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Chant and Secular Song

in the Middle Ages


Chapter Outline wo distinct bodies of song, one sacred (religious) and the other secular
Prelude 28 (worldly), flourished side by side during the Middle Agesthe thousand-
year period that began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth cen-
Western Christian tury. The sacred repertory, known as plainchant (eventually, Gregorian chant),
Chant and Liturgy 29 was created for ceremonial use and served as a principal element in the commu-
Genres and Forms of nal liturgy, or worship service, of the Western Christian Church; it was essentially
Chant 34 musical prayer (or, in the case of the psalms, praise), the devotional words
heightened through melody and rhythm. Nonsacred songscalled secular
Medieval Music Theory monodywere of two types: courtly and elite or popular and traditional. Both types
and Practice 42 were intended mainly for entertainment or for communicating feelings. Like
Medieval Song 44 songs of any age, these gave voice to the celebration of heroes, the expression of
protest, and, especially, the pain and pleasure of love. All three repertoriesone
Postlude 50
sacred and two secularwere primarily monophonic, although for secular song
instrumental accompaniments were probably improvised, especially for danc-
ing, marching, exhorting to battle, and so on. All three originated in oral cul-
tures, and their texts and melodies were initially performed from memory
according to formulas handed down by older singers or invented by new poet-
composers. Chants and courtly songs were transmitted this way for many cen-
turies before they were eventually written down in a gradually evolving notation
that was developed in order to preserve the music, more or less accurately, for
future generations. But for most people, music was purely aural, and most of the
secular and nonliturgical music they heard, sang, and played has vanished. The
second half of this chapter, then, of necessity focuses on the written repertory of
courtly or aristocratic song that flourished in France in the late Middle Ages.
Christianity sprang from Jewish roots and spread westward from Jerusalem
throughout the Roman Empire (see Figure 2.1). As the Western Christian liturgy
was disseminated with its music, it changed and expanded over time; while the
texts were relatively stable (they were written down hundreds of years before
the melodies), the repertory of chant was more fluid, and the process of varia-
tion and expansion continued even after the advent of notation. Another impor-
tant factor in the transmission and preservation of these melodies was their

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Western Christian Chant and Liturgy


classification into church modes. Learned theorists who interpreted (and some-
times misinterpreted) Boethius, as well as teachers responsible for training
student monks and nuns (who did not necessarily have any musical aptitude) to
sing plainchant, created a system of medieval music theory and practice, at first
based on practical considerations and then modified and elaborated from con-
cepts inherited from the ancient Greek science of music. Other elements of this
medieval system were newly inventedsuch as the syllables associated with
sightsinging, which are still used in the classroom today.
Like plainchant, the repertory of medieval song outside the Church comprised
many different types and forms that had distinct functions and differing con-
ventions. One kind was intended for performances of medieval drama (which
included both religious and secular subjects), while another was epic or lyric in
style. Among the most artful and refined were the songs of the twelfth- and
thirteenth-century poet-composerscalled troubadours and trouvreswho
wrote their own lyrics in either of the two principal French dialects of the time.
Some features of these medieval lyrics are echoed in nineteenth-century art song
(see Chapter 18) and even in modern rap: they all often deal openly with sensual
subject matter, use coded language, and address some sort of coteriea group of
aristocrats at court, a closed circle of friends, or a commercial audience of fans.

Western Christian Chant and Liturgy

The chants of the Christian Church rank among the great treasures of Western
civilization. Like Romanesque architecture, they stand as a memorial to religious
faith in the Middle Ages, embodying the sense of community and the aesthetic
values of the time (see Figure 2.2). Not only does this body of plainchant include
some of the noblest melodies to survive to modern times, it also served as the
source and inspiration for later music in the Western art tradition, much of
which bears its imprint. If we are to understand the various genres and forms of
chant and how they were used in medieval ceremonial context, we need to know
the basic elements of the Western Christian liturgy, especially the daily Mass.
Because plainchant is a melody that projects the sacred and devotional
words of ritual, its shape cannot be separated from its verbal message or from its Figure 2.1. The diffusion
of Christianity.

Black Sea

Atlantic Milan
Ocean (Mediolanum)
Arles Rome Ephesus Areas strongly
(Arelate) Christian by 325
Corinth Jerusalem Areas strongly
a Christian by 600
S e
Carthage n e a n City with Patriarch
t e r r Alexandria
M e d i Archbishopric
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

Figure 2.2. Interior view of the basilica of San Clemente,

Rome, showing the choir stalls facing each other in front
of the altar. As Christians grew in number, they met for
worship in basilicas like this one, where sung words
carried more clearly through the large, resonant space
than did spoken words.

place in the worship service. Musically, it can be as simple as a recitation on a sin-

gle pitch or as elaborate as a long, winding melody that requires a highly trained
soloist to perform. The degree of musical elaboration depends on the function of
the words in the ritual and on who is singinga soloist, a trained choir, or the peo-
ple. All of this is determined by the position of the chant in the liturgy.
The body of texts and rites that make up a sacred service is known as the
Liturgy liturgy; its purpose is to glorify God and the saints, teach the Gospelsthe life
and works of Jesusand exhort the worshippers along the path of salvation. At its
core is a yearly cycle of readings from the Bible and a
weekly cycle of readings from the Book of Psalms. The texts are
prescibed according to the church calendar, a yearly cycle that
determines which saints, events, and feast days are remem-
bered in a given service, or which seasons of the church year
(for example, the Advent season leading up to Christmas or the
penitential Lenten season preparing for Easter) are being cel-
ebrated. Although much of each worship service is the same at
every observance, other aspects change with the day or season.
The readings that make up the liturgy are at the core of the
two principal types of service: the Office and the Mass. The
Divine Office centers on the communal reading of the psalms.
The Mass also includes readings and prayers, but is unique in
its ritualistic commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus and
his disciples as recounted in the Gospels.
The Office, or Canonical Hours, first codified in the Rule of
Saint Benedict (ca. 530; see Figure 2.3), consists of a series of eight
prayer services observed at specified times around the clock by
the members of a religious community. By calling a group of
monks or nuns to pray collectively every few hours (see Figures
Figure 2.3. Saint Benedict giving the Rule to 2.4 and 2.10), the Office provides the ritual around which life in a
a group of monks. monastery or convent is structured. It consists of prayers, recita-
(Granger Collection.) tion of scriptural passages, and songs.
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Western Christian Chant and Liturgy


Every Office liturgy includes several psalms, each with an antiphon, a chant
sung before and after the psalm; lessons (Bible readings) with musical responses
called responsories; hymns; canticles, poetic passages from elsewhere in the
Bible than the Book of Psalms; and prayers. Over the course of a normal week, all
150 psalms are sung at least once. The principal Office services, liturgically and
musically, are Matins and Vespers.
The Mass remains the most important service of the Catholic Church. In other
Christian churches, the service is also known as the Eucharist, the Liturgy, Holy
Communion, and the Lords Supper, but all of them culminate in a symbolic
reenactment of the Last Supper (Luke 22:1920; 1 Corinthians 11:2326) in
which the celebrant blesses bread and wine and offers them to the faithful in
memory of Jesus sacrifice for the atonement of sin. An outline of the Catholic
Mass, as it has been practiced since about 1200, appears in Figure 2.6, with
letters next to the important musical items to indicate their position in NAWM 3, CD 1|4 CD 1|2
the complete Mass for Christmas Day.
The liturgy of the Mass falls into three successive stages: introductory prayers;
the Liturgy of the Word, during which the congregation listens to passages read or
intoned from the Hebrew Scriptures and from the apostles and Gospel writers of
the New Testament; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, during which the bread and
wine are consecrated and distributed. Within these three stages, some texts remain
the same from one day to the next while others change according to the season or
the particular occasion being celebrated. The variable texts, called the Proper of the
Mass, include the Introit, Collects, Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia, Gospel, Offertory,
Communion, and others. The unchanging texts (each of which, however, may be
sung to several different melodies throughout the year), called the Ordinary of the
Mass, include the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Ite, missa est.
Initially, chant melodies were learned by hearing others sing them, a process Oral transmission
called oral transmission, leaving no written traces. How chant melodies were
created and transmitted without writing from the fourth to the eighth century has
been the subject of much study and controversy. Some scholars suggest that
many chants were improvised within strict conventions based on formulas such
as those used by epic singers and storytellers. We can find evidence for such oral
composition in the chants themselves, many of which share the same melodic
contour or feature characteristic internal and cadential patterns. However, as
long as this process depended on memory and learning by ear, melodies were
subject to change and variation.

Midnight Sunrise 6am 9am Noon 3pm Sunset 9pm Midnight

Matins Lauds Prime Terce Sext Nones Vespers, then Compline

Little Hours

Figure 2.4. The Office.

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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

A CLOSER LOOK The Experience of the Mass

The Mass was the focal point of medieval reli- tallest structure most people would ever enter.
gious life. For the illiterate populace, it was the The high ceiling and murals drew the eye upward
main source of instruction about the central in contemplation of the divine. Pillars and walls
tenets of their faith. It was alsoand most essen- were adorned with sculptures, tapestries, or
tiallythe ritual reenactment of the Last Supper paintings depicting pious saints, the sufferings of
in the Eucharist, a sacrament or sign that at once Jesus, or the torments of hell, each image a visual
symbolized and encouraged the communal life of sermon. In these resonant spaces, the spoken
Christians. Ideally, these fundamental elements word was easily lost, but singing carried words
were meant to engage and inspire, gripping not clearly to all corners.
only the mind but also the heart. Medieval Christians, especially in central
The building where Mass was celebrated was and northern Europe, were not long removed
designed to evoke awe. Whether a simple rural from old pagan customs of propitiating the gods to
church or a grand cathedral, it was likely to be the ensure good crops or prevent misfortune, and
they looked to Christian observances to serve the
same role. Life for most was hard, and with the
constant threat of disease, famine, and war, aver-
age life expectancy was under thirty years.
Worship in a well-appointed church afforded not
only an interlude of beauty, but also a way to
please God and secure blessings in this life and
the next.
In such a space, the Mass begins with the pro-
cession of the priest and his assistants to the
altar. The choir sings the Introit (a psalm, Latin
for he enters) and continues with the Kyrie,
whose threefold invocations symbolize the Trin-
ity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek words
and text repetitions reflect the Kyries origins in a
Figure 2.5. The Last Supper in an anonymous Byzantine processional litany, a type of prayer con-
manuscript illumination from ca. 1200. sisting of a series of supplications with brief
(Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.) responses. There follows the Gloria, a song of

Such variation was not suitable if the chants were to be performed in the same
way each time in churches across a wide territory, as the pope and Frankish kings
(Charlemagne and others) eventually came to require. In the late eighth and
Notation of chant ninth centuries, therefore, rudimentary systems of musical notation were
invented to standardize the performance of chant melodies. This coincided with
a determined campaign by Frankish political leaders to promote a uniform
liturgy and music in order to consolidate and increase their influence on wor-
shippers throughout their lands. Trained missionaries traveled between Rome
and the north to stabilize the repertory of tunes and suppress local variations.
A persuasive tool of Frankish propaganda was the legend of Saint Gregory, who was
reputed to have written down the chant melodies, guided by divine inspiration in
the form of a dove singing in his ear (see Figure 2.9). Notation, then, was both a
result of striving for uniformity and a means of perpetuating that uniformity.
Between the fifth and ninth centuries, the peoples of western and northern
Europe converted to Christianity and adopted the doctrines and rites of the
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Western Christian Chant and Liturgy


praise, and a collective prayer (the Collect),

Proper Ordinary intoned by the priest on behalf of all those present.
The Liturgy of the Word focuses on Bible read-
Introductory Introit (a) ings (the Epistle and Gospel), florid chants
Section Kyrie (b)
(Gradual, Alleluia, and Sequence), church teach-
Gloria (c)
ings (the Credo, or I believe), and meditation
on their message (the sermon). In the Liturgy of
Liturgy of Epistle the Eucharist, the priest turns from words to
the Word Gradual (d) actions as he prepares, consecrates, and consumes
Alleluia (or Tract) (e) the bread and wine. The main sung portions of this
Sequence part of the Mass include the Offertory, a florid
(on major feasts) chant on a psalm verse, the Sanctus (Holy, holy,
Gospel holy), and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which,
Sermon (optional)
like the Kyrie, was adapted from a litany. After
Credo (f)
Communion is taken, the choir sings the Com-
Liturgy of Offertory (g)
munion chant, based on a psalm. The priest con-
the Eucharist Prayers cludes the service by singing Ite, missa est (Go,
Secret you are dismissed). From this phrase came the
Preface Latin name for the entire service, Missa, which
Sanctus (h) became the English Mass.
Canon Throughout the Mass, the music serves both to
Pater noster convey the words and to engage the worshippers.
(Lords Prayer) As Saint Basil the Great (ca. 330379), a father of
Agnus Dei (i)
the Eastern church, observed,
Communion (j)
When the Holy Spirit saw that mankind was
Ite, missa est (k)
ill-inclined toward virtue and that we were
Blue: Sung by choir Red: Intoned Green: Spoken heedless of the righteous life because of our
inclination to pleasure, what did he do? He
Figure 2.6. The outline of the Mass with the most blended the delight of melody with doctrine in
important musical parts indicated by letters order that through the pleasantness and soft-
corresponding to their position in NAWM 3, the ness of the sound we might unawares receive
complete Mass for Christmas Day. what was useful in the words.

Roman Church. The official Gregorian chant was established in the Frankish
Empire before the middle of the ninth century, and from then until nearly the
close of the Middle Ages, all important developments in European music took
place not in Rome, but north of the Alps (see Figure 2.7). This shift in musical
centers occurred partly because of political conditions. The Muslim conquests of
Syria, North Africa, and especially Spain, completed by 719, left the southern
Christian regions either in the hands of occupying forces or under constant
threat of attack. Meanwhile, various cultural centers arose in western and central
Europe. Between the sixth and eighth centuries, missionaries from Irish and
Scottish monasteries established schools in their own lands and abroad, espe-
cially in what is now Germany and Switzerland. An English monk, Alcuin of York,
helped Emperor Charlemagne in his project to revive education throughout the
Frankish Empire. One result of this eighth- and ninth-century renaissance was
the development of important musical centers, including the famous monastery
of Saint Gall in what is now Switzerland. Here, the northern, Frankish influence
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages






Cologne T s
H Sorb
hannel U
English C Aix-la-Chapelle
Se Soissons G

i ne
in Mainz I

Reims A
Metz N Da nub

U Paris Augsburg
N E Chartres




A Q U I T A I N E Drave
Einsiedeln Save

Milan o N G









M mb


O r ds

Arles V

Bas I


LM c S









Figure 2.7. The Holy Roman H


Empire under Charlemagne Barcelona CORSICA
around 800.

on plainchant is evident in melodic lines with more leaps, especially thirds, and
in the introduction of both new melodies and new forms of chant such as tropes,
sequences, and liturgical drama, all to be discussed below.

Genres and Forms of Chant

Chants are classified in different, overlapping ways: (1) by their texts, which may
be biblical or nonbiblical, prose or poetry; (2) by their manner of performance,
which may be antiphonal (sung by alternating choirs), responsorial (with a choir
responding to a soloist), or direct (simply by one choir); and (3) by their musical
style, which may be syllabic (one note per syllable of text) or melismatic (many
notes per syllable). This last distinction is not always clearcut, because chants that
are mostly melismatic usually include some syllabic sections or phrases, and
many syllabic chants have occasional syllables with a prolonged melodic gesture of
two to seven notes each, passages that are sometimes called neumatic (from
neume, or pitch symbol in chant; see Example 2.1 and Figure 2.8).
Most parts of the Mass and Office are chanted to recitation formulas, simple
melodic outlines that can be used with many different texts. Some parts of the
liturgy, however, are sung to fully formed melodies. The two are not entirely sepa-
rate since even complex melodies may be elaborations of an underlying formula.
Text setting Chant proclaims the text, sometimes straightforwardly and other times
ornately. It follows that the musical contours of a chant generally reflect the way
the Latin words were pronounced, with prominent syllables set to higher notes
or to a melisma. But in florid chants, the word accent often takes a backseat to the
melodic curve, resulting in long melismas on weak syllables, such as the final
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Genres and Forms of Chant


Example 2.1: Antiphon: Salve Regina

V . .

Sal - ve* Re - gi - na, ma-ter mi - se - ri - cor - di - ae:

V . .
. .

Vi - ta, dul - ce - do, et spes nos - tra, sal - ve. Ad te

V . . .

cla-ma - mus, ex - su - les, fi - li - i He - vae. Ad te sus - pi - ra -

V . .

mus, ge - men - tes et flen - tes in hac la - cri - ma - rum val - le.

Hail, O Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry,
banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this
vale of tears.

The asterisk indicates where the chant alternates between soloist and choir or between the two
halves of the choir. Vertical lines indicate shorter or longer pauses at the ends of phrases and
cadences. Notes are assumed to have equal duration, and a dot after a note doubles its value. For
more on chant notation, see NAWM 3.

Figure 2.8. The Antiphon to the Blessed Virgin Mary,

Salve Regina mater misericordiae (Hail, O Queen,
Mother of mercy) as notated in a modern book of
the most frequently used chants of the Mass and Office,
the Liber usualis.

a of alleluia or e of Kyrie. In such cases, the most important words or syl-

lables of a phrase are emphasized with syllabic treatment that makes them stand
out against the rich ornamentation of the unstressed syllables. Plainchant calls
for word repetition only where it exists in the text of the prayer itself (such as the
phrase Kyrie eleison; see page 39). Melodies usually conform to the rhythm of
the text and to the liturgical function of the chant. Rarely does a chant melody
realize emotional or pictorial effects.
Every chant melody is divided into phrases and periods corresponding to Melodic structure
the phrases and periods of the text. Many phrases follow the curve of an arch,
beginning low, rising to a higher pitch, perhaps remaining there for a while, then
descending at its conclusion. This simple and natural design occurs in a great
variety of subtle combinationsextending over two or more phrases, for ex-
ample, or including many smaller arches within its span. A less common melodic
design, characteristic of phrases beginning with an especially important word,
starts on a high note and descends gradually to the end.
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

IN CONTEXT In the Monastic Scriptorium

During the first millennium of Christianity, the more important books with elaborate initials and
preservation of liturgical texts and melodies in capital letters in gold leaf or colored paints, and
manuscriptsbooks laboriously written and illustrating them with miniature scenes or bright-
copied by handbecame one of the great accom- ening up the texts margins with illuminated
plishments of the monastic communities of the designs. Finally came the binding, which could be
Middle Ages. more or less elaborate. The most important books
Manuscript production became a routine part of were encased in ornamental covers made by
monastic life, and special places within the specialized craftsmen and enriched with metals
monastery were set aside as writing workshops, or and gems.
scriptoria. The scriptorium also refers All this labor helped to keep alive a
to the entire group of monks or nuns widespread appreciation for music
who were engaged in producing a manuscripts, the creation of which
manuscript, from those who prepared represented so much effort and
the ink and parchment or drew the expense. And for the monks them-
lines on which the music was then selves, copying a book was regarded
notated, to the skilled workers who like prayer and fastingas a way to
put the finishing touches on the keep ones unruly passions in check.
books covers. The bookmaking But the monks also saw in their
process extended beyond the scripto- painstaking work a means of spread-
rium to the monks who toiled outside ing the word of God. The abbot of one
the monastery. An entire flock of important Benedictine monastery in
sheep was needed to provide the the twelfth century has this to say
parchment for a single book, and wild about the solitary monk who devotes
game such as deer and boar were his life to the scriptorium (as
hunted in order to furnish the leather opposed to the garden or vineyards):
used for binding the volumes. He cannot take to the plow?
But the copyists job was para- Then let him take up the pen; it
mount and required both manual Figure 2.9. Saint Gregory is much more useful. In the fur-
dexterity and intellectual fortitude. writing with scribes. Franco- rows he traces on the parch-
Trainees first had to learn how to German school, ivory, ca. ment, he will sow the seeds of
make the letters and notes conform 850875. the divine words. . . . He will
exactly to the style of writing that was (Kunsthistorisches Museum, preach without opening his
in use at the time; there was little Vienna/Bridgeman Art Library.) mouth; . . . and without leaving
room for individuality. As a result, his cloister, he will journey far
the scribes throughout northwestern Europe pro- over land and sea.1
duced works of incredible regularity and perfect
1. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, France, quoted by
Straightforward copying of text and music was Jean LeClercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A
only one stage of the manuscripts production. Study of Monastic Culture, trans. Catharine Misrahi (New York:
Another was the exacting job of decorating the Fordham University Press, 1961), p. 128.

Chant forms We can distinguish three main forms in the chant repertory. One, exem-
plified in the psalm tone (one of eight melodies used for singing psalms),
consists of two balanced phrases that correspond to the two halves of a typical
psalm verse (see Example 2.2). In the second formsuch as strophic form in
CD 1|28 hymnsthe same melody is sung to several stanzas of text (as in NAWM 4b).
A third is free form, which may be entirely original in its content or may incor-
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Genres and Forms of Chant


Example 2.2: Outline of the psalmody of the Office

Intonation Tenor Mediant Tenor Termination

V .. w b ( ) ( ) w ..

Tecum . . . 1. Di-xit Dominus Do- mi-no me - o: sede a dex-tris me - is.
2. Donec ponam ini - mi - cos tu - os, scabellum pe - dum tu - o - rum.
3. Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Domi-nus ex Si - on: dominare in medio inimico - rum tu - o - rum.
9. Gloria Pa- tri, et Fi - li - o, et Spiri - tu - i Sanc - to.
10. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et sem - per, et in saecula saecu - lo - rum. A - men. Tecum . . .

porate a series of traditional melodic formulas into an otherwise original

We will now look at the important types of chants used in the Mass and Office,
beginning with syllabic and proceeding to more melismatic styles.

Chants of the Office

The formulas for chanting the psalms, called psalm tones, are among the oldest Psalm tones
chants of the liturgy. They are designed so they can be adapted to fit the words of
any psalm. There is one tone (formula) for each of the eight church modes (dis-
cussed below; see Example 2.3) and an extra one called the tonus peregrinus, or
wandering tone. In the Office, a psalm is usually sung to the tone that matches
the mode of its prescribed antiphon (see, for example, NAWM 4a). CD 1|24 CD 1|7
A psalm tone consists of five separate melodic elements. It begins with an
intonation (used only in the first verse of the psalm), which rises to a reciting
tone, or tenor (a single, repeating note that is used for recitation); bends at the
midpoint of the verse for a semicadence, or mediant; continues on the reciting
tone (tenor) for the second half-verse; and concludes at the end of the verse by
descending to a final cadence, or termination (see Example 2.2). This formula is
repeated for each verse of the psalm. The final verse usually leads into the Lesser
Doxology, an expression of praise to the Trinity, which is added to christianize
the psalms, originally a body of Hebrew poetry inherited from the Jewish liturgy.
The words of the Doxology, Gloria Patri . . . (Glory be to the Father . . . ), are fit- Doxology
ted to the same psalm tone as the psalm verses (here shown as verses 9 and 10).
Every psalm in the Office is framed by a different antiphon, attached to it solely
for one particular day of the calendar year. So, although all 150 psalms are sung
in the course of a weeks cycle of Canonical Hours, each will have a new antiphon
the following week and thereafter throughout the year. A model for the chanting
of antiphon and psalm in the Office is outlined in Example 2.2. (The full text of
the antiphon Tecum principium [Thine shall be the dominion] and Psalm 109,
Dixit Dominus [The Lord said], is found in NAWM 4a.) CD 1|24 CD 1|7
This kind of psalmodic singing is called antiphonal (from the Greek for
sounding against) because the half verses alternate between two choirs or Antiphonal psalmody
between a small choir and the full choir (see Figure 2.10). The practice, believed
to imitate ancient Syrian models, was adopted early in the history of the
Christian Church.
In earliest times, the antiphon, a verse or sentence with its own melody, was
probably repeated after every verse of a psalm, like the phrase for his mercy
endureth forever in Latin Psalm 135 (English 136). Eventually, only the opening
phrase of the antiphon was sung before the psalm, with the entire antiphon per-
formed after the psalm.
Antiphons are more numerous than any other type of chant; about 1,250 Antiphons
appear in the modern chant books. However, many antiphons employ the same
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

Figure 2.10. A mid-

manuscript illumina-
tion showing monks
singing an Office
service. They are seated
in front of the altar
in two sets of choir
stalls that face each
other (compare with
Figure 2.2). Two
standing monks
presumably the cantor
or leader and an
assistantlead the
singing and probably
perform the antiphons.
(British Library, London.)

melody, using only slight variations to accommodate the text. Since antiphons
were originally intended to be sung by a group rather than a soloist, the older
ones are usually syllabic or only slightly florid, with stepwise melodic movement,
comparatively simple rhythm, and a limited melodic range.
Early Christians often sang psalms responsorially, with a soloist performing
each verse and the congregation or choir responding with a brief refrain. This
practice is reflected in the Office responsories, chants that begin with a choral
respond, proceed with a single psalm verse sung by a soloist, and close with a full
or partial repetition of the respond.

Chants of the Mass Proper

Introit Like the Office, the Mass included antiphonal and responsorial psalmody.
Among the antiphonal chants are the Introit and Communion, belonging to the
Proper of the Mass. The Introit was originally a complete psalm with its antiphon,
the many verses of which were used to accompany the entrance procession. Over
time, this opening part of the service was shortened so that today the Introit con-
sists only of the original antiphon, a single psalm verse with the customary
Doxology (Gloria Patri), sung to a more elaborate variant of a psalm tone, and a
CD 1|4 repetition of the antiphon (NAWM 3a). The Communion, coming near the end of
the Mass as a counterpart to the Introit at the beginning, is a short chant, often
CD 1|22 consisting of only one scriptural verse (NAWM 3j). Some of the more elaborate
antiphons developed into independent chants, retaining only a single psalm
verse or none at all.
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Genres and Forms of Chant


Musically, the most highly developed chants of the Mass are the Gradual (from Gradual and Alleluia
Latin gradus, step, with the gospel book being carried in procession from altar
to lectern) and Alleluia, probably because they occur at moments in the service
that are more contemplative, when no ritual action occurs. These are responso-
rial chants, intended for choir and soloist in alternation (NAWM 3d and 3e). CD 1|13, 15
Each has only one psalm verse, usually sung to a more elaborate melody than
the verses of antiphonal chants and introducedor, in the case of the Alleluia,
framedby a separate melody and text known as a respond.
Graduals came to the Frankish churches (in what is now France) from Rome in a
form that was already highly evolved. Their melodies and those of the Alleluia are
very florid and have a similar structure. Certain melismatic formulas recur in differ-
ent Graduals at similar points in the chant, such as intonations, internal cadences,
and terminations. Some melodies consist almost entirely of such formulas, pointing
to an earlier, prenotational time when singers had to rely on their memories; recur-
ring patterns made performing that much easier. In the Alleluias, the respond text is
always the single word Alleluia (from the Hebrew Hallelujah, Praise God) with
the final syllable -ia receiving an effusive melisma called a jubilus (see NAWM 3e). CD 1|15
The responsorial performance of the Alleluia proceeds as follows: the soloist (or solo
group) sings the word Alleluia up to the asterisk; the chorus repeats it and contin-
ues with the jubilus; the soloist then sings the psalm verse, with the chorus joining Responsorial
on the last phrase; then the entire Alleluia is repeated by the soloist with the cho- performance
rus joining in again at the jubilus (see Figure 2.11).

Soloist Soloist Soloist

Chorus Chorus Chorus
Alleluia* Allelu-ia...(jubilus)... Ps. verse...* ... Allelu-ia... Allelu-ia (jubilus)

Figure 2.11. Responsorial performance of the Alleluia.

Many Alleluias sound carefully planned and composed rather than impro-
vised. For example, they often include what might be termed musical rhyme,
in which matching phrases occur at the ends of sections. Alleluias were created
throughout the Middle Ages and spawned important new forms, such as the
sequence (see below).
Offertories are as melismatic as Graduals but include the respond only (see Offertory
NAWM 3g). In the Middle Ages, they were performed during the offering of
bread and wine, with a choral respond and two or three very ornate verses sung CD 1|19
by a soloist, each followed by the second half of the respond. When the ceremony
was curtailed, the verses were dropped.

Later Developments of the Chant

The chants for the Mass Ordinary probably started out as simple syllabic Chants of the
melodies sung by the congregation. After the ninth century, these were replaced Ordinary
by more ornate settings for choral performance. The syllabic style was retained
for the Gloria and Credo, which have the longest texts. The Kyrie, Sanctus, and
Agnus Dei, because of the repeating nature of their texts, have three-part sec-
tional arrangements. The Kyrie, for example, suggests a setting in which the first Kyrie
and last sections are identical:
A Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison
B Christe eleison, Christe eleison, Christe eleison
A Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

The threefold repetition of each phrase of text may be reflected in a variety of

CD 1|8 CD 1|2 musical forms, such as AAA BBB AAA, AAA BBB CCC (as in NAWM 3b), or ABA
CDC EFE. The Kyrie is usually performed antiphonally, with half choirs alter-
nating statements. The final Kyrie is often extended by the insertion of an addi-
tional phrase, allowing each half choir to sing a phrase before joining together
for the last eleison. (For the complete music and text for the Mass for
Christmas Day, see NAWM 3.)
Many antiphons were composed for additional feasts introduced into the
Church calendar between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. This same period
produced a number of antiphons that were not attached to particular psalms,
for use in processions and at special occasions. The four Marian antiphons
liturgically not antiphons at all, but independent compositionsare of compar-
atively late date (see, for example, the Salve Regina, Example 2.1).
Tropes A trope expanded an existing chant by adding one of three things: (1) new
words and music before the chant and often between phrases; (2) melody only,
extending melismas or adding new ones; or (3) text only, set to existing melis-
mas. The first method of troping was by far the most common, used especially
with Introits. All three types increased the solemnity of a chant by enlarging it,
and all afforded musicians an outlet for creativity, paralleling the way medieval
scribes embellished books with marginal decorations. Moreover, the added
words provided a gloss, interpreting the chant text and linking it more closely to
CD 1|4 the occasion. For example, the Introit antiphon for Christmas day (NAWM 3a)
used a text from the Hebrew Scriptures, a passage Christians view as a prophecy
of Jesus birth (Isaiah 9:6). Prefacing it with a trope text (here in italics) made
this interpretation explicit:

God the Father today sent his Son into the world, for which we say,
rejoicing with the prophet: A child is born to us, and a Son is given . . . .

CD 1|30 Two other tropes to this same Introit appear in NAWM 6: a brief dialogue, Quem
queritis in presepe (discussed below), and a textless melisma that embellishes the
end of the antiphon.
Trope composition flourished especially in monasteries during the tenth and
eleventh centuries. We know the name of at least one composer, Tuotilo (d. 915),
who was a monk at Saint Gall. Tropes were eventually banned by the Council of
Trent (15451563; see Chapter 8) in the interest of simplifying and standardiz-
ing the liturgy. But they testify vividly to the desire of medieval church musicians
to embellish the chant repertory. This same impulse played an important role in
the development of polyphony, as we shall see in the next chapter.
Sequences Sequences, so called because they follow the Alleluias, began as tropes in the
ninth century, probably as text additions to the jubilus in Alleluias, but they quickly
became independent compositions. Notker Balbulus (his name means The
Stammerer; ca. 840912), another Frankish monk of Saint Gall and the most
famous early writer of sequence texts, describes how he learned to write text sylla-
bles under long melismas to help him memorize them. The sequence was an
important creative outlet from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries and later.
Popular sequences were even imitated and adapted for secular genres, both vocal
and instrumental, in the late Middle Ages. Like tropes, most sequences were
banned from the Catholic service by the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent.
The five that survive still hold vital places in the liturgy, such as the celebrated Dies
irae, with its familiar melody, in the Requiem Mass (Mass for the Dead), and the
CD 1|29 CD 1|11 Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes (NAWM 5). All are syllabic and are
arranged in couplets, with the second line repeating the melody of the first.
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Genres and Forms of Chant


Liturgical drama also originated in troping. One of the earliest of these dra- Liturgical drama
mas, Quem quaeritis in sepulchro (Whom do you seek in the tomb?), took shape in
the tenth century as a dialogue preceding the Introit for Easter Sunday Massin
effect, a trope. In the dialogue, the three Marys come to the tomb of Jesus. The
angel asks them, Whom do you seek in the tomb? They reply, Jesus of
Nazareth, to which the angel answers, He is not here, He is risen as He said; go
and proclaim that He has risen from the grave (Mark 16:57). According to con-
temporary accounts, the dialogue was sung responsorially, and the scene was
acted out. The Easter trope and a similar one for Christmas, Quem queritis in pre-
sepe (Whom do you seek in the manger? NAWM 6 and Figure 2.12), were per- CD 1|30
formed all over Europe. Other plays survive from the twelfth century and later.
The early thirteenth-century Play of Daniel from Beauvais and The Play of Herod,
concerning the Slaughter of the Innocents, from Fleury, have become staples in
the repertories of early-music ensembles. The music for these plays consists of a
number of chants strung together, with processions and actions that approach
theatrical representation. A few manuscripts give evidence that the works were
staged, with scenery, costumes, and actors drawn from the clergy.
Although most liturgical dramas from this period are anonymous, we have Hildegard of Bingen
a unique, nonliturgical but sacred music drama by Hildegard of Bingen (1098
1179; see biography and Figure 2.13). Ordo virtutum (The Virtues, ca. 1151) is
Hildegards most extended musical work, consisting of eighty-two songs for
which she wrote both the melodies and the poetic verse (uncommon among
authors of tropes and sequences). It is a morality play with allegorical characters
such as the Prophets, the Virtues, the Happy Soul, the Unhappy Soul, and the
Penitent Soul. All sing in plainchant except the Devil, who can only speak: the
absence of music symbolizes his separation from God. The final chorus of
the Virtues (NAWM 7) is typical of Hildegards expansive melodic style. CD 1|33 CD 1|12
Women were excluded from the priesthood, and as the choir took over the
singing in services, they were also silenced in church. But in conventsseparate
communities of religious women (nuns)they could hold positions of leadership
and participate fully in singing the Office and Mass (which, however, was said

Figure 2.12. The earliest surviving copy of the

Christmas dramatic trope Quem queritis in
presepe, in a manuscript collection from
Saint-Martial de Limoges. For a transcription,
see NAWM 6.
(Bibliothque Nationale, Paris, MS 118, fol. 8v.)
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

Hildegard of Bingen (10981179)

Born to a noble family in the Rhine region of

Germany, Hildegard at age eight was consecrated
to the church by her parents. Six years later she
took vows at the Benedictine monastery of
Disibodenberg, and she became prioress of the
attached convent in 1136. Led by a vision, she Figure 2.13. Hildegard
founded her own convent around 1150 at of Bingen with Volmar,
Rupertsberg, near Bingen, where she was abbess. a monk who assisted
Famous for her prophecies, Hildegard corre- her in recording
sponded with emperors, kings, popes, and bish- her visions, in an illus-
ops and preached throughout Germany. Her many tration from Scivias.
prose works include Scivias (Know the Ways, (Erich Lessing/Art
114151), an account of twenty-six visions, and Resource.)
books on science and healing.
Hildegard wrote religious poems as well as Hildegard exemplifies the flourishing musical
prose, and by the 1140s she began setting them to culture of medieval women who, like their male
music. Her songs are preserved in two manu- counterparts, saw themselves as saving humanity
scripts organized in a liturgical cycle, with indica- through prayer.
tions that many were sung in her convents and
nearby monasteries and churches. Her Ordo virtu-
tum (The Virtues, ca. 1151) is the earliest surviving Major works: Ordo virtutum, 43 antiphons, 18 re-
music drama not attached to the liturgy. sponsories, 7 sequences, 4 hymns, 5 other chants

by a priest). Here they also learned to read and write Latin and music, and had
access to an intellectual life available to few outside convent walls. In this context,
Hildegard achieved great success as prioress and abbess of her own convent and as
a writer and composer. She claimed that her songs, like her prose writings, were
divinely inspired. At a time when women were forbidden to instruct or supervise
men, having a reputation for direct communication with God was one way she could
be heard outside the convent. Her visions became famous, but her music was
apparently known only locally. Although her writings were edited and published in
the nineteenth century, her music was not rediscovered until the late twentieth
century in the search to reclaim the history of music by women. She quickly became
the most recorded and best-known composer of sacred monophony.

Medieval Music Theory and Practice

Treatises in the age of Charlemagne and in the later Middle Ages reflected actual
practice to a greater extent than the more speculative earlier writings. They
always spoke of Boethius with reverence and passed along the mathematical fun-
damentals of scale building, intervals, and consonances that he transmitted from
the Greeks. But reading Boethius did not help solve the immediate problems of
how to sing intervals, memorize chants, and, later, read notes at sight. Theorists
partially addressed these goals by establishing the system of eight modes, or toni
(tones), as medieval writers called them.
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Medieval Music Theory and Practice


The medieval modal system developed gradually, achieving its complete form Church modes
by the eleventh century. It encompassed eight modes, each defined by the
sequence of whole tones and semitones in a diatonic octave built on a finalis, or
final. In practice, this note was usually the last note in the melody. The modes
were identified by numbers and grouped in pairs; the odd-numbered modes
were called authentic, and the even-numbered modes plagal (collateral). Each
pair of modes shared the same final (identified as bracketed whole notes in
Example 2.3), but their melodies had different ranges: those belonging to the
authentic modes rose above the final, and those in the plagal modes circled
around or went farther below the final. The authentic modal scales may be
thought of as analogous to white-key octave scales on a modern keyboard rising
from the notes D (mode 1), E (mode 3), F (mode 5), and G (mode 7), with their
corresponding plagals (modes 2, 4, 6, and 8) a fourth lower. These notes, of
course, do not stand for specific absolute pitchesa concept foreign to plain-
chant and to the Middle Ages in general; they are simply a convenient way to
distinguish the interval patterns, which are unique to each pair of modes, as
partially shown in the example. In addition to the final, each mode has a second
characteristic note, called the tenor or reciting tone (shown in Example 2.3 as
whole notes), as in the psalm tones. Although the finals of the paired plagal
and authentic modes are the same, their tenors are higher or lower in keeping
with their ranges. The church modes also had Greek names (as shown in the
example), although these were a misapplication of the ancient Greek scales. The
modes became a primary means for classifying chants and arranging them in
books for liturgical use. However, because many of the chants existed before the
theory of modes evolved, their melodic characteristics do not always conform to
modal theory.
For teaching sightsinging, the eleventh-century monk Guido of Arezzo (ca. Solmization
991after 1033) proposed a set of syllablesut, re, mi, fa, sol, lato help singers
remember the pattern of whole tones and semitone in the six steps (known as
hexachords) that begin on C, G, or F. (This became known as solmization.) In
this pattern (for example, CDEFGA), a semitone falls between the third
and fourth steps, and all other steps are whole tones. The syllables (also known
as solfge or solfeggio) of solmization are still employed in teaching, except that
in English we say do for ut and add a ti above la.
Followers of Guido developed a pedagogical visual aid called the Guidonian The Guidonian hand
hand (Figure 2.14). Pupils were taught to sing intervals as the teacher pointed

Example 2.3: The medieval church modes

Authentic Plagal

V w
1. Dorian 2. Hypodorian
V w

3. Phrygian 4. Hypophrygian
V w V w

5. Lydian 6. Hypolydian
V w V w

7. Mixolydian 8. Hypomixolydian

V V w
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

Figure 2.14. The Guidonian hand,

a visual mnemonic device used for
locating the pitches of the system of
hexachords by pointing to the joints
of the left hand. Although credited to
Guido, the hand was probably a
later application of his solmization
syllables. The notes are laid out in a
counterclockwise spiral, beginning
with the lowest note (gamma ut) at
the tip of the thumb, moving down
the thumb, across the base of each
finger, up the little finger, across the
tips, down the index finger, and
around the middle joints.

with the index finger of the right hand to the different joints of the open left
hand. Each joint stood for one of the twenty notes that made up the musical sys-
tem of the time; any other note, such as F or Eb, was considered outside the
hand. No late medieval or Renaissance music textbook was complete without a
drawing of this hand.
The staff In earlier stages of musical notation, scribes placed the note symbols, or
neumes, above the text, sometimes at varying heights to indicate the relative size as
well as direction of intervals (as in Figure 2.12). Eventually, one scribe conceived
the idea of scratching a horizontal line in the parchment corresponding to a partic-
ular note and oriented the neumes around that line. This was a revolutionary idea:
a musical sign that did not represent a sound, but clarified the meaning of other
signs. In the eleventh century, Guido suggested an arrangement of lines and spaces
from which evolved the modern staff. Guidos scheme not only enabled scribes to
notate (relative) pitches precisely, but also freed music from its dependence on
oral transmission. The achievement proved to be as crucial for the history of
Western music as the invention of writing was for literature.

Medieval Song
Goliard songs Music outside the church spawned many types and forms of song. A few of them
will be described here. The oldest written specimens of secular music are songs
with Latin texts, among them the goliard songs from the eleventh and twelfth
centuries. Their poets and composers were students or clerics who exalted a lib-
ertine lifestyle, naming themselves after a fictitious and scurrilous patron,
Bishop Goliath. The songs, preserved in numerous manuscript collections, cele-
brate three topics of interest to young men then, as now: wine, women, and
satire. In most cases, however, the music does not survive in a notation precise
enough to permit accurate modern transcriptions and performances.
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Medieval Song

The goliard songs, although written mostly in Latin, are early manifestations
of literacy in the secular musical culture of western Europe. As the vernacular
languages also gradually came to be written down, we begin to see glimpses of
entire repertorieswork songs, dance songs, lullabies, lamentsthat were lost
over time. Among these are chansons de geste, praise songs that celebrate the
deeds of past warriors and present rulers, and love songs, which became popular
at the increasingly powerful courts of western Europe.
The people who sang these and other secular songs in the Middle Ages were the
jongleurs (from the same root as English jugglers), or minstrels (from the Latin Jongleurs
minister, servant), who were either itinerants or in service to a particular lord,
or sometimes both. Jongleurs traveled alone or in small groups from village to vil-
lage and castle to castle, earning a precarious living by performing tricks, telling
stories, and singing or playing instruments. Figure 2.15 shows a dancing bear
accompanied by a jongleur playing a fiddle. Jongleurs especially were social out-
casts, often denied the protection of the law and the sacraments of the Church.
With the economic recovery of Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, soci-
ety became more stably organized, and towns sprang up. The minstrels situation
improved, though for a long time people continued to regard them with a mixture
of fascination and revulsion. In the eleventh century, minstrels organized them-
selves into brotherhoods, which later developed into guilds of musicians offering
professional training, much as a modern conservatory does.
Troubadours (male) and trobairitz (female, singular and plural) were poet- Troubadours and
composers who flourished during the twelfth century in the south of France and trouvres
spoke Provenal (also called the langue doc or Occitan). Trouvres were their
equivalent in northern France. One theory is that the art of the troubadours took
its inspiration in part from the Arabic love poetry cultivated in Moorish
Spain and then spread quickly northward. The trouvres, who were Types of songs
active throughout the thirteenth century, spoke the langue
dol, the medieval French dialect that became modern
French (ol = oui, yes; oc = yes in Occitan).
Neither troubadours nor trouvres constituted a
well-defined group. They flourished in castles and
courts throughout France. Some were kings: others
came from families of merchants, craftsmen, or
even jongleurs but were accepted into aristocratic
circles because of their accomplishments. Many
of the poet-composers not only created their
songs but sang them as well; those who did not
entrusted the performance to a minstrel. The
songs are preserved in collections called chan-
sonniers (songbooks). About 2,600 troubadour
poems survive, only a tenth with melodies; by con-
trast, two-thirds of the 2,100 extant trouvre poems
have music. No other surviving body of secular tunes
and lyrics is as large.
The poetic and musical structures of the songs show
great variety and ingenuity. Some are simple, others dramatic,
suggesting two or more characters. Some of the dramatic ones were Figure 2.15. Jongleur play-
probably intended to be mimed; many obviously called for dancing. The dance ing a fiddle while accom-
songs may include a refrain sung by a chorus of dancers. An important structural panying a dancing bear.
feature of numerous trouvre (as opposed to troubadour) songs, the refrain is a French painting on glass,
line or two of poetry that returns with its own music from one stanza to another. ca. 1350, from the abbey
The troubadours especially wrote complaints about love, the subject par excel- of Jumiges, Normandy.
lence of their poetry. But they also wrote songs on political and moral topics, (Socit Civile Immobilire.)
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

songs that tell stories, and songs whose texts debate or argue esoteric points of
chivalric or courtly love. Among these are several particular genres, such as the
alba (dawn song), canso (love song), and tenson (debate song).
Many old Occitan lyrics were openly sensual; others hid sensuality under a veil
of fine amour or refined love. The object of the passion they expressed was a
real womanusually another mans wifebut she was adored from a distance,
with such discretion, respect, and humility that the lover is made to seem more
like a worshipper content to suffer in the service of his ideal love. The lady her-
self is depicted as so lofty and unattainable that she would step out of character if
she condescended to reward her faithful lover. By playing on common themes in
fresh ways through artfully constructed lyrics, the poets demonstrate refinement
and eloquence, two main requirements for success in aristocratic circles. Thus,
Figure 2.16. Troubadour the entire poetic genre was more fiction than fact, addressed as much to other
Jaufr Rudel and the men (patrons whose wives were being flattered) as to women, and rewarded not
countess of Tripoli in a by love, but by social status.
miniature from a French Among the best preserved courtly songs is Can vei la lauzeta mover (When I see
manuscript of the the lark beating, NAWM 8) by the troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn (ca. 1150ca.
thirteenth century. 1180), one of the most popular poets of his time. Stories about his life assert that
(Bibliothque Nationale, Paris.) he was the son of a serf and baker in the castle of Ventadorn and rose to become
the great lover of three noble ladies, including Eleanor of Aquitaine (see page
CD 1|36 CD 1|15 48). Of the eight stanzas of Can vei la lauzeta mover, the second typifies the lovers
complaints that are the main subject of this repertory.1
Bernart de Ventadorn

Ai, las! tan cuidava saber Alas! I thought I knew so much

damor, e tan petit en sai, of love, and I know so little;
car eu damar no m posc tener for I cannot help loving a lady
celeis don ja pro non aurai. from whom I shall never obtain any favor.
Tout ma mo cor, e tout ma me, She has taken away my heart and myself,
e se mezeis e tot lo mon; and herself and the whole world;
e can se m tolc, no m laisset re and when she left me, I had nothing left
mas dezirer e cor volon. but desire and a yearning heart.

Typical song structure Like Bernarts song, or canso, the typical troubadour and trouvre text is
strophic, with each stanza sung to the same melody. The settings are generally
syllabic with an occasional short melismatic figure near the end of a line. Such a
simple melody invites improvised ornaments and other variants as the singer
moves from one stanza to the next. The range is narrowa sixth, perhaps, or an
octave. Because the songs have finals on C, D, and F, the entire body of works dis-
plays a certain coherence. The notation yields no clue to the rhythm of the songs:
they might have been sung in a free, unmeasured style, or in long and short notes
corresponding to the accented and unaccented syllables of the words. Most schol-
ars now prefer to transcribe them as they do plainchantin neutral note values
without bar lines.
Each poetic line of a canso receives its own melodic phrase. The phrases join
to make one long melody to accommodate a complete stanza of poetry. While
Bernarts melody is arranged in this manner, a variety of formal patterns emerges
through variation, contrast, and the repetition of short, distinctive musical
Figure 2.17. Bernart de
Ventadorn, as depicted in
1. Text and translation are from Hendrik van der Werf, The Chansons of the Troubadours and
a thirteenth-century Trouvres: A Study of the Melodies and Their Relation to the Poems (Utrecht: A. Oosthoek, 1972),
manuscript of troubadour pp. 9195, which presents versions of the melody from five different sources, showing surpris-
songs. ing consistency of readings. The dot splitting two letters of a word, as in nom, stands for
(Bibliothque Nationale, Paris.) contraction.
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Medieval Song

phrases. Many of the troubadour and trouvre melodies repeat the opening phrases
or section before proceeding in a free stylefor example, AAB, or, in more detail,
ab ab cdef. Phrases are modified on repetition, and elusive echoes of earlier
phrases are heard; but the main impression is one of freedom, spontaneity, and
simplicity, although in fact both the music and poetry are very skillfully crafted.
Some of these features are illustrated in another cansothe only song by a
trobairitz to survive with musiccomposed by the Comtessa Beatriz de Da (d. ca.
1212). A vida, or biographical tale, written about a century later describes Beatriz
as a beautiful and good woman, the wife of Guillaume de Poitiers. And she was
in love with Rambaud dOrange and made about him many good and beautiful
songs. In A chantar (To sing, NAWM 9) the countess berates her unfaithful lover
and reminds him of her own worthy qualities. The song uses four distinct
melodic phrases arranged in the form ab ab cdb.
The troubadours served as the model for a German school of knightly poet- Figure 2.18. Walther von
musicians, the Minnesinger, who flourished between the twelfth and fourteenth der Vogelweide as depicted
centuries. The love (Minne) of which they sang in their Minnelieder (love songs) in a fourteenth-century
was even more abstract than troubadour love and sometimes had a distinctly reli- Swiss manuscript.
Vogelweide means bird-
gious tinge. The music is correspondingly more sober. Some of the melodies are
meadow, and his shield,
written in the church modes, while others sound as though they were built on major
shown in the upper left,
scales. Because of the rhythm of the texts, scholars think that the majority of the
includes a caged bird.
tunes were sung in triple meter. As in France, strophic songs were very common.
Their tunes, however, were more tightly organized through melodic phrase repeti- Universitt Heidelberg.)
tion. A typical German poetic form called bar (AAB) inspired a common musical
pattern: the melodic phrase A (called the Stollen) is sung twice for the stanzas first CD 1|37
two units of text, while the remainder, B (the Abgesang), containing new melodic
material, is longer and sung only once.
The Middle High German texts include loving depictions of the glow and
freshness of spring. There are also dawn songs, like the French alba, sung by the

Figure 2.19. Illustrations from the

Cantigas de Santa Mara (ca. 12501280)
manuscript, showing musicians playing
(clockwise from upper left) transverse flutes,
shawms, pipes and tabors, and trumpets.
(Oronoz, Madrid.)
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

IN CONTEXT Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Courts of Love

The powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine (ca. 1122

1204) was born into an aristocratic family that
presided over an immense realm in the south of
France. Her grandfather was William IX, seventh
count of Poitiers and ninth duke of Aquitaine. A
first-rate poet-composer sometimes regarded as
the originator of the courtly love lyric, William is
the first troubadour whose songs we have. Eleanor
became a great patron of troubadours and trou-
vres, some of whom addressed her in their lyrics
as the lofty lady of their hearts desire. Legend has
it that she took Bernart de Ventadorn as her lover
for a time (see page 46).
Eleanor was also married to two kings, Louis
VII of France, whom she accompanied on the
Second Crusade and later divorced, and Henry II
(Plantagenet) of England, by whom she bore three Figure 2.20. Likenesses of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her
daughters and five sons, two of whom also became husband, Henry II of England, which were carved onto
kings of England: Richard I and John. When a Romanesque capital from a twelfth-century church
Richard, also called Coeur de Lion (Lion Heart, in southern France.
11571199), was taken prisoner on his return (Bibliothque Nationale, Paris.)
from the Third Crusade, she energetically col-
lected the ransom to pay for his freedom. (Richard by him for fourteen years, but her efforts eventu-
was also a trouvre, and the story of his impris- ally helped Richard secure the throne.
onment for two years in an Austrian dungeon is In the course of her long and tempestuous
commemorated in moving lines from his song Ja life, Eleanor attracted many artists, trouvres, and
nus hons pris, including Never will a prisoner writers, some of whomlike Bernartdedicated
speak his mind fittingly unless he speaks in works to her. All sorts of artistic monuments to
grief.) Eleanor still exist, ranging from a regal twelfth-
Probably an educated musician herself, Eleanor century likeness of her head (supposedly paired
was smart and strong-minded. When her relations with that of King Henry; see Figure 2.20) carved in
with Henry grew strained, she left London in 1170 one of the capitals of a church near Bordeaux in
and established a court of her own in Poitiers, a Aquitaine and now in the Romanesque chapel of
geographic center of her native region, Aquitaine. the Cloisters in New York, to the 1968 movie The
She assisted her sons in an unsuccessful revolt Lion in Winter, for which Katharine Hepburn, in
against Henry in 1173 and was herself imprisoned the role of Queen Eleanor, won an Oscar.

faithful friend who stands guard and warns the illicit lovers that dawn is
approaching. A new genre is the Crusade song, recounting the experiences of
those who renounced worldly comfort to join the Crusades (Christian military
expeditions to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims). A famous example is
CD 1|39 the Palstinalied (Palestine song, NAWM 11) by Walther von der Vogelweide (ca.
1170?ca. 1230?).
Cantigas One of the treasures of medieval song is the Cantigas de Santa Mara, a collec-
tion of over four hundred cantigas (songs) in Galician-Portuguese in honor of
the Virgin Mary. The collection was prepared about 12701290 under the direc-
tion of King Alfonso el Sabio (the Wise) of Castile and Len (northwest Spain)
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Medieval Song

TIMELINE The Middle Ages


313 Constantine I issues Edict of Milan

330 Constantinople becomes new capital of Roman
Bishop Ambrose introduces 386
responsorial psalmody in Milan
395 Separation of eastern and western Roman empires
413 Saint Augustine begins writing The City of God

Boethius, De institutione musica ca. 500

ca. 530 (Monastic) Rule of Saint Benedict; Benedictine order
590 Gregory I (the Great) elected pope
600s Muslim conquests in Asia, North Africa, and southern
Europe (completed by 719)

715 Gregory II elected pope

751 Pepin (the Short) becomes king of the Franks
768 Charlemagne becomes king of the Franks with his brother
789 Charlemagne orders Roman rite used in empire
Musica enchiriadis (NAWM 14) 9th cent. 800 Charlemagne crowned emperor by pope
Earliest notated manuscripts of Gregorian chant 9th cent. 800821 Rule of Saint Benedict introduced in Frankish
Monks at Saint Gall compose 10th cent. lands
tropes (NAWM 6) and sequences (NAWM 5)

Guido of Arezzo, Micrologus ca. 10251028

Gregorian chant replaces Hispanic ca. 1071
(Mozarabic) chant in Spain
Goliards flourish 11th cent.

10951099 First Crusade

ca. 1100 Chanson de Roland, French epic poem
11471149 Second Crusade

Hildegard of Bingen, Ordo virtutum (NAWM 7) ca. 1151

Death of Bernart de Ventadorn ca. 1180 11891192 Third Crusade
1204 Death of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Death of Beatriz de Da ca. 1212

13471350 Plague devastates Europe

and is preserved in four beautifully illuminated manuscripts. Whether Alfonso

wrote some of the poems and melodies is uncertain. Most songs in the collection
relate stories of miracles performed by the Virgin, who was increasingly vener-
ated from the twelfth century on. Cantiga 159, Non sofre Santa Mara (NAWM 12), CD 1|40 CD 1|16
tells of a cut of meat, stolen from some pilgrims, that Mary caused to jump about,
revealing where it was hidden by the perpetrators. All the songs have refrains,
perhaps performed by a group alternating with a soloist who sang the verses.
Songs with refrains were often associated with dancing, a possibility reinforced
by illustrations of dancers in the Cantigas manuscripts and by the dancelike
rhythm of many of the songs.
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2 Chant and Secular Song in the Middle Ages

The spread and stabilization of the Roman rite through western Europe during
the Middle Ages resulted in the creation of a repertory of Gregorian chant that
survives to this day. This repertory includes many different types of chant, each
with a distinct function within the liturgical celebrations of the Office and the
Mass. It also contains many chronological layers, having evolved from early
Christian times down to the sixteenth century, when some types of chant (new
offices, liturgical dramas, hymns, and sequences) were still being written.
Chants were classified into eight church modes and written down in a notation
that gradually evolved as a means of teaching and standardizing performance.
Secular songs also flourished. They were most sophisticated and virtuosic in
the cultural centers and courts of the later Middle Ages. These songs, in a variety
of strophic forms often including refrains, had many different uses, sometimes
involving dance. Some were narrative or dramatic, others lyrical. The body of
courtly love songs created by troubadours and trouvres as a monument to the
sentiments and ideals of refined and courtly love remains unequaled for its sheer
beauty and artfulness.