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:
"Fair 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