Posted by Mindy

Have you ever wondered what the people of these days sang about?

What kind of songs have you been singing through your life? All different kinds, yes? Silly songs like “The Hokey Pokey,” or perhaps a round like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” You also know old patriotic songs like “Yankee Doodle” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as a lullaby? Up to about this time the only songs which were documented were the plainchant, as heard on most Sundays during public worship.

Plainchant was heard in cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris.

During this era cathedrals are being constructed all over Europe.  One of the more famous ones is the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France.  The first stone was laid in 1163 with details being completed in 1345.  We tend to think that everything in the lives of these people was dirty, miserable, backward. Look, though, at the glory of Notre Dame Cathedral!   






Here is but one of the rose windows:









According to the following helpful discussion of Medieval music on the Stanford University webpage:

Basically, all early music can be divided into two general categories: sacred and secular. Christianity was a dominant part of medieval culture, so an entire musical style developed just to support it. Sacred music was therefore set to the text of the Bible or at least inspired by it. This meant it was necessary for composers of sacred music to have some sort of education, a rare commodity in those days. For those who did not have the musical training and Biblical literacy needing for composing sacred music, there was the less-sophisticated (but equally important) realm of secular music.

The goals of sacred and secular early medieval composers were originally different. The sacred composers sought to set the Bible to music and to bring a more “heavenly” aspect to church than could be obtained by simply reading the Bible. Sacred music was originally composed to pay homage to God. Secular music, on the other hand, was composed solely for its entertainment value, whether for dance or to express love. At least in the early medieval times, sacred composers were formally trained in music and secular composers were usually not, as mentioned above. So not only did the two forms of music serve different purposes, the also represented a musical separation in society between the formally trained and the untrained, or even better, the rich and the poor.


Even as songs are passed down orally from generation to generation, and people do not have a manuscript on which they write their names, even so we don’t know much of the secular music composed of that day or who composed it.  People certainly had their dance music, their work music, their lullabies, just like the songs which were mentioned at the top.   This was considered secular music.

Here is some of the so-called secular music which was carried about southern France and into northern Italy by the troubadours. The troubadours were traveling poets and musicians who entertained the pilgrims and soldiers of the Crusades.

LiliumLyra is an Italian ensemble performing medieval music from the 12th and 13th centuries.  The main focus of the project is to propose a lively performance of the music of the troubadours.  To enjoy this music all the more, pull out your own percussion instruments or create your own using ideas from a previous blog, Creating Your Own Instruments.

If you would like to read the original article on Medieval music, visit the Stanford University page here