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Medieval Music


1100–1300 Construction of Cathedral at Chartres, France.

1144 Second Crusade begins.

1150–1167 Universities of Paris and Oxford founded in France and England.

1162 Thomas á Becket named Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered by Henry II's men (1170). Troubadours (wandering minstrels) glorify romantic concepts of feudalism.

1189 Richard I (“the Lionhearted”) succeeds Henry II in England, killed in France (1199), succeeded by King John. Third Crusade.

Beginnings of secular music.
Music school of St. Martial at Limoges develops polyphonic style. 
Beginning of troubadour and trouvere music in France.
Marcabru, is one of the earliest troubadours whose poems are known. 
Troubadour music in southern France becomes organised.
Leoninus, French composer begins to work in the “Ars antigua” style.
“Ladies’ strophe” the earliest German “ Minnelieder". 
Kurenberg, the first famous German minnesinger is born.
“Faux bourdon” style begins in English music. 
Professional bards begin to appear in Ireland. 
Cymbals introduced as musical instrument. 
“Carmina Burana” German collection of Latin monastic songs. 


Der von Kürenberg

Der von Kürenberg or Der Kürenberger (Kuerenberg, Kuerenberger, fl. mid-12th century) was a middle-ages poet, and one of the first named poets to write in the Middle High German language.


He was a nobleman, possibly from the area around the city of Linz. Some of the 14 stanzas that appear in Minnesangsfrühling group themselves into poems. His poems were most likely written before the concept of ideal courtly love was formulated. As their subject they have a more direct and less stylized relationship. Some are in dialogue form (Wechsel). The best known poem is the "falcon song". It is possible that both stanzas were spoken by a woman (it could also be argued that they were written by a woman). His poetry, as well as that of Dietmar von Eist (Aist), suggest that there may have existed a poetic form indigenous to the Upper Germany/Austria territory before the impact of the Provençal influence.

His poems contrast sharply with those of the later convention. So much so that some have been tempted to suggest that he disapproved of them. (But as Walsche says: This would be presuming too much). His poems are composed almost exclusively in an old Danubic form which is called the Nibelungenstrophe (the Germanic long-line). Most of his poems tell little stories. In one of the poems a woman stands and listens to the song of one knight among all the others. The knight sings "in Kürenberges wise". She states that "either he must leave the country, or she will enjoy his love." The poet's response is to call for his horse and armour and flee. This lady is unique in the poetry of the time in that she wishes to compel the knight's love and seeks to fulfill the promised eroticism of the knight's song. Strangely, one is left with the feeling that the knight was shocked to have been taken seriously. Der von Kürenberg paints bold images with few words and creates men and women who are bold and confident. The impression he leaves seems more true to what one might expect the men and women of a warrior-aristocracy to be like than that portrayed in the following generation's poetry.



Marcabru (Occitan pronunciation: [markaˈbɾy]fl. 1130-1150) is one of the earliest troubadours whose poems are known. There is no certain information about him; the two vidas attached to his poems tell different stories, and both are evidently built on hints in the poems, not on independent information.


According to the brief life in BnF ms. 12473, Marcabrun was from Gascony and was the son of a poor woman named Marcabrunela. This evidently comes from a reading of poem 293,18.

According to the longer biography in MS. Vat. Lat. 5232 Marcabru was abandoned at a rich man's door, and no one knew his origin. He was brought up by Aldric del Vilar, learned to make poetry from Cercamon, was at first nicknamed Pan-perdut and later Marcabru. He became famous, and the lords of Gascony, about whom he had said many bad things, eventually put him to death. This appears to be based on poems 16b,1 and 293,43 (an exchange between Aldric del Vilar and Marcabru) and guesswork; the link with Cercamon is doubted by modern scholars.

Forty-four poems are attributed to Marcabru, learned, often difficult, sometimes obscene, relentlessly critical of the morality of lords and ladies. He experimented with the pastorela, which he uses to point out the futility of lust. One tells of how the speaker's advances are reviled by a shepherdess on the basis of class. Another tells of how a man's attempt to seduce a woman whose husband was at the crusades is firmly rebuffed. He may also have originated the tenso in a debate with Uc Catola (as early as 1133) on the nature of love and the decline of courtly behaviour. Marcabru was a powerful influence on later poets who adopted the obscure trobar clus style. Among his patrons were William X of Aquitaine and, probably, Alfonso VII of León. Marcabru may have travelled to Spain in the entourage of Alfonso JordanCount of Toulouse, in the 1130s. In the 1140s he was a propagandist for the Reconquista and in his famous poem with the Latin beginning Pax in nomine Domini! he called Spain a lavador (washer) where knights could go to have their souls cleansed fighting the infidel.

Four monophonic melodies to accompany Marcabru's poetry survive; additionally, three melodies of poems that may be contrafacta of Marcabru's work may be attributed to him.

Marcabru: Bel m'es quan li fruch madur

Der von Kürenberg
Codex Manesse, 14th Century)

Ich zoch mir einen valken / Falkenlied / Deutsche Minne - Der von Kürenberg






(fl. Paris, ca. 1150-1201)

French composer. Also known as Magister Leoninus or Leonius, his exact identity is uncertain, but his role in Western music should not be underestimated. Probably a priest, and certainly a teacher of arts and functionary at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Leonin’s great undertaking was the creation of the Magnus liber organi (Great Book of Polyphony) for use in the cathedral services. The significance of this earliest collection of polyphonic music lies in its transformation of what had been essentially an improvised tradition, perhaps a couple of centuries old, into a written art of actual composition, encompassing both pitch and rhythm.

Leonin’s very existence as a composer and the compiler of the Magnus liber is known only from the writings of the late-13th-century English theorist designated Anonymous 4, who discusses both Leonin and his slightly younger contemporary, Perotin. From this treatise, it is clear that Leonin was considered the “best” composer of organum of his generation, although as yet no specific works have been identified as his. Since Leonin’s Magnus liber no longer exists, its original content is unknown; however, versions of pieces it is believed to have contained were disseminated and survive in other manuscripts.

In these are found various styles of polyphonic writing in two, three, and even four voices. Probably the best-known form is organum purum, in which one or more voices move in a highly florid manner over a much slower-moving tenor; other techniques include descant, in which all the voices move at a more active rate, and con-ductus, in which the text is set more or less syllabically and all the parts move in the same rhythm. The melodic and rhythmic language of the School of Notre Dame, part of the same creative flowering that brought the Gothic style in architecture into being, became the basis of Western musical art in the centuries that followed.

"Carmina Burana"

Carmina Burana is the name given to a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century. The pieces are mostly bawdy, irreverent, and satirical. They were written principally in Medieval Latin; a few in Middle High German, and some with traces of Old French or Provençal. Some are macaronic, a mixture of Latin and German or French vernacular.

They were written by students and clergy when the Latin idiom was the lingua franca across Italy and western Europe for travelling scholars, universities and theologians. Most of the poems and songs appear to be the work of Goliards, clergy (mostly students) who satirized the Catholic Church. The collection preserves the works of a number of poets, including Peter of BloisWalter of Châtillon, and an anonymous poet, referred to as the Archpoet.

The collection was found in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria, and is now housed in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. Along with the Carmina Cantabrigiensia, the Carmina Burana is considered to be the most important collection of Goliard and vagabond songs.

The manuscripts reflect an international European movement, with songs originating from OccitaniaFranceEnglandScotlandAragonCastile and the Holy Roman Empire.

Twenty-four poems in Carmina Burana were set to music by Carl Orff in 1936. Orff's composition quickly became popular and a staple piece of the classical music repertoire. The opening and closing movement, "O Fortuna", has been used in numerous films.



Carmina Burana (abbreviated CB) is a manuscript written in 1230 by two different scribes in an early gothic minuscule (small letters; what is today called lower-case, as opposed to majuscule – large, capital, upper-case, used in Roman manuscripts) on 119 sheets of parchment. In the 14th century, a number of free pages, cut of a slightly different size, were attached at the end of the text. At some point in the Late Middle Ages the handwritten pages were bound into a small folder, called the Codex Buranus. However, in the process of binding, the text was placed partially out of order, and some pages were most likely lost as well. The manuscript contains eight miniatures: the rota fortunae (which actually is an illustration from the songs CB 14–18, but was placed by the book binder as the cover), an imaginative forest, a pair of lovers, scenes from the story of Dido and Aeneas, a scene of drinking beer, and three scenes of playing games – dice, tables, and chess.




Older research assumed that the manuscript was written where it was found, in Benediktbeuern. Today, however, Carmina Burana scholars have several different ideas about the manuscript's place of origin. It is agreed that, due to the dialect of the Middle High German phrases in the text, the manuscript must be from the region of central Europe where the Bavarian dialect of German is spoken, a region that includes parts of southern Germany, western Austria, and northern Italy, and that, because of the Italian peculiarities of the text, it must be from the southern part of that region. The two possible locations of its origin are the bishop's seat of Seckau in Styria and Kloster Neustift near Brixen in South Tyrol.

In support of the first origin, Seckau, a bishop named Heinrich, who was provost there from 1232 to 1243, is mentioned as provost of Maria Saal in Carinthia in CB 6* of the added folio (* denotes the song is in the added folio). It is possible that he funded the creation of the Carmina Burana. The marchiones (people from Steiermark) were mentioned in CB 219,3 before the BavariansSaxons or Austrians, presumably indicating that Steiermark was the location closest to the writers. Many of the hymns were dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who was venerated in Seckau, for example, CB 12* and 19*–22*.

In support of Kloster Neustift, the text's open-mindedness is characteristic of the reform-minded Augustine Canons Regular of the time, as is the spoken quality of the writing. Also, Brixen is mentioned in CB 95, and the beginning to a story unique to Tirol called the Eckenlied about the mythic hero Dietrich von Bern appears in CB 203a.

Less clear is how the Carmina Burana traveled to Benediktbeuern. The Germanist Fritz Peter Knapp suggested that, if the manuscript were written in Neustift, it could have traveled in 1350 by way of the Wittelsbacher family, who were Vögte of both Tirol and Bavaria.

A famous poet and composer of songs, active in the early Middle Ages, was the philosopher Peter Abelard (1079–1142). Abelard's son Astrolabe had a prebend in the monastery of Benediktbeuern, so it is likely that the Carmina Burana began as the personal collection of his father's works.

Musical settings

About one-quarter of the poems in the Carmina Burana are accompanied in the manuscript by music using unheighted, staffless neumes, an archaic system of musical notation that by the time of the manuscript had largely been superseded by staffed neumes. Unheighted neumes only indicate whether a given note is pitched higher or lower than the preceding note, without giving any indication of how much change in pitch there is between two notes, so they are useful only as mnemonic devices for singers who are already familiar with the melody. However, it is possible to identify many of those melodies by comparing them with melodies notated in staffed neumes in other contemporary manuscripts from the schools of Notre Dame and Saint Martial.

Between 1935 and 1936, German composer Carl Orff composed music, also called Carmina Burana, for 24 of the poems. The single song "O Fortuna" (the Roman goddess of luck and fate), from the movement "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi", is often heard in many popular settings such as films. Orff's composition has been performed by many ensembles.

The Forest, from the Carmina Burana

Leonin Pascha Nostrum Organum Duplum Partitura Interpretación

"Carmina Burana"

Carmina Burana - Carl Orff - O Fortuna

14th-century depiction of Becket with King Henry II

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