Music of the Middle Ages

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Medieval music was mostly related to the Christian church. The most popular type of music was the chant. From the start of the Middle Ages when the Western Roman Empire fell, according to the “Medieval Music Timeline,” “Gregorian chant was developed. It is also known as plainchant or plainsong and named after Pope St. Gregory the Great” (Estrella). There were many different styles of chant. The most popular chants were the Roman chant, Celtic chant, Gallic chant, and Spanish chant, all used in many parts of Europe. These chants established support for an introduction to instruments like the psaltery, the lute, and the dulcimer. The Psaltery is an instrument that is described by Britannica.com as, “having plucked strings of gut, horsehair, or metal stretched across a flat soundboard, often trapezoidal but also rectangular, triangular, or wing-shaped. The strings are open, none being stopped to produce different notes” (Psaltery Musical Instrument). An interesting instrument that can also be played with a bow as opposed to just plunking and was a popular solo instrument. Another popular instrument was the Lute. The lute also by Britannica.com says “in music, any plucked or bowed chordophone whose strings are parallel to its belly, or soundboard, and run along a distinct neck or pole.

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In this sense, instruments such as the Indian sitar are classified as lutes” (Lute Musical Instrument). The lute along with the harp was the inspiration for the Psaltery. Another favorite instrument of the Middle Ages was the Dulcimer. Britannica.com also describes the dulcimer as, “having for each note two or more metal strings stretched across a flat, usually trapezoidal sound box. They pass over one and under the other of two long bridges, sloping alternately to right and left to facilitate rapid playing with the light beaters” (Dulcimer Musical Instrument). Though all of these were string instruments and very similar to each other, each made a unique sound that was popular with troubadours. Troubadours were traveling entertainers, who wrote and composed their own music. They preformed for noble families in Europe. Troubadours according to “Troubadours and Trouvères” wrote, “themes of love and betrayal, similar poetic genres and even melodies, the songs reflect the considerable differences in politics, religion, and social history between the two contiguous regions” (Steel). Steel also mentions, “By the 14th century, as the viable tradition of both the troubadours and the trouvères withered, societies and academies were established to preserve and promote the art.

The tradition of published scholarship on the troubadours and trouvères dates back…, at least to Dante’s De Eloquentia” (Troubadours and Trouvères). Among these troubadours, Guillaume d’Aquitaine who lived from 1071-1126 and died at the age of 54 was mentioned in “Medieval Music Timeline” that, “Guillaume d’Aquitaine was one of the well-known troubadours with most themes centered around chivalry and courtly love” (Estrella). As troubadours traveled, the string instruments were favored because of their light weight. This was true until the invention of the portable organ. By the 10th century, the Christians were starting to implement the use of organs in their churches. “The Church Organ: A History” says, “The Medieval instrument had keyboards with balanced keys, and the organ installed permanently in Halberstadt, Germany in 1361 was the first church organ to have the chromatic key layout” (Viscount North America).

However, this was not the first organ made. In Greece near the 3rd century the website by Viscount North America also mentions, “Ctesibius of Alexandria invented the organ, then called a hydraulis, which was operated through water pressure that created the needed wind pressure” (The Church Organ: A History). The organ is still widely used in modern churches today.

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Music of the Middle Ages. (2022, Oct 01). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from
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