Medieval Music History – Sounds of the Times Truly Set it Apart

Like many aspects of the time, medieval music history is spotty at best. Since many movements were passed on orally, rather than written down, a lot of the music of the times has been lost, but historians do know enough about music history to categorically say it involved much more than just a Gregorian chant.

Medieval music history centers around two types of music – sacred and secular. The musicians of sacred music set their pieces to glorify the Bible. It is believed the sacred musicians are the ones who received organized, formal training, which the secular musicians did not. Pieces of sacred music were meant to add a richness and depth to the church experience and help add a “heavenly” tone to services.

In medieval music history, secular music belonged to the people. Here is where you will find the unschooled musicians who played for the love of music, to entertain and perhaps even to earn money. It is a lot of the secular tones, sadly, that have been lost. Like many folk musicians and even folk story tellers, these musicians often did not write down their pieces, nor sign their names to them and because of this it is nearly impossible to identify the creators of any movements from medieval music history that survive today. The history of the secular tone is one that mainly relied on the handing down of music for its survival.

Many of the songs that belong to medieval music history are monophonic or polyphony tunes. Gregorian chants with their single melodic lines, for example, are wonderful illustrations of the monophonic sound. Medieval music history has preserved many of these melodies, which are known to be quite serene.

As the middle ages wore on, musicians became creative beyond the monophonic sound and polyphony was born. This sound, which first appeared in medieval music history around the 1200s, involves the use of two or more melodies heard at once. Some medieval music historians credit this creation to the secular musicians, others to the more trained sacred composers.

Many of the instruments that belong to medieval music history are still used today. The melodies of both the church and secular musicians came from such instruments as the lute, the dulcimer and the cornett. Other instruments found in medieval music history include, of course, the bagpipe, the harpsichord, the recorder and even the crumhorn.

From the soul-wrenching sounds of the Gregorian chant to more lively tunes meant for celebration and dance, the middle ages were not devoid of music. While much of what actually was played is lost to medieval music history due to the folk nature of the musicians involved, it is believed music played a role in life that was strong and rich.