Early medieval music was primarily ecclesiastical in nature, with different forms of religious chants developing independently in different parts of Europe. Notable among these were the Celtic chants, the Gallic chants and later, the Gregorian chants.
Development in ecclesiastical music further led to the invention and usage of different musical instruments. By the High Middle Ages, these instruments were also used for secular music which primarily emerged from the troubadours of southern France, especially Provencal.
Secular music from this period, given its association with the troubadours, is noted for its ideals of courtly love and chivalry. Some of the most notable examples of medieval songs are listed below.
Greensleeves was an English folk song that became immensely popular in England during the late 16th century. There is no accurate historicity of the song and it had been traditionally associated with Henry VIII who purportedly wrote it to woo Anne Boleyn, formerly his mistress and then his wife. However, the song itself follows a composition style that shows directly Italian influences. Based on this, it has been surmised that the song was originally written during the Elizabethan era.
Song of Roland
The Song of Roland is a medieval piece of epic poetry which was frequently used in the oral singing tradition in medieval Europe. The poem itself was composed sometime in the 10th or 11th century and recounts the tale of Roland who fought in the 778 Battle of Roncevaux and was killed in the battle. The tale, embellishing Roland’s character with many chivalric qualities and features, became a prominent representation of the prevailing ideals of chivalry in the High Middle Ages.
The Foy Porter is one of the songs composed by the famed French composer, Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut composed music in 14th century France and was one of the foremost composers of the time. The “Foy Porter” is a monophonic song composed by him which is a beautifully intricate love poem. Like most medieval songs dealing with chivalric love, this song is about the ideals of courtly love and states how such pure love could move the protagonist of the poem to become a better person.
L’autrier m’iera levaz
This song was composed in 12th century France by a composed whose identity is unknown. The song was classified as a pastourelle, a form which frequently depicted scenes of love between knights and women of common origin. This particular song is about a French knight who professes love to a woman of common origin but his attempts are rebuffed by her. The pastourelle song form was common among the troubadours of the period and many examples of it are extant today.
Lamento di Tristano
Like Romeo and Juliet in the later Renaissance period, Tristan and Iseult were famous examples of lovers in the medieval period. This medieval Italian song deals with the story of this famous pair and the song itself is portrayed as a lament composed by Tristan himself. The actual history of the song dates back to 14th century Italy.