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2.4: Music in Medieval Courts

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    54322
  • Like the Catholic Church, medieval kings, dukes, lords and other members of the nobility had resources to sponsor musicians to provide them with music for worship and entertainment. Individuals roughly comparable to today’s singer-songwriters served courts throughout Europe. Like most singer-songwriters, love was a favored topic. These poet-composers also sang of devotion to the Virgin Mary and of the current events of the day.

    Many songs that merge these two focus points appear in a late thirteenth-century manuscript called the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Songs for the Virgin Mary), a collection sponsored by King Alfonso the Wise who ruled the northwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula. Cantigas de Santa Maria also includes many illustrations of individuals playing instruments. The musician on the left in Figure 2.6.1 is playing a rebec and the one to the right a lute. Elsewhere in the manuscript these drummers and fifers appear (see Figure 2.6.2). These depictions suggest to us that, outside of worship services, much vocal music was accompanied by instruments. We believe such songs as these were also sung by groups and used as dance music, especially as early forms of rhythmic notation indicate simple and catchy patterns that were danceable. Other manuscripts also show individuals dancing to the songs of composers such as Machaut.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): (right) Rebec and Lute Players depicted in Cantigas de Santa Maria by Unknown via Wikimedia Figure. (right) Drummers and fifers depicted in Cantigas de Santa Maria by Unkown. Source: Wikimedia.

    Focus Composition:  Song of Mary, No. 181: “The Virgin will aid those who most love her”

    “The Virgin will aid those who most love her,” is one of over four hundred songs praising the Virgin Mary in the Cantigas de Santa Maria described above. “The Virgin will aid those who most love her” praises Mary for her help during the crusades in defeating a Moroccan king in the city of Marrakesh. It uses a verse and refrain structure similar to those discussed in chapter one. Its two-lined chorus (here called a refrain) is sung at the beginning of each of the eight four-lined strophes that serve as verses. The two-line melody for the refrain is repeated for the first two lines of the verse; a new melody then is used for the last two lines of the verse. In the recent recording done by Jordi Savall and his ensemble, a relatively large group of men and women sing the refrains, and soloists and smaller groups of singers perform the verses. The ensemble also includes a hand drum that articulates the repeating rhythmic motives, a medieval fiddle, and a lute, as well as medieval flutes and shawms, near the end of the excerpt below. These parts are not notated in the manuscript, but it is likely that similar instruments would have been used to accompany this monophonic song in the middle ages.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=770O...ature=youtu.be Performed by Jordi Savall and Ensemble; listen from 0:13 through 3:29.

    LISTENING GUIDE

    Composer: Anonymous

    Composition: Song of Mary, No. 181: “The Virgin will aid those who most love her” (Pero que seja a gente d’outra lei [e]descreuda)

    Date: c.1275

    Genre: Song

    Form: Refrain [A] & verses[ab] =A=ab

    Nature of Text: Refrain and strophes in an earlier form of Portuguese, praising the Virgin Mary

    Performing Forces: small ensemble of vocalists, men and women singing together and separately

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • It is music for entertainment, even though it has a sacred subject.
    • It is monophonic.
    • Its narrow-ranged melody and repetitive rhythms make it easy for non-professionals to sing.

    Other things to listen for:

    • In this recording, the monophonic melody is sung by men and women and is played by a medieval fiddle and lute; a drum plays the beat; near the end of the excerpt, you can also hear flutes and shawms.
    • Its musical form is A-ab, meaning that the refrain is always sung to the same music
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form
    0:00

    Fiddles and lute playing melody for refrain; Drum playing rhythmic motive; monophonic texture throughout; Mostly conjunct melody with a narrow range; Repeated motive shifts back and forth between twos and threes

    A: Intro
    0:12 Sung by men and women A: Refrain
    0:23 One woman starts and then others join, singing monophonically the same the same melodic phrase as the refrain a: First two lines of the first verse
    0:37 Several women singing with a monophonic texture a different melodic phrase b: Second two lines of the first verse
    0:48 Men and women; same melody as in the Refrain above A: Refrain
    1:00 One man, joined by other men; same melody as in the first half of the verse above a: First two lines of the second verse
    1:14 Several men; same melody as in the second half of the verse above b: Second two lines of the second verse
    1:26 Men and women; same melody as in the Refrain above A: Refrain
    1:37 1:37 Women; same melody as the other verses; men join them for the b phrase of the melodic theme. ab: Verse three
    2:03 Men and women A: Refrain
    2:13 Men start and women sing the b-phrase of the melodic theme. ab: Verse four
    2:40 Men and women A: Refrain
    2:52 Played by flutes, medieval fiddle, lutes, drums, zither a: First two lines of the fifth verse
    3:05 Played by same instruments as above b: Second two lines of the second verse
    3:17 Played by the above instruments plus shawms. A: refrain

    Medieval poet composers also wrote a lot of music about more secular love, a topic that continues to be popular for songs to the present day. Medieval musicians and composers, as well as much of European nobility in the Middle Ages, were particularly invested in what we call courtly love. Courtly love is love for a beloved, without any concern for whether or not the love will be returned. The speakers within these poems recounted the virtues of their beloved, acknowledging the impossibility of ever consummating their love and pledging to continue loving their beloved to the end of their days.

    Guillaume de Machaut, who wrote the famous Mass of Nostre Dame discussed above, also wrote many love songs, some polyphonic and others monophonic. In his “Lady, to you without reserve I give my heart, thought and desire,” a lover admires his virtuous beloved and pledges undying love, even while suspecting that they will remain ever apart. Like “The Virgin will aid,” its sung words are in the original French. Also like “The Virgin will aid,” it consists of a refrain that alternates with verses. Here the refrain and three verses are in a fixed medieval poetic and musical form that can be notated as Abba-Abba-Abba-Abba. Machaut’s song, written over fifty years after “The Virgin will aid,” shows medieval rhythms becoming increasingly complex. The notes are grouped into groups of three, but the accentuation patterns often change. We suspect that this song was also used as dance music, given the illustration of a group dancing in a circle appearing above its musical notation in Machaut’s manuscript. As we noted earlier, songs like this were most likely sung with accompaniment, even though this accompaniment wasn’t notated; the recording excerpt in the link below uses tambourine to keep the beat.

    For audio, go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VM99EwcXNU Studio der Frühen Musik

    Listening Guide

    Composer: Guillaume de Machaut

    Composition: “Lady, to you without reserve I give my heart, thought and desire” (Dame, à vous sans retollir”)

    Date: Fourteenth century

    Genre: song

    Form: Refrain [A] & Verses [bba]

    Nature of Text: French poem about courtly love with a refrain alternating with three verses.

    Performing Forces: soloist alternating with small ensemble of vocalists

    What we really want you to remember about this composition:

    • It is a French song about courtly love.
    • It is monophonic, here with tambourine articulating the beats
    • Its form consists of an alternation of a refrain and verses

    Other things to listen for:

    • Its melodic line is mostly conjunct, the range is a little over an octave, and it contains several short melismas.
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form

    0:00

    Small group of women singing in monophonic text with tambourine; Mostly conjunct melody with a narrow range; Notes fall in rhythmic groups of three, but the accent patterns change often

    A: Refrain

    0:14

    Female soloist still in monophonic texture without tambourine; the b phrase is mostly conjunct, starts high and descends, repeats, then returns to the a phrase as heard in the refrain

    bba: Verse

    0:40 Same music as in the A phrase A: Refrain above with the words of the refrain
    0:53 Female soloist as heard above to new words bba: Verse
    1:18

    As heard in the Refrain above, words and music

    A: Refrain
    1:31

    As heard above verses, with new words

    bba: Verse
    1:57 As heard in the Refrain above, words and music A: Refrain