Gothic Music

The real Gothic music is the music of the Gothic era. The Gothic era lasted from 1066 to 1453, beginning with the Battle of Hastings, and ending with the end of the Hundred Years' War. It was characterized by a change in architectural styles (development of the pointed arch and flying buttress), the development of stained glass, and manuscript illumination.

12th Century

12th century music consisted of plainchant (Gregorian chant) and early polyphony. St Martial de Limoges and Paris were the two main centers in which the development of polyphony progressed.

School of Notre Dame:

Leoninus (1163-1190), was responsible for the Magnus liber organi, the 'Big Book of Organi'. An organum is composed of a tenor chant in even rhythm, enlivened by quicker figures in the upper voices. There may be from three to seven voices, only two of which are required to harmonize with each other at any given time. His work includes:

  • Viderunt omnes
  • Alleluya Pascha nostrum

Perotinus (1160-1240) was a French composer of sacred music, the most highly acclaimed musical figure of the High Gothic period. His work includes:

  • Viderunt omnes (many titles duplicate each other, as the text was generally taken from bible psalms)
  • Sederunt principes

Some English songs of the period include:

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a German mystic who wrote ecclesiastic monophonic music in Latin. Her work includes:

  • O vos felices radices
  • O ignis spiritus

Troubadours (Provence) and trouvères (Northern France) were wandering minstrels. Their musical style characterized the late 12th century.

King Richard I Coeur-de-Lion (1157-1199), best known as a Crusader, was the son of Eleanor d'Aquitaine. From her, he learned to write poetry and compose music. An example of his work is Ja nuns hons pris, which can be heard at

The Carmina Burana are a collection of songs found in Benediktbeuren, Germany. Orff drew the inspiration for his masterpiece Carmina Burana from this collection. The songs include:

  • Bacche, bene venies
  • Virent prata hiemata
  • Nonem a sollempnibus
  • Alte clamat Epicurus / Nu lebe ich
  • Vite perdite II
  • Vacillantis trutine
  • In taberna quando sumus
  • Iste mundus
  • Axe Phebus aureo
  • Dulce solum natalis patrie
  • Procurans odium
  • Vite perdite I
  • Sic mea fata canendo
  • Ich was ein chint so wolgeran
  • Deduc Syon, uberrimas
  • Ecce torpet probitas
  • In terra summus rex
  • Fas et nefas ambulant
  • Flete flenda
  • Homo qui vigeas

13th Century

The main innovation of the 13th century was the introduction of motets. Examples of motets (some of my favorites) include:

  • Alle, psallite cum luya
  • In mari miserie
  • On parole de batre
  • Dominator Domine

    Petrus de Cruce (1270-1300) The "Petronian" motet is named for him and consists of three voices. The bottom voice (tenor) is based on a plainchant sung in long notes, the middle voice (duplum) moves in subdivisions of the tenor, and the upper voice (triplum) moves in further subdivisions of the tempus. Some of his work includes:

    14th Century

    Scholar-composer Phillipe de Vitry (1291-1361) sparked the musical direction, the ars subtilior, whose most important example is Le Roman de Fauvel. His work includes:

    • Impudenter circumivi

    Other examples of 14th century motets include:

    Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) combined the classically inspired forms of the monophonic repertory of the trouvères with the flowing counterpoint of sacred music. His body of work includes:

    • La Messe de Notre Dame
    • Ce qui soustient moi
    • Christe, qui lux es
    • Dame, de qui toute ma joie

    The later 14th century was a period during which the French style dominated secular composition throughout Europe. The Chantilly Codex was apparently compiled shortly before 1400. The primary locations at which this music was written were the courts of the Antipope in Avignon and of Foix, both in southern France.

    If you are interested in hearing some of this amazing music, I highly recommend Music of the Gothic Era with the Early Music Consort of London led by David Munrow DG Archiv Codex 453 185

    I originally, when it came time to enter college, wanted to major in Medieval Music. Indiana University in Bloomington, IN used to have an Early Music major - unfortunately, they closed the program before I could enter it. So now I'm in nursing school.. weird the way things work...

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