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Most of the early music that we have today still in print is primarily sacred music. This music, for the most part, is in the form of sections of the Mass, such as the Gloria, Kyrie and Agnus Dei. Most people of the Middle Ages were poor peasants who worked all day for meager wages and had no idle time lounging the way the upper classes did. Therefore, there are few extant secular compositions of music from this era. The rise of a new middle class, however, gave financial freedom for some people to spend time and money on entertainment in the form of music and dance. Thus, the rise of the middle classes also gave way to the rise in composition and performance of secular music, which became the music of choice for composers of that day.
Many of the songs we have today of the Middle Ages were in Latin, and are by anonymous composers. Many were written by wandering people, many of them men and churchmen without permanent residences of their own. Men who could not obtain a position in the Church and had to drop out were called goliard's. These goliard's wandered around the land, composing and performing for people. Their music was mostly comprised of the eat, drink, and be merry type, appropriate to the wanton kind of life the goliard's lived (Stolba, 99). Carl Orff, the composer of the Carmina Burana, used the poems found in the largest surviving records of Latin secular music that we have today.
The Codex latin 4660 was held in the Benedictine monastery at Benediktbeurn. Many of the songs speak of love, many of them lascivious. Others speak of drinking, satires of the religious life and even liturgical plays. A few of them are even written in the vernacular of the region in that time (Stolba, 99). Following the history of the era in literature, many authors were fascinated by the courtly tradition, chivalry and a higher love.
Therefore, we have today musical compositions that speak of many of the same ideas. French composers wrote songs in the vernacular called chansons de get. These songs spoke of the heroic acts performed by knights for their ladies in the name of love. The French have a national epic called the Chanson de Roland which related the life and death of Charlemagne s nephew and his endeavor to rid France of the Basques. Many of these chansons were performed by other wondering entertainers called jongleurs and m neutrals, or minstrels. On one hand society named them outcasts, not worthy to live a productive life in service of the community, yet on the other hand, they were accepted as the performers of the day.
They did not compose the music, but were one of the main reasons why we still have records of the secular music. By keeping the oral tradition, they kept secular music alive in the hearts and minds of the people (Stolba, 100). In France there were also other wondering musicians and entertainers known as troubadours and trouv res. Many of these musicians were of the upper aristocratic classes (Annenburg).
These musicians, unlike most of the minstrels, often composed their own music and performed it as well, writing and singing in the vernacular which became the modern day French language. The troubadours and trouv res also wrote their own poetry, which later became used in written and oral songs (Daum). Although many of the French songbooks contain some compositions, there are more records of the poetry. Most of the songs in the book are in one of three musical forms: ballades, rondeau's and vi relais.
Many of these songs were strophic and had refrains or choruses, (Stolba, 102). The musical instruments in use by the performers consisted mainly of stringed and woodwind instruments, augmented by the use of the early trumpet and several types of drums and cymbals. Medieval art is perhaps the best example of illustrating the uses and types of instruments. The cittern and citole consisted of four or five metal strings and were the primary stringed instruments.
They are described as an instrument fit for rustics, such as cobblers and tailors (Annenburg). The recorder and shawm were the primary woodwind instruments. The recorder, still in use today, didn t differ much in the production or sound that we know now. The shawm was the predecessor of the modern day oboe, yet unlike the oboe, had the reputation of a piercing sound that was said to have terrified the crusaders (Annenburg). By the fourteenth century, production of secular music far outweighed that of sacred. The time period became known as the Ars Nova or New Art, in response to a treatise written by the famous composer of the time, Philippe de Vitry.
For much of his lifetime, de Vitry worked in service to the French court. Later in 1351 he became Bishop of Means which he maintained until he died. In his writings, de Vitry codified the new rhythms and notation which were being developed. He also used red notes to determine pitch notes and alterations known as coloration's. Together with new rhythms and these coloration's, composers began to write music which had never been seen before. Composers before this had followed strict rules.
De Vitry now utilized the old rules and combined them with new ideas to create genuine Ars Nova (Stolba, 116). Another great contributor to secular music of this time was Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut was also employed most of his life by the court. At this time, the primary form of music was the motet, often in multiple parts. The upper voices were named motels and triple. These were written over the lower voices of the conta tenor and contra tenor basis, which later became the bass.
Machaut used the notational practices codified by de Vitry and wrote mostly in Latin. An interesting rhythmic pattern was also created, called the rhythmic palindrome. This pattern created a new sound and driving force to the music. Machaut s most famous contribution, however, is La Messe de Note Dame. This work is the oldest complete setting of the Mass Ordinary by a single composer (Daum). The pope renounced the use of hockey, a form of dividing up a melody and giving it to different voices.
Machaut wrote many rests and syncopation's to attain the feel of hockey, though (Stolba, 120). As new ideas were constantly being developed, codified and widely used, many of the old forms of music were being changed and started to evolve into the forms we now recognize in the Renaissance style. More freedom was granted in writing and performing music. The church could no longer contain composers in what they wrote, because of its dwindling power and influence.
The church had no hope of containing a growing love and appreciation for new music. Music is a definition of emotion and certainly these times were full of great deeds, as well as great suffering. The Black Death decimated the population of most of Europe, but if one single item from this time period could be called beneficial, it would be the song we all know and grew up with as children: Ring around the rosie's, Pocket full of posies, Ashes, ashes We all fall down. Works Cited Annenburg/CPB Project Exhibits Collection. web Daum, Gary. web music / musik bok /chap 11.
html Stolba, K Marie. The Development of Western Music A History. McGraw Hill: Boston 1994.
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