High Medieval Music

By the beginning of the high Medieval period, ecclesiastical music was already a part of Church services and innovations in it were being introduced through vocal variations such as organum.

The high medieval period marked a time when a proper music theory began to be developed and further innovations in music began to take place, most notably the occasional use of instruments alongside vocal effects.

Medieval Music calligraphy parchment scores

During the early medieval period, the Church had strictly overlooked the evolution of music in order to keep it limited to use in religious services.

However, by the high medieval period, secular music and composers were already beginning to surface and music began to take a greater social role.

Music Theory and Parisian Organum

By the high medieval period, church composers had already penned down notational literature about music. These times were marked by a deeper understanding of music.

It was during this era that the Notre Dame Cathedral became the centre of the pioneering work in music, evolving a special form of organum which came to be called the Parisian organum.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Musical developments at the Notre Dame cathedral continued to exert a significant influence on the pan-European development of music from 1150 to 1250.

Developments in Music Structure

During the early medieval period, florid organum had already become a regular part of church singing. In the high medieval period, this was developed further and church composers began to experiment with florid and discant organum.

york minster Cathedral illustration

Composers also came to comprehend other aspects of music such as the proportion and texture of different notes and compositions, as well as the effect of music within a given space, such as in cathedral architecture.

Due to such experimentation with music structure, several new forms of music came into being during the high medieval period. These include tropes, conductus and clausulae among others.

High Medieval Period Music Fast Facts

The most famous center of music during the high medieval period was the Notre Dame school of polyphony in the Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Three distinct new musical forms emerged in the high medieval period

  1. Clausulae
  2. Conductus
  3. Tropes

Secular music in high medieval period gained widespread prominence thanks to the troubadours of Provence in southern France. Troubadour culture flourished in Provence from early 12th century to early 13th century.


Minstrels and Troubadours Berlin

New Forms of Music

Three distinct forms of music which developed at the hands of church composers during the high medieval period include the conductus, tropes, and clausulae.

Clausulae refers to a style where specific sections of an organum were embellished with new words and innovations in accompanying music.

Tropes usually involved the use of new music and words coupled with old chants. Finally, the conductus was a new form of music that involved multiple singers singing rhythmically.

The Age of Troubadours

The high medieval period also saw the emergence of the unique phenomenon of troubadours who were essentially travelling musician-poets who sang secular monophonic songs.

The phenomenon of troubadours first emerged in Provence in the 12th century and continued to the early decades of the 13th century. The main subjects of the troubadour songs were chivalry, courtly love, and war among others.

Medieval Troubadours

Medieval Troubadours

Soon after their emergence, the troubadours carried the culture of singing secular songs to other parts of Europe as well.

Although the troubadours were scattered from Provence following the 13th century Albigensian Crusade, many of them moved to other regions such as northern France and Spain where they significantly influenced the subsequent development of music.

Proenza: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 10, 2017

The Troubadours: An Introduction