Music has historically remained one of the most important ingredients of human societies. During the medieval times, a large number of musical instruments and traditions were in vogue which blended the ancient traditions with medieval themes. The medieval musicians were scattered through towns and villages and broadly speaking, there were two main kinds of medieval musicians. The first was the travelling kind which wandered through towns and villages with their art and compositions. The second kind was employed by royal courts that remained under the permanent patronage of the kings, although their rights could be revoked on the whims of the kings.
Jongleurs were a more rounded type of medieval entertainer, rather than being a dedicated musicians like a Minstrel or Troubadour, this is why Jongleurs often assisted other medieval musicians and were often frowned upon in medieval times. Read more about the Jongleur Medieval Musician >>
Medieval Minstrels were the favoured Musicians of Royalty in Medieval times, as travelling medieval musicians the Minstrels sang songs and told stories about their travels and adventures. Read more about the Medieval Minstrels >>
Trouvères were very popular Musicians in medieval times and the influence that the medieval Trouvères Musicians had throughout Europe during this Medieval period cannot be underestimated. Trouvères Musician songs were usually lyrical and sung in French. Read more about the Medieval Trouvere Musicians >>
Medieval waits musicians started off as medieval town watchmen, their only musical skills were to play medieval instruments loudly, to wake the towns population in the morning, Medieval wait musicians also sounded the alarm when the town was in some kind of danger. Read more about the Waits Medieval Musicians >>
Medieval Musicians Instruments
There were a variety of musical instruments prevalent during the medieval times. The most common of these instruments were string, woodwind, and percussion.
Other important musical instruments included adufe, rebec, gittern, cymbals, timbrel, lute etc. Similarly, organistrum was a popular instrument which consisted of strings vibrated by a circular bow or wheel.
Another popular instrument was bladder pipe which consisted of a reed enclosed by an animal bladder. The musician blew into the bladder through its mouthpiece and created sounds through the holes in the reed.
Sometimes a second pipe was used parallel to the first one. This medieval musical instrument is found in the illustrations of Cantigas de Santa Maria, which was a collection of sacred songs composed for the court of Alfonso el Sabio.
Medieval Music Musicians Themes
Medieval musicians used various themes in their songs and compositions. The most popular themes, carried over from the ancient times, were the ones celebrating heroes, gods, and love.
Themes of god and heroes were most popular among the northern Bards, also known as Skald. On the other hand, popular themes in the south of Europe mainly consisted of love and the accomplishments of the knights.
Medieval musicians employed by the royal courts also sang the praises of the kings and the royal traditions. During the middle and high medieval times, theological themes also became an important part of the musical compositions, even through the musicians were generally condemned by the Church and denied salvation.
Medieval Musicians and Church
The main reason behind the Church condemnation of medieval musicians was the fact that they bodily movements were an important part of their performance.
This included contortions, acrobatics, and other acts of physical dexterity which was considered obscene and evil by the clergy. As a result of condemnation by the Church, medieval musicians did not enjoy any noteworthy status in society.
They did not have any protection of law and their social status was little more than wandering gypsies. However, with the passage of time, the role of physical performance diminished in the medieval music and sole emphasis was put on the music itself.
Physical Movement of Medieval Musicians
The role of Church was important in eliminating the physical performance from medieval music. For instance, it was made clear by Peter Cantor that as long as musicians continued to include physical performance in their music, they had little chance of salvation.
However, if they would confine themselves to soothing and useful music, then they were not to be blamed. It was during the middle medieval times that more emphasis was put on spiritual and intellectual themes in music.
This came about in part through the contribution of famous theologians such as Thomas Aquinas who, under the influence of the works of Aristotle, demonstrated the legitimacy, and even necessity, of the jongleurs.
Eastern Influence on Medieval Music and musicians
A very important influence on the medieval musicians during the middle medieval times was the European incursion into the East, which came about during the Crusades.
During these wars, Europe came into direct contact with the Islamic East and was introduced with a variety of new musical instruments and traditions.
This influence of foreign culture on medieval musicians sparked a new interest in elegant manners, innovative instruments, and profound poetry.
It was also during this time that the musical traditions of Troubadours, Trouveres and Minstrels became popular and music became a socially more acceptable profession.
Kinds of Medieval Musicians
Various kinds of medieval musicians included Troubadours, Trouveres, Minstrels, Jongleurs, and Waits. Troubadurs were mainly the travelling musicians who did not have any permanent abode.
The main themes employed by these musicians were chivalry and courtly love. Trouveres were the musicians who hailed from Northern France during the late medieval times and mainly consisted of musicians employed by royal court and nobles.
A paramount part of medieval music consisted of ballads and long poems derived from the ancient myths and legends which were sung by the musicians called Minstrels.
The musicians known as Jongleurs mainly acted as apprentices or assistants of Troubadours or Minstrels, and were mainly found in Northern France and Norman England.
Medieval Musician Guilds
A very special kind of medieval musicians was called Waits. These musicians were originally employed as watchmen to alert the people about impending dangers with their instruments.
At first, this role was confined to individual medieval musicians but with the passage of time, groups of Waits began to be employed by towns, mainly in England.
Their role also grew and they composed music for important ceremonies and events. During the high medieval times, the attitude of society had drastically altered in favour of musicians and even the Church started showing favours to them.
It was during this time that musicians were allowed to perform in the churches. Eventually, the formation of musician guilds in France in 1321 and in England in 1469 elevated the role of the medieval musicians into more respectable members of society.
Famous Medieval Musicians
Some of the most renowned names among the medieval musicians included Maestro Piero from Italy, John Hanboys from England, Guillaume de Machaut from France, Mönch von Salzburg from Germany, and Martinus Fabri from Holland.
These musicians were from the high medieval times when the traditions of music were expanding and music was becoming more acceptable as a profession.
While they hailed from different places all over Europe, the musician of Italy were considered foremost in their skills. It was the same traditions of medieval musicians which were eventually carried into Renaissance and early modern times.