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.

Medieval Music Sheet

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 pieces that utilised the isorhythmic motet, a feature that specifically developed in the late medieval period.

Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut

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 the early and high medieval periods all of whom were 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 Caccia.


Minstrels and Troubadours Berlin

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 is 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 Ballata sung by single singers while late Ballate comprised of multiple singers.
Troubadours Instruments

Troubadours Instruments

Late Medieval Music Fast Facts

  • In France, late medieval music was called “Ars Nova”. Ars Nova historically began with the publication of Roman de Fauvel in the 1310s
  • Guillaume 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 the 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.

Black Death in Medieval Times

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 survives in a manuscript dated back to the period and reflects penitential themes with the 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 utilize 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.