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The Evolution of Classical Music (The Medieval Era), Pt. 2

In general, most medieval music is not attributed to anyone. However, there are a few notable composers from this era. The most significant composer and poet from this era was Guillaume de Machaut. Born in 1300 in France, he served as a secretary on the royal court of John I, King of Bohemia. He was one of the leading composers of the Ars Nova style, in which music became more rhythmically flexible, smaller note values were introduced, there were many notation advancements, there was an increase in compositions containing isorhythm (a technique where a repeated rhythmic pattern is combined with different melodic patterns), and secular music saw a rise in popularity. Machaut’s influence on Ars Nova was so great that his death marks the transition from Ars Nova to the subsequent Ars Subtilior movement. His poetic and musical works brought him great fame across Europe, and his services were highly sought by royalty. In total, Machaut wrote around 235 ballades, 39 vierlais, 24 lais, and 400 poems.

Listen to one of his compositions here:

The medieval era used many instruments that look very different from the instruments we see today. Some of the most common instruments in the medieval era were the vielle, lute, and shawn.

The vielle was a string instrument that looked like a violin but had a longer and deeper body and anywhere from 3 to 5 strings. It was often used by troubadours to accompany their voices.

Listen to the vielle here:

The lute was another string instrument. It was shaped like a pear with a bent-back neck and strings that were tuned in pairs. It was used for both solo and ensemble music.

Listen to the lute here: Medieval Lute (XV century)

The shawm was a double-reed woodwind instrument, the ancestor of the oboe. It had a flared bell and was loud and piercing. It was used for ceremonial and dance music, often accompanied by the bagpipes or drums.

Listen to the shawm here: Shawm

The Medieval era laid the foundation of classical music. Religious music dominated this era due to the powerful influence of the Catholic Church. However, troubadours and trouvères, the emergence of polyphonic music, and the Ars Nova style signaled the growing popularity of secular music. Next up is the Renaissance era, where music became a powerful form of art and reached new heights of creativity and innovation as composers and musicians experimented with new sounds and styles.


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