The Medieval era of the music history coincides with what we know as the Middle or the Dark Ages. It was a time of upheavals, migration, wars and disasters. This one thousand years of disruptions began with the disintegration of the Roman Empire. But in the later part of this era, Europe grew culturally. Churches, monasteries, gothic cathedrals were built. Towns grew and universities are founded.
In the Middle Ages, a sharp division existed among the society. The society is separated into three different social classes: nobility, clergy and peasantry. The biggest distinction was, of course, in the way they lived. The rich lived opulent lifestyles while the poor were bounded to the soil and subjected to feudal lords.
The Middle Ages were an age of faith. Everyone was influenced by the Roman Catholic church and the priests held a virtual monopoly over the people and learning. It is highly possible that even the nobles were illiterate. The only people who knows music were the priests and those related to the church. Women were not allowed to sing during church service then. However, it was difficult for the church to accept music as part of its rites then, as music were often associated with pagan rites and vain enjoyments.
Music was a very important part of life in the medieval period. Singing simple songs and dancing were very popular during this era. These simple songs were often about love, history or crusades. There were a great way of preserving historic information. The rest were about chivalry.
Musicians, sometimes known as minstrels or jongleurs, were called troubadours (Southern) and trouveres (Northern) then. They were traveling performers who entertain people from town to town, castle to castle. They sang about actual events and were thus, "reporters" of their days. The people were treated with different attitudes. Some people respect them while the rest thought lowly of them.
Dancing was also very popular. One of the unusual practices of medieval dances was to have a slow and stately dance followed by a vigorous, lively one. The popularity of music and dancing was reaffirmed in frescoes and other medieval pictures.
Other than singing and dancing, music was often used in churches and religious services. Monks and nuns chant religious music. This chanting is done in tune and rhythm. It was done monophonically in the beginning but gradually evolved into more complex ones with individual parts and other musical lines added. By the middle of the 15th century, religious music had reach a complex form of polyphony ( a music with many different and individual musical motifs put together and are fighting for the audience's attention) One of the most important composer of the medieval time aside from Leonin and Perotin is Guillame de Machaut (1300-1377) He would be introduced in the composers section we have.
During the middle ages the system for notating music was not standard and are different from ours today. The notes are made up of little squares and the staves had six instead of five that we used today. Bar lines are also represented by little lines in between the notes.
Much of the music wrote then were anonymous. However, there were those who wrote music and felt it was essential to write down their names as well. Some examples were Richard the Lionheart and Alfonso the Wise who wrote a large amount of music and preserved them.