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Middle Ages Music Research Papers

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Throughout the Middle Ages, the predominant contributing factor to the development of music was religion. Because the church took up such a large position in the lives of nearly everyone, it only made sense, then, that they would also have a profound impact on the culture. The roots of music from this time period can be found in the Gregorian Chants performed by monks, named for Pope Gregory I in the sixth century. Middle Ages MusicThis type of music tended to vary from one region to the next, but was regarded by many to be spiritually and emotionally moving, more so than other forms of music from the time period. Gradually, though, this was replaced by stunning pieces of music composed for and played on the organ and bells. This was especially common in larger cities when the music from cathedrals, such as Notre Dame, could be heard for miles. This music often had multiple parts and levels, marking a sharp difference from the simplicity that was often found in Gregorian Chants.

Over time, secular music was allowed to develop as well. Troubadours and court musicians developed songs and musical pieces to honor high-ranking members of society, to tell tales of the misfortunes of others, or to simply provide entertainment to the masses.  Many relied on the support of patrons for food, shelter, and payment, and, as a result, would write pieces honoring them greatly. Others traveled throughout Europe, serving as a medieval form of the modern-day tabloids. They would take stories, sometimes controversial, with them wherever they went and put them to music. This increased the number of individuals that learned of these various events and helped contribute to the rise of secular music as we know it today.

While scholars are reluctant to give precise dates for music of the middle ages, they generally describe it as a period greatly influenced by the liturgical needs of the Roman Catholic Church.  Gregorian Chant, perhaps the most recognizable genre of this era, was derived from earlier Judaic and Eastern Orthodox forms, and led to innovations, not the least of which was neumes, an ancestor of modern day notation. The following are the most noteworthy of musicians during the Middle Ages:

  • Leonin and Perotin of the Notre Dame School, experimented with chant-like multiple-voice pieces called ‘organum’
  • Guilliame de Machaut
  • John of Luxembourg

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