Music of the Middle Ages

A closeup of details of Paolo Veneziano’s medieval painting of a concert given by angels (above) illustrates the art and culture surrounding the music of the Middle Ages (Stanley, 2003).

The start of the Middle Ages in history is marked by the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. (Machlis & Forney, 2003). During the Middle Ages, there was a revival of learning at the royal court of Charlemagne (742 A.D. – 814 A.D.), emperor of the Franks (Kleiner, Mamiya, & Tansey, 2001). One of Charlemagne’s projects was the recovery of the true text of the Bible, which at that time had mistakes due to the many years of recopying by scribes (Kleiner, Mamiya, & Tansey, 2001).

A lot of the surviving music from the Middle Ages is religious because of the presence of the early Christian church in Europe (Machlis & Forney, 2003). The influence of religion in the Middle Ages can be seen by the artwork displayed on the marble fountain made in 1150 A.D. shown in the margin to the left. The lower basin of the fountain shows events in the life of Moses, including the Passage through the Red Sea, where Pharaoh’s soldiers look like Medieval knights. Also on the fountain are figures of Christ as the Good Shepherd, with a lamb on his shoulders, and Christ is surrounded by apostles, saints, and prophets. This fountain was created by several artists from the Middle Ages, including Robertus Magister (Von der Haegen & Strasser, 2001).

In the late Middle Ages from 1000 A.D. onward, many great cathedrals were built and many universities were founded throughout Europe (Machlis & Forney, 2003). During this period some of the first universities were founded, such as those at Bologna, Paris and Oxford ( Stanley, 2005).

In addition to the increased number of churches built during the Middle Ages in Europe, there was a rise in monastaries, and early Christians became composers and had great interest in sacred music (Machlis & Forney, 2003). Religious or sacred music, as well as secular music that arose in courts, was present during the Middle Ages (Machlis & Forney, 2003).

From 1095 A.D. to 1270 A.D. were the Crusades which were holy wars sponsored by the Christians and the papacy for recovery of the Holy Land from the Muslims (McKay, Hill, & Buckler, 2003).

During the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer, the English poet wrote the Canterbury Tales in 1386 A.D. (Machlis & Forney, 2003).

Also during the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc rallied the French monarchy from 1429-1431 A.D. (Machlis & Forney, 2003).

Links to some famous musical composers and musicians of the Middle Ages are listed in the margin to the left.


Burrows, J. (Ed.). (2005). Classical Music. New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Kleiner, F., Mamiya, C. & Tansey, R. (2001). Gardner’s art through the ages: Vol II. Florida: Harcourt College Publishers.

Machlis, J. & Forney, K. (2003). The enjoyment of music. N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

McKay, J., Hill, B., & Buckler, J. (2003). A history of western society. Vol. I. Seventh Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Stanley, J. (2005). Classical music: The great composers and their masterworks. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.

Von der Haegen, A. & Strasser, R. (2001). Art and architecture: Tuscany. Neue Stalling, Oldengurg, Germany: Konemann.