Music was an important part of life in the medieval times. Various kinds of musical instruments were used by medieval composers, including flute, dulcimers, bowed lyra, hurdy-gurdy, jaw harp, as well as a variety of string instruments. Both religious and secular music was composed, although during the early medieval times, musicians did not enjoy a respectable status in society because of religious restrictions. During the late medieval times, however, the social status of musicians and composers considerably increased and various renowned medieval composers created music that has survived the test of time. It was also during the medieval times that the foundations for notational and theoretical music were laid that would go on to have an immense impact on subsequent Western music.
Music by many renowned medieval composers has survived to the day, although most of them belong to the high and late medieval times. Some famous medieval composers from the early and middle medieval times include Romanos the Melodist, Yared, Kassia, Hucbald, Odo of Cluny, and others. Among them, Romanos the Melodist is one of the earliest known medieval composers. He hailed from Greece and lived during the sixth century AD. Because of his great ability as a composer, he was also known as “the Pindar of rhythmic poetry”. It is generally believed that he had Jewish origins and during his lifetime, he went on to compose more than 1,000 hymns about various religious festivals, sacred objects, and lives of the saints. Some of the most popular medieval composers during the late medieval times include Jacopo da Bolonga, John Hanboys, Grimace, Bartolino da Padova, and others.
Religious music formed a very important part of music during the medieval times and thus almost all of the medieval composers composed hymns and verses praising the glory of Lord or miracles of saints. During the early medieval times, medieval composers wrote music in the form of chants which served as sacred monophonic for the Christian church. During the 11th century, when the Church standardised the Mass and chant, regional liturgies of Roman and Gallican origins were combined which gave rise of Georgian chant. Composing songs in Latin was also common because most of the poet-musicians of the middle medieval ages were also scholars or ecclesiastics. During the high medieval times of 12th and 13th centuries, music of the Parisian school gained particular prominence and increasing attention was paid to the formal structure of songs including such elements as texture and proportion.
Many medieval composers left indelible mark on the collective memory of medieval Europe and music from many of them has survived to the date. For instance, from the middle medieval times, various secular and religious songs of Moniot d’Arras have survived. He was a composer and a poet in addition to being a monk at the abbey of Arras in the north of France. Other important medieval composers from the era include Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, and Perotin. A few female medieval composers also enriched the musical traditional of medieval times. For instance, Hildegard von Bingen was a renowned German scientist, philosopher, poet, composer, and abbess. Also known as Saint Hildegard, she founded two monasteries in Rupertsberg and Eibingen in 1150 and 1165 respectively. Other than composing songs, she also wrote on liturgical drama, theology, and science. Some famous medieval composers of the late medieval times include Jan of Jenstejn, Antonio Zacara daa Teramo, Andrea da Firenze, Hugo von Montfort, and others.
Just like the medieval times, the history of medieval composers can be divided into three broad parts: early medieval composers, middle medieval composers, and late medieval composers. During the early and middle medieval times, religious music formed the most important part of the musical traditions and thus it was also common for composers to be monks and compose religious verses and hymns. This trend continued well into the late medieval times, although changing times had their impact on the kinds of music composed as well and new musical traditions took birth. For instance, among the new musical styles that flourished during the late medieval times, Ars Nova was an important one. It became famous with the publication of Roman de Fauvel, in 1310 and 1314, which was a collection of music and poetry. An important aspect of this kind of music was that it was increasingly secular signifying the loosing grip of clergy on music, just like other aspects of life, during the late medieval times. Similarly, the secular tradition of music gained prominence all over Europe during the same period which was known as Trecento in Italy. Famous Italian medieval composers form the era include such names as Frascesco Landini, Donato da Cascia, Gherardello da Firenze, Lorenzo da Firenze, and others.
Among the famous forms of medieval music that gained prominence during the late medieval ages, Geisslerlieder is also important. The term was used to denote songs that were composed by wandering bands of flagellants who paid particular importance on composing penitential music. This type of music was mainly famous in medieval Germany. However, the dominant shift during the late medieval times was from religious to secular music. The musical style that emerged during the late medieval times as a result of melding the French and Italian styles is known as Ars Subtilior. This music style was particularly distinguishing because of its rhythmic and notational richness.
Medieval music went through various transitions during the different phases of medieval times. During the early and middle medieval music, it was almost exclusively religious in character because of the influence of Church during this era. However, during the high medieval times, secular music assumed increasing importance and many renowned composers left their mark on the Western music. Different forms, textures, and techniques were explored by composers during late medieval times and it was thanks to these efforts of composers during this time that eventually paved the way for musical transition from the medieval times to the Renaissance Age.