top of page

Medieval Music


1200–1204 Fourth Crusade.

1217 Fifth Crusade.

1241 Mongols defeat Germans in Silesia, invade Poland and Hungary, withdraw from Europe after Ughetai, Mongol leader, dies.

1248 Seventh Crusade.

1271 Marco Polo of Venice travels to China, in court of Kublai Khan (1275–1292), returns to Genoa (1295) and writes Travels.

1273 Thomas Aquinas stops work on Summa Theologica.

1295 English King Edward I summons the Model Parliament.

Boy’s Choir at Kreuz-Kirche, Dresden founded. 
“ Summer is icumen in,” probably the earliest English round. 
Adam De La Halle, French composer of musical plays is born. 
Beginnings of choral Passion 
The “Portatio” a portable small organ is invented. 
Perotinus becomes the main representative of the French “Ars Antigua” 
The first mastersinger school is started in Mainz. 
Adam de la Halle writes ”Le Jeu de la Feuillee,” first French “Operette”. 
Franco of Cologne and Pierre de la Croix develop the musical form of the motet. 
Giovanni da Cascia, Italian composer born. 
Adam de la Halle composes “Jeu de Robin et Marion”. 
Adam De La Halle dies. 
Jean de Muris, French composer is born. 
Phillipe de Vitry, French composer born.

Adam de la Halle

Adam de la Halle, also known as Adam le Bossu (Adam the Hunchback) (1238 – 1287) was a French-born trouvère, poet and musician. Adam's literary and musical works include chansons and jeux-partis (poetic debates) in the style of the trouvères; polyphonic rondel and motets in the style of early liturgical polyphony; and a musical play, "Jeu de Robin et Marion" (c. 1282-83), which is considered the earliest surviving secular French play with music. He was a member of the Confrérie des jongleurs et bourgeois d'Arras.




Adam's other nicknames, "le Bossu d'Arras" and "Adam d'Arras", suggest that he came from Arras, France. The sobriquet "the Hunchback" was probably a family name; Adam himself points out that he was not one. His father, Henri de la Halle, was a well-known Citizen of Arras, and Adam studied grammartheology, and music at the Cistercian abbey of Vaucelles, near Cambrai. Father and son had their share in the civil discords in Arras, and for a short time took refuge in Douai. Adam had been destined for the church, but renounced this intention, and married a certain Marie, who figures in many of his songs, rondeauxmotets and jeux-partis. Afterwards he joined the household of Robert II, Count of Artois; and then was attached to Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX, whose fortunes he followed in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Italy.

At the court of Charles, after Charles became king of Naples, Adam wrote his Jeu de Robin et Marion, the most famous of his works. Adam's shorter pieces are accompanied by music, of which a transcript in modern notation, with the original score, is given in Coussemaker's edition. His Jeu de Robin et Marion is cited as the earliest French play with music on a secular subject. The pastoral, which tells how Marion resisted the knight, and remained faithful to Robert the shepherd, is based on an old chanson, Robin m'aime, Robin m'a. It consists of dialogue varied by refrains already current in popular song. The melodies to which these are set have the character of folk music, and are more spontaneous and melodious than the more elaborate music of his songs and motets. Fétis considered Le Jeu de Robin et Marion and Le Jeu de la feuillée forerunners of the comic opera. An adaptation of Le Jeu Robin et Marion, by Julien Tiersot, was played at Arras by a company from the Paris Opéra-Comique on the occasion of a festival in 1896 in honour of Adam de le Hale.

His other play, Le jeu Adan or Le jeu de la Feuillee (ca. 1262), is a satirical drama in which he introduces himself, his father and the citizens of Arras with their peculiarities. His works include a congé, or satirical farewell to the city of Arras, and an unfinished chanson de geste in honour of Charles of Anjou, Le roi de Sicile, begun in 1282; another short piece, Le jeu du pelerin, is sometimes attributed to him.

His known works include thirty-six chansons (literally, "songs"), forty-six rondets de carole, eighteen jeux-partis, fourteen rondeaux, five motets, one rondeau-virelai, one ballette, one dit d'amour, and one congé.

Phillippe de Vitry

French composer and theorist; after Machaut the most important figure of the Ars Nova. He was a canon in several churches and cathedrals (toward the endof his life he was elevated to the post of Bishop of Meaux), a protege of the Bourbons and counselor to the French royal court, and one of the most respected intellectuals of the 14th century.

Already by about 1320 he was recognized as the leading representative of the new, rhyth mically more complicated musical style examined in the treatise Ars nova (long thought to have been written by him, but probably a compilation of material from several sources). Only about a dozen works securely attributable to Vitry sur vive; all are motets. Several, including Fortuna, Quoniam secta, and In nova fert found their way into the Roman de Fauvel, the most important single source of early- 14th-century polyphony, which Vitry may have had a hand in compiling. Part moral fable and biting political satire—taking aim at the corruption of French gover nance—part chronicle, part musical entertainment, the Roman de Fauvel (ca. 1317) resembles an editorial cartoon come to life, with words, pictures, and music all on the same page, amplifying and enriching each other’s meanings. Its central figure, Fauvel, is a horse who walks around like a man. Symbol of all that is vain and venal in the ruling elite, he rises from the stable to become one of the high and mighty, in the process despoiling the “fair garden of France.” The phrase “to curry favor” is a corruption of “to curry Fauvel.”


Vitry’s most significant contribution to the art of music was his pioneering use of isorhythm, which remained an important device for large-scale polyphonic compo

sition throughout the 14th and into the 15th century.


(Jl. Paris, ca. 1200)

French composer. Also known as Mag-ister Perotinus or Perotinus Magnus, he was Leonin’s younger contemporary and successor at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. From two important treatises of the late 13th century, byjohannes de Garlandia and the English theorist Anonymous 4, we know that Perotin revised and added to the compilation begun by Leonin called the magnus liber organi, and that he was associated with the poet Philip the Chancellor (d. ca. 1237), some of whose texts he set.

Anonymous 4 identifies by name seven works by Perotin, including four groundbreaking organa—Alleluia: Nativitas and Alleluia: Posui for three voices, and Viderunt omnes  and Sederunt omnes for four voices. A number of other works have been attributed to him on stylistic grounds. With the exception of a single, fairly simple French three-voice piece found in the Codex Calix-tinus in Spain, these are the first known works for more than two voices.

Alleluia nativitas

In keeping with the extraordinary musical developments at Notre Dame, Perotin’s organa are highly sophisticated. Going well beyond the earlier style of organum purum, in which an upper voice moves rhapsodically in free rhythm over a slow-moving tenor, Perotin’s upper voices are distinctly rhythmic, with repeated patterns intertwining to create a kaleidoscopic effect. Techniques such as note-against-note conductus style and the use of overlapping melodic and rhythmic patterns create an amazing vitality, turning what appears to be a relatively static form into something quite dynamic. Conceptually, the approach reveals an exquisite sensitivity to tonal architecture, one perfectly aligned with the aesthetic of the Gothic cathedral itself. The works of Perotin and his contemporaries at Notre Dame had a decisive influence on the
development of polyphonic music; even in our own time, composers such as Steve Reich have looked to Perotin’s music for inspiration.

Giovanni da Cascia

Giovanni da Cascia, also Jovannes de Cascia, Johannes de Florentia, Maestro Giovanni da Firenze, was an Italian composer of the medieval era, active in the middle of the fourteenth century.


Virtually nothing is known about Giovanni's life. From his surname it is presumed that he was born in the village of Cascia, near Florence. It was once thought that he held a post at Florence Cathedral, but this is no longer accepted. A Florentine chronicle states that Giovanni and Jacopo da Bologna competed at Mastino II of Scala's court; Mastino died in 1351. The metaphors used in his works are consistent with prevailing idioms of the mid-14th century. His portrait in the Squarcialupi Codex shows him without priestly garments.

Nineteen of Giovanni's compositions survive, scattered in nine manuscripts. Sixteen of these are madrigals, and three of them are cacce. He is thought to have written some of his own texts. Musically, Giovanni's madrigals are of importance in the development of the style of the 14th-century madrigal. He tends to use extended melismas on the first and penultimate syllables of a poetic line, and sometimes introduces hockets at these points. The middles of the lines are generally syllabic. Many of his works are very similar in style to the anonymous works preserved in the Rossi Codex.

Several of his works survive in quite different versions; this is evidence that improvisation was still an important aspect of musical performance up to this time. Giovanni's works tend not to be tonally unified; they begin and end on different notes, and in some cases, such as Nascoso el viso, each poetic line begins and ends on different notes. Occasional imitation is found in his work.

Johannes de Muris

Johannes de Muris (c.1290 - c.1355), or John of Murs, was a French philosopherastronomermathematician, and music theorist best known for treatises on the ars nova, titled Ars nove musice.


For a medieval person primarily known through his scholarly writing, it is highly unusual that Johannes de Muris’ life can be traced enough to form a decently consistent biography. Born in Normandy, he is believed to have been related to Julian des Murs who was secretary to Charles V of France. The suggested birth year for Muris is based on a murder of a cleric on September 7, 1310, which Muris was allegedly a part of. Muris would have been at least 14 to assume the responsibility for the crime, suggesting his birth year to be sometime in the 1290s. He was convicted and banished to Cyprus for seven years for punishment. The aloof and haphazard movements of his life have been blamed on this early punishment.

By 1318 records indicate that Muris was living in Évreux although he was actively taking part in scholastic endeavors in Paris. An explicit of his writings indicate that he was a resident in the Collège de Sorbonne until around 1325. During this time it is believed that he travelled freely, making trips to the town of Bernay to observe the solar eclipse of 1321. However, the double monastery of Fontevraud Abbey was where he settled in March 1326. He remained associated with the institution until 1332 or 1333 when he returned to Évreux. Financial records in Muris’ own hand from 1336 indicate that he took up residence in Paris in that year. In 1342 he was one of six canons of the collegiate church in Mézières-en-Brenne. In 1344, he was invited to Avignon by Pope Clement VI to participate in the calendar reform. The final date associated to Muris is 1345 in conjunction with the reforms that took place in Avignon.

Much of his writings were finished in the early decades of his life with a major gap in activity that can be filled with astronomical observations. Though his mathematical and astronomical writings – his most comprehensive being Quadripartitum numerorum from 1343 – were well regarded, influential, and transmitted in many manuscripts, his musical writings were more widely circulated. Muris wrote five treatises on music: Notitia artis musicae (1319–21), Compendium musicae practicae (c. 1322), Musica speculativa secundum Boetium (1323), Libellus cantus mensurabilis secundum Johannes de Muris (c. 1340), and Ars contrapuncti secundum Johannes de Muris (post 1340) (all dates are suggested dates by U. Michaels). Many of the surviving manuscripts of these treatises are from the 15th century and of Italian origin, suggesting his wide influence both geographical and temporal.

De Muris
De Vitry

Adam de la Halle - Le jeu de Robin et Marion

Pérotin le Grand - Viderunt omnes


Philippe de Vitry - In Arboris

Diego Velázquez, Aquinas is girded by angels with a mystical belt of purity after his proof of chastity

Adam de Halle
bottom of page