Lecture Notes From "A Walking Tour Through The Middle Ages"
(A Beginners Guide to Medieval Music)

by Margareta vanden Valde

Go to Part I

Notes from Practicum 1999, Part II

This is the second chapter in a two-part series. 

5. FORMES FIXES and the Troubadours and Trouveres
    France, 11th to 15th centuries
    Hale: Tant con je vivrai

What to listen for: This piece has short phrases that are repeated in a specific manner in order to conform to the pattern of the rondeau.

• The melodies are very repetitious, since there are only two musical phrases in the entire piece

• There are two solo voices and there is no accompaniment 

• The text-setting is mostly syllabic (one note per syllable) with melisma (vocal ornamentation) to mark the phrase endings. 

      About the genre: The troubadours were poet-musicians that originated in Provence, which is roughly the south of France, and the trouveres were poet-musicians from the northern provinces of France. Both names mean "finder" in the native tongue; the troubadours wrote in langue d'oc, which was a medieval language somewhere between French and Spanish, and the trouveres wrote in langue d'oeil, which eventually evolved into the modern French language. ("Oc" and "oeil" were the respective words for "yes").
      These poet-musicians flourished in aristocratic circles and were frequently themselves aristocrats, but commoners could be admitted if they showed enough talent. The topics of the poems were love songs, political and moral ditties, war songs, laments, dance songs, and, of course, unrequited passion. The virtue of chivalry was a particularly popular topic. 
      Even though both the music and the texts were newly composed, the forms upon which they were based were often fixed, providing a sort of model for future compositions. These were called "formes fixes" and were the basis of many trouvere and troubadour songs. Some common formes fixes were the chanson, the rondeau, the ballade, and the virelai. 
      The songs were frequently accompanied by instruments, played either by the vocalist himself or by a hired musician. Such accompaniments were all improvisatory and as such were not written down. The most common instruments were the hurdy-gurdy, shawm, flute, fiddle (veille), psaltery, rebeck and various percussion instruments. 

EXAMPLE: The Rondeau A B a A a b A B
                    * All "A" and "a" sections are musically alike
                    * All "B" and "b" sections are musically alike

A      As long as I live
B      I will not love another;
a       I will never leave you
A      As long as I live
a      Rather I will serve you;
b      To this I have loyally dedicated myself.
A      As long as I live
B      I will not love another.


6. The MOTET and the Ars Antiqua
    Paris: 1250-1320
    Anon: Frese Nouvele!--A Paris--On Parole

What to listen for: See if you can follow the words of all three texts at once! Listen for the "chant melody" that the tenor voice sings. 

• The duplum and triplum are not written with the goal of sounding harmonious together, but both top voices were written to be agreeable with the tenor (this can lead to some strange sounds between duplum and triplum).

• Look for the relationship between all three texts; although each voice in a motet is always texted differently, there is always a connection between them.

• The musical phrase endings overlapped; often all voices did not cadence simultaneously until the very end of the motet.

      About the song: Motets were not given titles; rather, they were identified by their incipits (the opening words of each line), starting from the tenor and going up. This motet is unique for the Ars Antiqua (Old Art) in that the tenor voice is not following a chant text, but rather a street cry. Most Ars Antiqua motets were texted either entirely in Latin, with sacred subject matter, or with the tenor in Latin and the top voices in French secular topics. 

      About the genre: The origin of the motet is c.1200. Like all musical styles, this one grew out of its predeccesor; in this case, the sacred music of the Church (most directly, from the new discant style). Most surviving motets are anonymous and written for two, three or four voices. Motets could be either sacred or secular, or both simultaneously. Music was used and re-used: sacred motets might appear with secular words; tenors might be assigned different melodies; a two-voice motet might appear as a three-voice motet. All works were in the public domain, and composers manipulated the music as necessary. 
      While the trouvere and troubadour chanson was a musical setting of pre-existing poetry, the reverse was true with the motet: it was newly constructed poetry to fit (often) pre-existing music. The name "motet" originated with the French word "mot", meaning "word"-and there were a lot of words in a motet!
      In the second half of the 13th century, three-voice polytextual motets became standard. Composers made no attempt to achieve any sort of homogenous sound; instead, the voices had linear independence. 

The talk is of threshing and winnowing, Morning and night in Paris
Of digging and ploughing. There is good bread to be found, good clear wine,
Such pastimes are not at all to my liking, good meat and fish,
For there is nothing like having one's fill all manner of friends 
Of good clear wine and capons,  of lively minds and high spirits,
And being with good friends, fine jewels and noble ladies 
Hale and hearty, and, in the meantime,
Singing, prices to suit a poor mans' purse.
And in love, 
And having all one needs  TENOR
To give pleasure to beautiful women Fresh strawberries! Nice blackberries!
To one's heart's content. Blackberries, nice blackberries!
All of this is to be had in Paris.

7. The MOTET and the Ars Nova
    Paris: 1320-1380
   Machaut: Lasse! Comment oublieray 

What to listen for: The triplum (top voice) dominates this piece, which was becoming more and more the practice in the Ars Nova (New Art) (versus the tenor-dominated style of the Ars Antiqua). 

• The subject of all three texts is marital unhappiness, and written from a female point of view, which is unusual.

• The tenor's previously short, repetitious melody has become much longer and complex.

• Expansion of range-we now hear up to two octaves.

• Machaut uses expressive, discordant harmonies to set the melancholy tone.

      About the genre: The ars nova motet became increasingly treble-oriented, which is the standard for much of our music today. Also, in the 14th century, composers developed a more sophisticated notational system that allowed greater freedom of notated rhythm than was previously possible with the six rhythmic modes. The motet became increasingly secular.
      As popular as the motet became, it is important to note that France remained the leader in this area for the duration of its popularity. 

      About the composer: Machaut was employed for much of his life at court, and much of his music is secular. He was a versatile and innovative composer who was very concerned that his music be pleasing to the ear. This motet in particular is a fine example of a very musical, haunting composition. 

Alas! How can I forget  If I love my faithful lover
That handsome, kind, sweet and charming man?  And he loves me
In return for the fullness of his love  so faithfully
I gave him  that he is all mine without any ifs or buts,
All my heart.  And I give
I took him as my lover  myself to him
Before I was married to this man  just as completely,
Who guards me  with no base thought
And watches over me so jealously  simply because
That I may not see my lover's fair body.  He has long
As result my heart is broken in two  and gladly
Despite myself  given me the service of his love
Etc…etc…  etc…etc…..
Why does my husband beat me?
God have pity on me!
Why does my husband beat me?
Poor me!
I have done him no wrong,
I have done him no wrong,
Apart from having spoken to my own lover.
God have pity on a hapless one!
Etc… etc….

    Netherlands: 16th C
    Josquin Des Prez: Missa Brevis

What to listen for: See if you can make out the text; Josquin was very concerned with making the words comprehensible.

• Use of imitation between lines and phrases

• Clear harmonic shape, and drive to a final cadence.

• Singable nature of the melodies

      About the genre: The Mass Ordinary was comprised of five sections: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Successful completion of a Mass was considered to be the hallmark of a master composer in the early Renaissance. In their Masses, composers were very concerned with making the sections of the Mass musically cohesive, often by repeating the same musical material through all five sections. Often the melody that was repeated was borrowed from another composition, sacred or secular. These melodies were called the "cantus firmus" and were the basis of many Masses. The borrowed melodies could be from motets, chansons, and secular fold songs; mane of the topics dealt with worldly or even vulgar themes, which amused the composers and their audiences but angered the church officials (the practice was eventually stopped). 
      The need for entirely original compositions is largely a concern dating from the 19th century; up until then, there was no shame or stigma attached to borrowing another composer's music. It was often standard practice. On the same theme grew the 16th century Imitation Mass, which relied heavily on pre-existing Masses (or motets, or chansons) for musical structures such as motives, fugal statements and answers. The Imitation Mass replaced the Cantus Firmus Mass c. 1520.
      Josquin's Missa Brevis (Short Mass) is not a true Imitation Mass; rather, it reflects the musical trends of the time which were leading to more and more imitation within the music of the Catholic church service. 

      About the composer: Josquin Des Prez was a Netherlands composer who lived from c.1440-1521; he was considered by many to be the greatest of all Renaissance composers. He wrote 18 Masses, 100 motets, 70 chansons and other secular vocal works; his influence was hugely felt throughout the 16th century. 

"His music is rich in feeling, is serenely beautiful melody and expressive harmony". (Machlis) 

    Europe, 14th to 16th C
    Franck: Pavana

What to listen for: The pavane was a slow, stately dance that was done in pairs. 

• Listen for the duple meter that marks the pavane

• There is little or no contrapuntal interplay of lines

      About the genre: Instrumental music as a group was largely improvised and therefore often not written down. There is a small surviving body of extant music, starting in the 15th century, that gradually increases with the centuries, but much of what we know about early instrumental music is speculation. 
      In the 14th century, the central role in music was still reserved for vocal works, but instruments gradually found more and more uses, either doubling or accompanying the singers, and sometimes substituting for them. Instrumental music was always the first choice for dance music, however, and as the players developed increasing proficiency on their instruments, they created music that would show this off. Even when instrumental music was written down, medieval composers rarely specified which instrument, or how many, were to play each part. Since each instrument was an individual handcrafted item, the availability of any one in particular could not be counted on. Specification of instruments began in the Renaissance and became increasingly more complicated. 
      Professional musicians were probably both highly skilled and sophisticated; records show their earnings were often quite high. 

      Italy, 1550- 1650
      Trabaci: Toccata

What to listen for: Note the dramatic arpeggiated opening, which was an innovation of the time but later became a harp and keyboard clich้. 

• The toccata was an instrumental art form designed to show off the skill of the solo performer, and as such is a complex, interpretive form.

• Toccatas often were an improvisatory form, and they unfold freely, in a rambling fashion, without adherence to rhythm or meter.

      About the genre: The word toccata means "to touch" and was primarily a keyboard form, although it could be, and was, adapted for the harp, which had similar capabilities. Compositions in an improvisatory style were among the earliest instrumental works not intended for dancers; these pieces had a variety of names, such as toccata, fantasia, prelude, ricercare. The performer would often display sweeping runs and passages to display his virtuousity. 
      This toccata is played on the arpa doppia; this is an instrument with two parallel rows of strings that correspond to the white and black keys of a keyboard, described by Vincenzo Galilei in his "Dialogue of Music". The "arpa doppia" was primarily an accompanying instrument, and many 17th century title pages suggest the harp as an alternative to lute or keyboard accompaniment. The harp, unlike the lute or harpsichord, did not have a huge amateur following; neverthless, there were a few brilliant virtuosos of the era that made a name for themselves. In Renaissance Europe, Naples became the center of Italian harp-playing. 
      This Toccata is a wonderful exposition of idiomatic harp writing with its dramatic opening, marked chromaticism, and variety of texture. 

      England, 16th century
      Weelkes: Give Ear, O Lord

What to listen for: Sacred music in the vernacular! Also watch for the verses; solo verses alternating with choral ones.

• The (primarily) syllabic text-setting (one note per syllable) instead of the elaborate melisma of the Catholic Church.

• The texture is primarily homophonic, with some counterpoint.

• Organ accompaniment in sacred music remains.

      About the genre: The formal separation of England from the Catholic Church in Rome occurred in 1534 under Henry VIII. In 1548 Edward VI decreed that singing must al be in English, "settying thereunto a playn and distincte note, for every sillable one…"-in other words, that the music must be plain, syllabic, and in a homophonic style. This represented a sharp break with the ornate music associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The decree was later revised to allow some counterpoint. 
      The main music of the Anglican Church is the Service and the Anthem. The anthem was the Anglican version of the Catholic motet. There were two types of anthems; verse anthems, which had solo verses alternating with choral ones, and full anthems, which were choral throughout, and usually contrapuntal. 

Give ear, O Lord, to hear a sinner's careful cry;
And let my woeful plaints ascend, above the starry sky.
To grace receive the soul that puts his trust in Thee:
And mercy grant to purge my sins: mercy, good Lord, mercy

Mercy, good Lord, mercy, etc., etc.

My soul desires to drink from fountains of Thy grace,
To slake this thirst, O God, vouchsafe turn not away Thy face,
But bow Thy tender ear with mercy when I cry,
And pardon grant for all sins past: mercy, good Lord, mercy

Mercy, good Lord, mercy, etc., etc.

Behold, behold at length, O Lord, my true repentant mind,
Which knocks with faith and hope thereby Thy mercies great to find.
Thy promise thus hath pass'd, from which I shall not fly;
Who doth repent, trusting in Thee shall taste of Thy mercy:

Mercy, good Lord, mercy, etc.

Mercy, good lord, mercy, etc. Amen.

      From the origins of the Roman Catholic Church spring forth new musical styles that were flourishing in both sacred and secular areas. The motet was a style at first based on chant, and then became increasingly secular as the chant lines were replaced by other text. In the motets, there was significant crossover between the music of the church and secular music. The totally secular music, such as that of the troubadours and trouveres, must have certainly been around for centuries before we can document its existence, made murky by illiteracy and the sketchy music notational system that was in use at that time. The rise of notated dance music is entirely new, although again one cannot assume that there was no dance music previously! 

      The rise of the virtuoso is particularly interesting as it was a style that remained for centuries, and persists today in the music of performers such as Glenn Gould, and Charlotte Church. It was the first time in extant European history that secular music had risen to such heights of importance. In the Baroque period, for example, the virtuoso opera singers had music written specifically for their capabilities, sometimes sacrificing musical quality in order to best display the voice of the singer. Crowds flocked to the theatres to hear their favourite stars; the music itself was often not as important as the name of its performer. What a long way for vocal music to have travelled only a few hundred years since the birth of the motet! 

      Although the music of the people existed for many years in secular forms such as the formes fixes, played by the troubadours and trouveres, these were largely examples of simple, repetitive tunes that were easily learned and disseminated. The dance music is another example of easily played, rather basic music that is really only a means to an end. Both the formes fixes and the dance music were meant to be easily accessible music for the people, comparable to what we might call folk music today. In the rise of pure instrumental music is what might be comparable to our modern classical music. For the first time there was the luxury of a high degree of quality in both the composition and the performance. The instrumental music itself exists not to be danced to, or to tell a story, or to teach a moral, but for no other reason than to be listened to. In this form are the seeds of a thousand symphonies and a hundred Mozarts. A thousand years from now historians will look back and identify trends in our current music that we never knew were there, and point to branches and shoots of choices made, history sealed. 

Lady Margareta vanden Velde
Gypsy, music-maker and interkingdom spy extraordinaire

Go to Part I

Recordings (partial list only) 

5. Formes Fixes
Adam de la Hale: Tant con je Vivrai, c.1288.
Performed by tEnsemble fur Musik des Mittelalters, directors Thornton and Bagby
Released by BMG.

6. Motet- Ars Antiqua
Anon: Frese Nouvele- A Paris- On Parole, c.1250-1320.
Performed by The Early Music Consort of London, under David Munrow
Released by Archiv Produktion.

7. Motet- Ars Nova
Guillaume do Machaut: Pour Quoy- Se j'aim-Laisse! C. 1320-1380.
Performed by The Early Music Consort of London, under David Munrow
Released by Archiv Produktion. 

8. Renaissance- Mass
(Margareta was unfortunately not able to find a recording of this one; the class listened to another Josquin performance)

9. Instrumental music (dance)- Pavane
Melchior Franck: Pavana, 1573- 1639.
Performed by Collegium Aureum
Released by BMG.

10. Instrumental Music (solo)- Toccata
Giovanni Trabaci: Toccata Seconda and Ligature, 1575-1647.
Performed by Andrew Lawrence-King
Released by Hyperion Records, Ltd.

Grout and Palisca, A History of Western Music, 4th ed. W.W.Norton, New York, 1988. 
Joseph Machlis, The Enjoyment of Music, 5th ed. W.W.Norton, New York, 1984.
Gustave Reese, Music in the Middle Ages, W.W.Norton, New York, 1940.
K. Marie Stolba, The Development of Western Music, Wm.C.Brown Publishers,  Dubuque, 1990.
David Wilson, Music of the Middle Ages, Schirmer Books, New York, 1990.