide

Tuba, an ancient trumpet, the lowest brass woodwind music instrument

Drums also called tambours

Cymbals, thin round concave metal plates

The Triangle was a musical instrument introduced during the 14th century

The Tambourine a music instrument was traditionally used by a woman

The Tabor, a small drum

Timbrel also referred to as a tambourine and dates back to antiquity

Bells - the use of Bells also dates back to antiquity

The Organistrum and the Pipe Organ were other types of Medieval Musical instruments as was the Hurdy-Gurdy. The Hurdy-gurdy music was introduced to England during the 12th century.

The Harp was a favorite music instrument of the troubadours and minstrels and was about 30 inches in length

The Lute was a  plucked string music instrument having a pear-shaped body, a usually bent neck, and a fretted fingerboard

There were a variety of Fiddles which were played with a bow or plucked and usually held under the chin or in the crook of the arm

The Rebec was a music instrument with a round pear-shaped body much like an early violin

The Psaltery was a musical instrument which was a cross between a harp and a lyre

The Chittarone was a lute which could reach 6 feet tall

The Cittern was similar to a modern guitar

The Dulcimer was played by striking the strings with small hammers

The Gittern was similar to a modern guitar

A Viol was played with a bow and held on the lap or between the legs

The Vielle was a popular string music instrument with troubadours and jongleurs

The Mandolin and Mandore was a small string music instrument resembling the lute

The Clavichord was an early string music instrument like a piano

Harpsichord was a harp-shaped instrument of music set horizontally on legs, like the grand piano

The Spinet can be described as a keyed instrument of music

The Flute was similar to our modern flutes

The Trumpet often associated with the music of fanfares and pageants

The Pipe was an extremely basic music instrument usually having only three melody holes

The Shawm was a reed music instrument with vent holes

The Recorder was also an extremely basic music instrument with melody holes

Flageolet was a small fipple flute with four finger holes and two thumb holes.

Medieval Music
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Troubadours, Trouveres and Minstrels were the poets and musicians who influenced Medieval Music. The troubadours and minstrels sang songs of courtly love and romance. Noble ladies of the Medieval period were famous for their patronage of Medieval Music. Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II of England in 1152 and brought her love of music and the troubadours to the English court transferring the tradition to England.

Medieval Music and Musicians - The Troubadours
The Troubadours were originally travelling musicians. The early Troubadours travelled from one village to the next and many also travelled abroad. The role of the Troubadours changed to part of an elite society of royalty and nobles. The themes of the songs sung by the Troubadours mainly dealt with Chivalry and Courtly love - romantic ballads. In Germany, the troubadours became Minnesingers, or singers of love songs. The German minnesingers differed from the troubadours in that they accompanied their songs on the viol, instead of employing Jongleurs.

Medieval Music and Musicians - The Trouveres
The Trouveres were troubadours of nobler birth with finer imagination, including kings and nobles. They were a school of poets who flourished in Northern France and Europe from the 11th to the 14th century.

Medieval Music and Musicians - The Minstrels
The Minstrels earned a living by the arts of poetry and music, and sang verses to the accompaniment of a lute, harp or other instruments. Minstrels often created their own ballads but they were also famous for memorising long poems based on myths and legends which were called 'chansons de geste'.

Medieval Music and Musicians - The Jongleurs
The Jongleurs were often the assistants of the Troubadours or Minstrels. Jongleurs gained a reputation as itinerant entertainers and many were deemed to be vagabonds and untrustworthy. Their repertoire included various skills in dancing, conjuring, acrobatics, and juggling.

Medieval Music and Musicians - The Waits
The Waits were originally employed as watchmen who alerted people to danger by playing loud instruments. The role of the Waits gradually evolved into groups of musicians employed by the towns. The Waits therefore became official musicians employed in the large English towns, who were equivalent to the town band. The Waits were expected to compose and play music for important town and civic ceremonies and occasions.

Medieval Music and Musicians - The Composers
The famous composers of the Medieval period included the following:

  • Adam de la Halle (1238-1287)
  • Guillaume de Machaut (1340-1377)
  • John Dunstable (1369-1453)
  • Johannes Ockeghem (1420-1496)
  • Josquin des Pres (1450-1521)
  • Conrad Paumann (1453-1473)
  • Alexander Agricola (1446-1506)
  • Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
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