Late Medieval Music

By the late medieval period, development in church music had led to the standardisation of many advanced musical features.

At the same time, secular music had already become a regular genre alongside sacred music and any development in the realm of music came to affect both.

Finally, by the late medieval period, a vast body of musical literature had accumulated which, together with the musical notations, was possible to be transmitted over the centuries and be read by later musicians.

With the beginning of the late medieval period, a new era of music dawned in different parts of Europe.

Ars Nova in France

In France, the beginning of the late medieval period was marked by the publication of a landmark treatise called “Roman de Fauvel” in the early 14th century.

The treatise contained a large number of secular musical pieces including such pieces which utilised the isorhythmic motet, a feature which specifically developed in the late medieval period.

It was during this period that secular music in France began to reach such polyphonic sophistication as had hitherto been reserved for sacred music alone.

This also led to the interest of many leading composers of the period in secular music as opposed to notable composers of early and high medieval period all of whom exclusively associated with sacred music.

Guillaume de Machaut was one of the greatest composers of the period who is credited with a vast number of compositions, including the first complete single-composition mass.

Trecento in Italy

In Italy, the period of musical development that coincided with the late medieval period was called Trecento.

During the late medieval era, new styles of secular music flourished. Notable among these was the style where two slower moving voices supported a florid top voice, a style called cantalina.

Three key types of secular music that evolved in Italy during the late medieval period were the madrigal, the caccia and the ballata.

The madrigal comprised of three-line stanzas which proceeded in verse/refrain form.

The caccia was meant to be sung simultaneously by two singers in a canon and the subject-matter of caccia frequently referred to outdoor activities such as hunting.

The ballata was a musical composition with an AbbaA structure with early ballate sung by single singers while late ballate comprised of multiple singers.

Important Facts about Late Medieval Music:

In France, late medieval music was called “Ars Nova”. Ars Nova historically began with the publication of Roman de Fauvel in 1310s
Guillame de Machaut was the greatest composer of late medieval music in France
In Italy, late medieval music ushered in the period called “Trecento”
A musical style termed ‘Mannerism’ emerged in late medieval period.

Geisslerlieder in Germany

One of the most notable forms of music that existed in Germany during the late medieval period was that produced by the groups of wandering flagellants. These flagellants wandered from place to place and composed music addressed to God as penitence for their sins.

The second wave of the flagellant’s activity in Germany took place from 1349 onwards after the Black Death hit Europe. Music of the flagellants from this second wave survive in a manuscript dated back to the period and reflects penitential themes with influence of French musical culture on the styles of composition.

Late Medieval Mannerism

Towards the end of the late medieval period, musical composition started becoming highly elaborate and began to utilise a mannerist style.

This style was marked by attempts to mix different regional styles of music and by the use of highly complex rhythms and melodies, often unusually sophisticated for the time.

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