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The Evolution of Classical Music (The Medieval Era), Pt. 1

Classical music is a broad term that refers to music written in a Western musical tradition, usually following an established form like a symphony or sonata, and regarded as serious music of lasting value. Classical music is generally split into seven eras: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century and Modern. Today we will be looking at the Medieval Era.

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when classical music came into existence, but the Medieval period of music is generally assumed to have started around 476 A.D., following the fall of the Roman Empire, and lasting until about 1400 A.D. During this era, the Catholic church slowly grew in power and influence, and as a result, music was mostly religious. Gregorian chant, a type of monophonic singing (a single melodic line), dominated this era, and by the 9th and 10th centuries, the Catholic church standardized all of their vocal music to fit the Gregorian chant model.

Listen to an example of a Gregorian chant here:

While most music was monophonic, polyphonic music also began to develop in the latter half of the Medieval period. By the thirteenth century, the motet began to gain popularity. The motet was a form of musical composition based on sacred text, usually in Latin, or a quotation from the Bible or other religious sources, where a main melody (cantus firmus) is supported by additional vocal lines. The motet remained popular into the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

During this period, secular (non-religious) music was rare. Secular musicians were split into two classes: troubadours and trouveres. Troubadours came from the south of France and wrote songs in langue d’oc, a dialect of Old French while trouveres came from the north of France and wrote songs in langue d’oïl, another dialect of Old French. Most of them were noblemen. Many were also warriors who participated in the Crusades. Today, there are surviving manuscripts of around 300 troubadour compositions and 1400 trouvère compositions.

Listen to some troubadour compositions here:

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