The Mass was a prime source
of inspiration for the production of music in the Middle Ages. Since it was
felt that the plainsong (chant) was divinely inspired by God, it was the task
of the Medieval monk to preserve the music more than compose. As a result,
the Middle Ages gives us the first extensive exploration of musical notation
and as such the first real ability to actually hear a musical tradition. Since
the focus of the Christian Church was extensively on the Mass - which was
sung in its totality - we have a rich collection of chants sung for every
day of the year. The Introit was the first thing sung in the Mass as
the officiates enter the cathedral in a grand procession. The enormous stone
vaulting was designed to carry the reverberation of the plainsong throughout
the cathedral like overlapping waves of musical smoke. With the accompanying
ceremonial procession richly adorned in sight and sound, it was the closest
to heaven anyone was likely to get in the Medieval Age.
Introit for Christmas Day
Moniot d' Arras was one of
the last of the Trouveres and wrote songs like many others to provide entertainment
at tournaments, festivals, or at court. Subjects are almost always about the
two elements of a Courtly Romance - chivalry and courtly love. His Ce fut
en mai (It Happened in May) tells of an unhappy lover who finds solace
in religious feeling. All that survives of the work (as is true with all Medieval
secular songs) is a basic melody in which the singer was expected to improvise
an instrumental accompaniment.
Ce fut en mai - It Happened in May
Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)
is without doubt the most famous of Medieval secular composers. His career
as both cleric and courtier inspired him to compose both sacred and secular
music. An excerpt from the text of his Douce dame jolie shows the continuing
grip that courtly love had on the poetry:
and gentle lady please believe, I beg of you, that you alone rule my heart.
Long have I lived, a humble and loyal servant, in sincerest admiration for
you. But, alas, all forlorn, I am a prey to deep despair, which only your
compassion can dispel."
Douce dame jolie - Fair and Gentle Lady
problems getting the music to play?
Resource of Mark Hunter