On Secular Music
Introduction by William Mahrt
Courtly Love and Medieval Music
Medieval secular music might not sound like modern popular music, but like modern popular music it is most often concerned with love. During the twelfth century, the romantic ideal of the knight in the service of a lady was popularized by musicians employed at court. Particularly in France, medieval secular music was often about “courtly love.”
Medieval court musicians were often laymen who composed music orally. What survives of their music, however, was recorded by clerics, usually after the musicians’ deaths. These clerics noted pitch but not rhythm. Consequently, we are not sure what rhythm characterized these songs, though they probably followed the poetic meter. Often, one beat was assigned for each syllable, but sometimes notes were crowded together in a single phrase. The range of notes or pitches, like the rhythmic variety, was also restricted.
A Wandering Minstrel, I...
Secular music from the Middle Ages includes love songs, dances, satirical works, and religious works that were not intended for use in the liturgy [church service]. This music was often composed by traveling minstrels and jongleurs using poetry as lyrics, composed by people belonging to a higher social class. Such ministrels lacked the formal training received by composers of sacred music. They had roughly the same social status as carnival workers today.
Different Regions, Different Musicians
Musicians in medieval Western Europe included:
Types of Medieval Secular Music
There were three main types of medieval secular music.