Top 10 Most Famous and Historically Important Medieval Songs

While specific medieval songs may not be as well-documented as other forms of medieval art, there are several compositions that have gained recognition and historical importance.

Medieval Vielle Instrument
The Medieval Vielle instrument was very similar to a violin of today

Here is a list of ten famous and historically significant medieval songs:

1. “Sumer Is Icumen In” (13th century)

This English round is one of the oldest-known examples of polyphony in English music, showcasing the medieval tradition of vocal harmony.

“Medieval music represents a fascinating tapestry of religious devotion, courtly love, and communal celebration, offering us a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Middle Ages.”

Richard H. Hoppin, Professor Emeritus of Music at Yale University and author of “Medieval Music” (1978).

2. “Gaude Maria Virgo” (13th century)

A Gregorian chant honoring the Virgin Mary, it exemplifies the sacred music of the medieval period and the influence of the Catholic Church.

3. “Estampie” (14th century)

A popular medieval dance form, the estampie was performed using various instruments and had a lively and rhythmic character.

4. “La Quarte Estampie Royal” (14th century)

This estampie is one of the most well-known surviving instrumental compositions from the medieval period, showcasing the artistry and virtuosity of medieval musicians.

5. “Cantigas de Santa Maria” (13th century)

A collection of songs in praise of the Virgin Mary, composed in Galician-Portuguese language, and attributed to King Alfonso X of Castile.

“The melodies of medieval songs transport us back in time, evoking the hopes, dreams, and daily experiences of our medieval ancestors, allowing us to connect with their world in a truly unique way.”

Christopher Page, Fellow of the British Academy and author of “The Cambridge History of Medieval Music” (2010).

6. “Lamento di Tristano” (14th century)

A famous Italian ballad that tells the tragic tale of Tristan and Isolde, reflecting the medieval love and chivalry themes.

7. “Pange Lingua” (13th century)

A Latin hymn attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas, it is still sung in Catholic liturgical services and has been an influential piece in medieval sacred music.

8. “Saltarello” (14th century)

A lively Italian dance form that was popular during the medieval period, often performed at social gatherings and celebrations.

9. “Veni Creator Spiritus” (9th century)

A Latin hymn invoking the Holy Spirit, it was widely sung during religious ceremonies and continues to be an important liturgical song.

10. “Laude Novella” (14th century)

A popular Italian song genre, laude were religious hymns often sung in praise of saints and biblical figures, reflecting the religious devotion of the medieval period.

These songs offer glimpses into the musical traditions and cultural expressions of the medieval era. While the exact compositions may vary, these examples showcase the diverse range of music during that time and their enduring historical significance.

Best Places to Experience Medieval Music

Festival Médiéval de Sedan (France)
This annual medieval festival in Sedan, France, celebrates the medieval period with a focus on music. Visitors can enjoy performances by renowned medieval music groups, immerse themselves in the enchanting melodies of the time, and witness live musical interpretations of historical pieces.

Festival van Vlaanderen Brugge (Belgium)
The Festival van Vlaanderen Brugge, held in Bruges, Belgium, features a diverse range of concerts, including those dedicated to medieval music. Renowned musicians and ensembles specializing in early music come together to perform captivating medieval compositions in the city’s historic venues.

Festival Internacional de Música Antigua y Barroca de Peñíscola (Spain)
The International Festival of Early and Baroque Music in Peñíscola, Spain, offers a platform for medieval music performances amidst the stunning backdrop of the city’s medieval castle. The festival showcases a variety of medieval music genres and attracts talented musicians from around the world.

York Early Music Festival (United Kingdom)
The York Early Music Festival in York, England, is a renowned event celebrating early music from the medieval period through the Renaissance. The festival hosts concerts, workshops, and masterclasses featuring medieval music ensembles, providing an immersive experience for music enthusiasts.

Festival Gregoriano di Watou (Belgium)
The Gregorian Festival in Watou, Belgium, is dedicated to Gregorian chant and medieval sacred music. The festival showcases performances by renowned choirs specializing in Gregorian chant, transporting attendees back to the sacred sounds of the medieval period.

These events offer unique opportunities to experience the enchanting melodies of medieval music in the settings where it was once performed. Whether it’s a medieval castle, historic city, or dedicated music festival, these events provide a captivating journey into the rich musical heritage of the Middle Ages.