Medieval and Renaissance Music

Instruments from the Medieval (500-1450 A.D.) and Renaissance (1450-1600) time vary from strings, woodwinds, "brass" and percussion.  Variations of the instruments that are used today.  The instruments have evolved in the same way that music has evolved over these several hundred years.  This website has some excellent information on instruments from this time as well as pictures and sound clips. Instruments from the Medieval and Renaissance

Much of the music from the Medieval period was sacred, of religious context.  The early part of the Medieval period the most common kind of sacred music was referred to as Gregorian Chant.  What is the texture used in the following example?  Is it monophonic, homophonic or polyphonic?

Ave Generosa

Later in the Medieval period music began exploring new textures by adding 2nd and 3rd parts.  In the sacred setting these compositions were called motets.

Alleluia Nativitas

Much of this sacred music was taught or conducted by using what we now call the "Guidonian Hand."  It was a "mnemonic devise used for locating the pitches of the diatonic (major) scale, particularly the tones mi-fa, which occupy the four corners of the polygon containing the four fingers." -Grout, Palisca


Secular, not religious music, has not been documented as well as sacred music.  What do you think the purpose of the secular music was?  "Troubadours (southern France) and Trouveres (northern France), French noblemen who wrote poetry and music, are major sources of secular music during this time." -Chiego  They "were finders or inventors of song" who "flourished in aristocratic circles." -Grout Palisca So basically these guys looked for and created songs to share that told stories.  "To trobar:  to compose, to discuss, to invent." Where might you go to hear music like this today?

Les Derniers Trouveres

The texture of music continued to evolve through the transition from Medieval music to Renaissance music.  Polyphonic writing in music was more common, and with it, a development of an organized harmony.  Imitative Polyphony began to appear in Renaissance music which basically means that the different parts all sound similar.  Do you hear various instrumental entrances sounding similar to each other in La Spagna?

La Spagna

Canzons became popular in the Renaissance.  It literally means "song-like."  Describe the texture.

Canzon XVI

In the late Renaissance a secular style of music began to develop that became quite popular, madrigals.  Madrigals were songs sung by small groups and usually without accompaniment, a cappella.

Come Again


The Musical Experience, second edition, By John J. Chiego, pg. 6-8

A History of Western Music, sixth edition, By Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, pg. 36-61