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Music in the Middle Ages

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Presentation on theme: "Music in the Middle Ages"— Presentation transcript:

1 Music in the Middle Ages
450 – 1450 A.D.

2 Middle Ages Around 450 the Roman Empire began to disintegrate.
This was the beginning of the “dark ages”. Life was hard and full of migrations, upheavals, and wars. In the later Middle Ages churches and monasteries were constructed, towns grew, universities were founded.

3 This was a time of three social classes:

4 NOBILITY Nobles were sheltered within castles surrounded by moats.
The men were often knights during war time. In peace time, they amused themselves with hunting, feasting, and tournaments.

5 Peasants Peasants – the majority of people – lived miserably in one-room huts. Many were serfs, bound to the soil and subject to feudal overlords. Homes were damp and cold. The entire family shared two rooms. For protection, there were no windows.

6 Clergy Monks in monasteries held a monopoly on learning; most people – including the nobility – were illiterate. The church was the center of musical life. Musicians were priests and worked for the church. An important occupation in monasteries was liturgical singing. Women were not allowed to sing in the church.

7 Cathedrals

8 Music in the Middle Ages
Most medieval music was vocal. The church frowned on instruments. Around 1100, however, instruments were used increasingly in church. The organ was most prominent. At first it was primitive and could only be played by hitting it with your fist. It was so loud that it could be heard for miles around.

9 Organ Organ from the 900s.

10 Gregorian Chant The music of the church was Gregorian chant.
It is a single line (no harmony) sung by many to convey a calm quality. It represents the church. It has flexible rhythm, without meter, and little sense of beat. Exact rhythm is uncertain, because precise time values were not notated. Free-flowing rhythm gives the chant a floating, improvisational feeling.

11 The melodies moved by step and were sung in Latin, the language of the church.
At first, the melodies were passed on by tradition, but as the numbers grew to the thousands, they were notated to ensure uniformity. The earliest manuscripts were from the 800s.

12 The composers of Gregorian chant remain almost completely unknown.

13 Secular Music Besides Gregorian chant in the church, there was much music outside of the church, too. The first music that has survived in notation was composed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by French nobles called troubadours. Many of the songs they sang have been preserved because nobles had clerics write them down. Some 1,650 melodies have been preserved.

14 During the Middle Ages, wandering minstrels performed music and acrobatics in castles, and towns.
They had no civil rights and were on the lowest social level. It was a tough life. Without newspapers, the music of the minstrels was an important source of information.

15 For centuries music had just a single melodic line.
But sometime around 700 – 900 monks began to add a second melodic line to Gregorian chant. At the beginning, it was usually improvised. Listeners at that time must have been surprised!

16 Churches were getting more elaborate as was the music in the church.

17 Polyphonic Music Polyphonic music (music with more than one part) was developed mainly in Paris at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Using precise rhythms, this was the first time in music history that notation indicated precise rhythms as well as pitches. Soon music had more than two voices. Music with three parts began to develop, although the range was still small and hollow sounding.

18 Fourteenth Century Secular music became more important in the lives of the people in the 1300s. This was due to many factors including the Hundred Years’ War, the black plague (which destroyed ¼ of the population of Europe), the weakening of the feudal system, and the fighting of the Popes in the Catholic church. The changes in musical style were so many that this era was named the time of “new art”.

19 Guillaume de Machaut Guillaume de Machaut was a priest, but spent most of his life working with the noble families of France. Machaut travelled to many courts and presented beautifully decorated copies of his music to the nobles. Because of this, his music has survived for us to enjoy today. This piece you are hearing (The Agnus Dei) is possibly the finest composition known from the Middle Ages.

20 Agnus Dei This piece is from a Mass, which is a sacred piece of music.
It is written in four voices, some of which are doubled by instruments. The Agnus Dei is a prayer for mercy and peace and is solemn and elaborate. It is in triple meter. This piece is based on Gregorian Chant, but you can hear how much this idea has developed.

21 Agnus Dei Like the chant it is based on, it has three sections.
The form for this piece is: A B A In Machaut’s time, music was meant to appeal to the mind – as well as to the ear! Although this sounds so different to us today, it is pleasing to our ears.

22 Notre Dame


24 Music of the Middle Ages
Patty Oeste, 2005

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