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More About Medieval Music

One way we learn about music in the Middle Ages is by examining Medieval art. There are instruments in the borders of many manuscripts of chant. Angels play everything from organs, vielles and harps to trumpets and shawms in the paintings of the period. In paintings one also finds the pipes and tabors (like a modern one-man band), nakers, bagpipes (the instrument of the peasant, found played by a shepherd in many Annunciation scenes), and "bands".' These bands of shawms, trumpets, and other winds (called waits or pifferi ) were common in towns from the 13th century on.

By the 12th century music grew from one melodic line (monophony) to two or more (polyphony). One of the earliest major centers of polyphonic music was at Notre Dame in Paris. Another important aspect of medieval music is that, for the first time, we have written-down notation and composer attributions.

Bands played for special religious feast days, such as Christmas, Easter, and Corpus Christi, at trade fairs, civic ceremonies, royal occasions, banquets, affairs of state, and university functions.

Minstrels, minnesingers, troubadours, and trouveres told stories about life and death through the songs they carried from village to village. They wrote the poetry and set them to music and travelled with their jongleurs who accompanied them on a variety of instruments, mostly strings. When the dull nights of winter arrived, and during periods of time when the nobles were isolated from the poor during the plague, people sang songs and told stories, many about love and romance, some of them humorous, heroic, and sometimes bawdy, to pass the time. Many of the songs were written in praise of the idealized woman.

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The Middle Ages is inspired by programs from The Western Tradition,
a video series in the
Annenberg Media Multimedia Collection.

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