Middle Ages
Short Essays


a cappella cyclical mass Leonin psaltery
anthem discant style musica ficta Roman de Fauvel
ballata double leading tone musica transalpina rondeau
Bembo fauxbourdon Ockeghem rhythmic modes
Calvin, John frottola Odhecaton sequence
canzone d'Arezzo, Guido Parisian chanson Tallis, Thomas
clos haut parody Troubadours
consort Hildegard of Bingen pavane and galliard Philipe de Vintry
contenance angloise isorhythm polyphonic conductus Vincentino
Council of Trent Isaac Power, Leonel word painting


a cappella: "In the style of the chapel" or "In the church". It refers to choral or vocal music without separate instrumental accompaniment. Instruments may be used to double the vocal parts to strengthen the vocal bass line or to fill in additional parts, and the piece is still a cappella. So, the correct definition of a cappella should be something like "singing without independent instrumental accompaniment." It was an ideal that was desired in the church during the Renaissance, because instrumental music was considered secular and would distract from worship.

anthem: England. Motet-like composition on an English text. Verse anthem is for solo voice and chorus with instrumental accompaniment and a full anthem is for chorus without soloists.

ballata: Italian form. A song to accompany dancing. The only surviving manuscripts are written for two or three voices. Purely lyrical and resemble the French virelai. Most important form in the Italian style. Melismas on the first and penultimate syllable. The rest is syllabic. Part of the trecento polyphony style. Landini wrote 132 ballate.

Bembo: (1470-1547) Italian poet and critic largely responsible for the renewed interest in the poetry of Petrarch. He discovered that vowels and consonants posses distinct qualities that composers could use to emphasize meaning in text. Discovered two qualities that Patrarch desired in his poetry: piacevolezza and gravita or sweetness and harshness. This had to do with the certain quality of the vowels and consonents. Liquid consonants such as M, N, and W might be considered piace ,while dental consonants such as T, C, and F might be considered gravita. Through this discovery sound, meaning, and grammar became more important to reflect the language in music.

John Calvin: Leader of the Protestant movement. Set strict rules against certain aspects of the Catholic liturgy. Distrusted art in worship services and felt that only music set to biblical texts was worthy for the Christian worship service. From this emerged the Psalter — rhymed metrical translations of the Book of Psalms that were set to newly composed melodies.


canzone: Italy. In the sixteenth century an instrumental chanson. Light, fast-moving, strongly rhythmic, fairly simple contrapuntal texture. Developed in to a piece for larger ensembles in varying tempos and sections

clos: Used in dance music (Estampie) of the Middle Ages. Music had several sections and was repeated in the plainchant sequence. The first statement ended with an "open" (ouvert), or incomplete cadence. The repetitions ended with a "closed" (clos) or full cadence.

consort: Groups and ensembles of instruments capable of playing in various ranges. A full consort consisted of many instruments of the same type. For example, the recorder could be used in a consort. You might have an alto, tenor, and bass recorder. All the same instr. playing in different ranges. A broken consort consisted of many instruments of different types and sounds. Vocal consorts also excited during this period.

contenance angloise: "English Personality". Having to do with the English influence on continental composers of the 15th century.

Council of Trent: Special council that met in Trent in the Northern part of Italy. They were a part of the counter-reformation. They worked to pass measures aimed at purging the church of abuses and laxities. The Council stated that everything "impure or lascivious" must be avoided so that "the House of God may rightly be called a house of prayer". It was important that instruments remain out of the church and that the texts of polyphony must be understood.


cyclical or cantus firmus mass: Practice where all five movements of the ordinary of the mass use the same chant melody throughout. These cantus firmi were usually written in the plainsong style, but on occasion secular music was used.

discant style: Form of two part writing where both parts more or less move note against note.

double leading-tone cadence: Often found in the music of Francesco Landini. Two voices arrive at a final chord by half step motion.

fauxbourdon: French style of improvising a third part between a plainchant in the top voice and a lower voice. The outer voices formed parallel sixths, while the added middle voice is a fourth below the plainchant. This helped to form a new way of writing for three parts in which the top voice and the tenor share equal importance in melodic and rhythmic structure. This new sound influenced all types of composition.

frottola: Secular Italian song. Usually set syllabically. The melody appears in the upper voice, with instrumental accompaniment. Simple homophonic harmony with root position chords. Marked rhythmic patters with the frequent use of hemiola. Performed in Italian courts.

Guido d'Arezzo: Music theorist. Wrote Ad organum faci endum (How to make organum). Responsible for departing from the ancient Greek theory by constructing a music scale that is not based on the tetrachord or harmoniai. Using the monochord he demonstrates the power of modes and how to create melodies based on them.

haut: Loud music intended for the outdoors. Instruments associated with haut include: shawms, cornetts, slide trumpets, and sackbuts.

Hildegard of Bingen: 1098-1179. German women. An abbess in a convent. Had dreams in which she saw visions from God. She recorded these visions in a book, paintings, and in music. She is responsible for the development of the liturgical dreams. She became famous for her prophetic powers and revelations.


isorhythm: Repetition in a voice part of an extended pattern of durations throughout a section or composition. In the motet, theorists called the repeating series of pitches in the tenor the color, and the long rhythmic unit the talea.

Isaac: (1450-1517) Franco-Flemish composer. Composed in all the forms of the time. He preferred a more conservative harmonic structure usually based on imitation. He spent an extensive time in Italy, but was also highly influential on the music of Germany. Wrote a large number of secular pieces with French, German, and Italian texts. Sacred compositions include 30 Mass Ordinary settings and a cycle of motets (Choralis Constantinus) based on the texts and melodies of the Proper for a large portion of the church year.

Leonin: French composer. Responsible for development of the organum purum. Composed a cycle of two part Graduals, Alleluias, and responsatories for the entire church year called the Magnus Liber Organi (Great Book of Organum).

musica ficta: The practice of raising or lowering certain pitches to give special flavor to 14th Century music. These accidentals were not always written in the music, but expected in performance often at cadences.

musica transalpina: 1588. Published by Nicholas Yonge. A collection of Italian madrigals translated into English. Gave inspiration to English madrigal composers.

Ockeghem: (1420-1497) Singer composer and teacher. His style is marked by a careful handling of vocal ranges in a primarily four-voice texture, and an emphasis on complex and expressive bass lines. He had a deep bass voice. Ockeghem was known primarily as an accomplished technical master, famous for his complex lines and polyphonic structures, which had the appearance of intractable puzzles for all but the most accomplished musicians. Ockeghem is one of the pioneers of Western polyphony, and was a supreme master of both lyrical and contrapuntal invention. Teacher of Josquin de Prez.


Odhecaton: 1501 anthology of chanson published by Petrucci. 96 polyphonic songs. Important source of chanson from the generation of Obrecht, Isaac and Josquin. Progressive musical elements found in the Odhecaton include the use of four-voice chansons which show developing fuller texture, growing imitative counterpoint, clearer harmonic structure and greater equality of voices.

parisian chanson: France. Secular genre. A freely composed chanson with many repeated sections. Light, fast, and lively four part vocal arrangement with the melody in the top voice. For the most part, homophonic with some passages of imitation. The text was often double entendre and included hidden meaning. Piece was divided into short distinct sections, repeated to form a recognizable pattern.

parody (imitation) mass: Began to replace the cantus firmus mass. The Mass was not based on a single line of chant melody, but composers would allow all the voices to be full of "fantasy and expansion". In the process, such a Mass can might take over many attributes of the preexisting work, including its characteristic motives, fugal statements, and answers, and even its general structure. The full-fledged imitation Mass not only borrows musical material, but also makes something new out of it, weaving its motives into an original contrapuntal texture with imitation appearing in all the voices.

pavane and galliard: 16th Century French dance music. The pavane was slow and stately and in a douple meter. The galliard is more lively and in triple meter. Precursor to the dace suite.

polyphonic conductus: Two or more voices sing the same text with essentially the same rhythm. Words are set syllabically. Tenor was often newly composed. Music for processionals and escort music.

Leonel Power: Responsible for placing the tenor (cantus firmus) in the next to lower voice in a four part setting. This allows composers more harmonic freedom and foreshadows the way composers would use plainsong tenors in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

psaltery: Type of musical instrument. A type of Zither played by plucking or striking the strings.

Roman de Fauvel: 167 pieces of music were written based on texts from this satire novel. The texts describe the current behavior of the clergy and often refer to political events of the time. The secular motet was inspired by these poems.


rondeau: Developed by the French composer Guillaume de Machaut. Consists of only two musical phrases and the refrain, which is heard at the beginning and the end. The form is AbaAabAB. Often contained long elaborate melismas throughout.

rhythmic modes: An early system for defining rhythm. Patterns of long and short notes in the upper voice. There are six rhythmic modes.

sequence: 10-13th Cent. Specific pattern of textual and musical order. Began with a phrase of music set to a single text, followed by two phrases of music each set two different ways. The two texts had the same number of syllables and pattern of accents, like a poetic couplet. The typical sequence patter was a bb cc dd…….

Thomas Tallis: 1505-85. English composer. His music the bridge between early and late sixteenth-century English style. His career reflects the many religious changes that were occurring in England at the time. Under Henry VIII he wrote masses and votive antiphons. Under Edward VI he wrote for the English church and anthems to English texts. Under Queen Elizabeth he set music to both English and Latin texts. His melodies are a natural reflection of the inflection of speech.

Troubadours: Poet-composers who flourished in Southern France during the 12-early 13th Cent. Spoke the language, Langue d’oc. They came from aristocratic circles. Wrote love songs. The poetic and musical structures of their songs show great variety and ingenuity.

Philipe de Vitry: French composer, poet, and bishop who wrote his treatise in 1322-23 called Ars Nova. This term (Ars Nova) described the French musical style of the first have of the 14th Century. Also responsible for the duple division of note values.

Vicentino: Experimenter in chromatic harmony. Published a treatise in 1555 entitled "L’antica musica ridotta aala moderna prattica" (Ancient Music Adapted to the Modern Practice), proposing a revival in chromatic harmony.

word painting: Used most frequently in the madrigal form. Technique where composers would attempt to reflect meaning of the text as closely as possible paying special attention to specific individual words or phrases. Paying close attention to the distinct sounds of words and how those sounds help to create a mood, color, or emotion.



Middle Ages
Short Essays

Research by Jason R. Ogan, 2001