Music In Middle Ages

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In the beginning of the Middle Ages (c. 450) in Western Europe, music began in a monophonic texture and mostly liturgical in nature. It contained only the Latin language and was not distributed to outside communities. The pitch range was narrow and Medieval style vocals were detached from emotion. Music was used in a religious purpose in the Roman Catholic church and prominent musicians were priests and nuns. Because instruments were often used in pagan rituals, the church resisted the use of instruments. Medieval manuscripts did not indicate tempo or dynamics. A free flowing rhythm was used.

The Gregorian Chant, named after Pope Gregory I, became the official music of the church. After about 1100, the use of organs and bells became common and were played on special occasions and on days of feasts. As music spread more widely, troubadors and trouveres were the creators of secular music of the Middle Ages. Troubadors wrote songs in the Provencal language and were located in southern France. In the northern region of France were the trouveres, who wrote songs in Old French. They were both made up of the middle class, including some nobility such as the first known troubadour, William IX, Duke of Aquitaine (1071-1126). As more people were introduced to music, so were citizens of the lower class, called minstrels. They were street performers who mainly played harps, fiddles, and lutes. They were an important source of information due to their wandering nature.

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As music shifted more and more, a new era began to rise. The Renaissance started a shift in almost every way music was developed, performed, and distributed. Distribution widened with the invention of printing, as well as the number of performers. In 1442, the papal choir in Rome contained ten singers and rose to twenty-four singers in 1483. Polyphonic music of the Middle Ages was usually sung by several soloists, whereas in the Renaissance, it was performed by an entire male choir. Music began to express the emotion that Gregorian Chant lacked, such as sadness, excitement, and passion. Josquin’s Ave Maria (c. 1475) lead with aspects of Gregorian Chant, but later distinguished itself from a chant melody. Music possessed less of a religious purpose and more of an entertainment purpose with lyrics about love and heartbreak.

The Renaissance was a turning point in history in the development of the arts, but wouldn’t have evolved the way it did without the Middle Ages. 


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