CCSF MUS27A Symposium musician with
                      his seven-stringed lyre beside the fluted column
                      of a building, ca. 460 b.c. University of
                      Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology (c) Instructor: Larry Ferrara  
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Music Appreciation



Week 5


MIDDLE AGES (476-1400)

An age spanning the years from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 to around 1400. Medieval society was conservative and oriented toward God. The church (the Roman Catholic church) was the primary patron of art and education and the single greatest safe guarder of culture. All music, architecture, poetry and learning was cultivated by the church. Composers were churchmen and musicians got their training as church choirboys. The role of music in the medieval church was to embellish or accompany prayer. It was intended to create a mood of peace, contemplation and spirituality. The exception of music made in the church were the popular musicians called troubadours who held the reputation as wandering musicians. These wandering entertainers called troubadours or jongleurs sang their songs and played their instruments wherever they could find a paying gig. But it was still the church that preserved culture and stood against many of the barbaric conditions that prevailed during the Medieval Period. Many of the surviving music was composed anonymously.

Illumination from
                                the Cantigas de Santa Maria medieval-era

Illumination from the Cantigas de Santa Maria medieval-era manuscripts.

The political system of Europe during the Middle Ages is called feudalism. Rulers granted land to certain people under their authority. These land holders were are called vassals. In return for the land the vassals promised to support their rulers in time of war. The remaining people who lived and worked on the land were called serfs. Those who owned the land were called nobles. In addition a knight or soldier of the noble class was trained as a horseman and pledged loyalty to a particular nobleman and in return was granted land. The church was all that stood against these harsh conditions and the threat of diseases and different religious invasions from the North and from the East.

This was the period in Western Europe in which musical notation began, counterpoint was invented around 1000, and some of the present-day instruments were brought from Asia and Africa. Gregorian chant or plainsong, was invented around 500. It was sung as a single line by a priest and a choir in unison, without instrumental accompaniment. Around the year 1000, singers began singing Gregorian chant on its correct pitches others singing it a fourth, fifth, or octave higher and by the end of the period, wonderful polyphony was being composed. Music was an important part of life not only in the church but also outside of the church performed by troubadours in castles, village huts and taverns.



Page of
                                Chant Sheet Music.
Page of Chant Sheet Music.

The official music of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. It is also known as plainsong or plainchant. It is called plainsong because of it's plainness.
Plainchant is in monophonic in texture and it contains one melodic line without fixed rhythm (no meter). It is called Gregorian because it is named after Pope Gregory (540-607) who was responsible for collecting and codifying the chant. Gregorian Chant was sung in major church services especially the during Mass.

Other characteristics of chant are; a Latin text, modal scale, lack of clear phrase relationships, peaceful, through composed, contemplative, meditative, restful, and prayerful.


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                                by Van Eyk.
Musicians by Van Eyk.

The earliest type of notated polyphony. A new note was added to an existing Gregorian Chant. An organ often accompanied the singing, hence the name organum. The Gregorian Chant in an organum was a slower moving voice and the second added part was an embellished faster moving part. The composers choice of the new note to be added to the existing chant was a special decision based on what was considered to be consonant and non-offensive to the church. The interval of a 3rd or 6th was considered too sensual and the tritone was considered the "devil in music." The interval of a fifth was and in some ways still is the most important interval in the world. In the Middle Ages it was considered magical. It is the first new note in the overtone series.




A sacred (and sometimes secular) vocal composition based on Gregorian Chant with 2 or more parts in polyphonic texture and more independent rhythmic parts. A medieval motet contains complicated rhythmic techniques such as isorhythm and hocket.
A motet also has highly developed polyphony. The constant experimentation practiced by composers writing motets resulted in compositions that sounded odd and sometimes quirky.

Nature présentant à
                              Machaut ses enfants.

Nature présentant à Machaut ses enfants,
Bibliothèque nationale de France © BNF

This Motet is written by the French composer Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut was the first composer to come up with the idea of writing music for the 5 parts of the Mass.




Troubadours, 13th

Troubadours, 13th Century
Tirés du manuscrit des Miracles de saint Louis.

A Poet, composer, and musician of the middle ages who composed love songs and laments. They came from Southern France but roamed throughout Europe from manor to manor or tavern to tavern in seek of performances for profit and well being. These type of wandering musicians were called Trovieres if they came from Northern France, Minnesingers from Germany and Minstrels from England.




Andrea Da Firenze, The Church
                              Militant and Triumphant (detail), 1365-68,

Andrea Da Firenze,
The Church Militant and Triumphant (detail)
1365-68, Florence

Instrumental dance music of the Middle Ages consisting of short simple phrases that repeat over and over. The dance is lively and consists of frequent stamping motion, usually in compound meter.

The recorded example is played on a rebec (early violin) and a gittern (early guitar).
The composer is Anonymous.


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