Music history of France

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France has a rich music history that was already prominent in Europe as far back as the 10th century. French music originated as a unified style in medieval times, focusing around the Notre-Dame school of composers. This group developed the motet, a specific musical composition. Notable in the high Middle Ages were the troubadours and trouvères soon began touring France, composing and performing many original songs. The styles of ars nova and ars subtilior sprung up in the 14th century, both of which focused on secular songs. As Europe moved into the Renaissance age, the music of France evolved in sophistication. The popularity of French music in the rest of Europe declined slightly, yet the popular chanson and the old motet were further developed during this time. The epicenter of French music moved from Paris to Burgundy, as it followed the Burgundian School of composers. During the Baroque period, music was simplified and restricted due to Calvinist influence. The air de cour then became the primary style of French music, as it was secular and preferred by the royal court.


Medieval music

Some of the earliest manuscripts with polyphony are organa from 10th century French cities like Chartres and Tours.[ citation needed ] The Saint Martial school is especially important, as are the 12th century Parisian composers at the Notre-Dame school from whence came the earliest motets. Secular music in medieval France was dominated by troubadours, jongleurs and trouvères, who were poets and musicians known for creating forms like the ballade (forme fixe) and lai. The most famous of the trouvère was Adam de la Halle.

Saint Martial school

The Saint Martial school, named after the Abbey of Saint Martial around which it was centered, was an important group in the development of early French music. The school created various forms of music based on poetry. These forms of music were often organa consisting of elaborate proses and tropes. Important composers from this school include Roger de Chabannes and his nephew and student Adémar de Chabannes. The manuscripts written by these two became very popular and included early uses of troper-prosers and sequentiaries. [1] The duo also pioneered a new form of notation for their work that collected new forms of liturgical poetry. [2] While polyphony was not invented at the Saint Martial school, the group developed it extensively and brought it into common use. All of these contributions made the Saint Martial school an important precursor to the later Notre-Dame school.

Notre-Dame school

The Notre-Dame school was a group of composers who used a style of polyphonic organum that flourished at Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral between about 1170 to 1250. The only composers whose names have survived are Léonin and Pérotin. These two are believed to have written the Magnus Liber , a comprehensive book of organum.[ citation needed ]


The motet, a lyrical piece of music in several parts, [3] evolved from the Notre-Dame school when upper-register voices were added to discant sections, usually strophic interludes, in a longer sequence of organum. [4] Usually the discant representing a strophic sequence in Latin which was sung as a descant over a cantus firmus , which typically was a Gregorian chant fragment with different words from the descant. The motet took a definite rhythm from the words of the verse, and as such appeared as a brief rhythmic interlude in the middle of the longer, more chantlike organum.


Bernard de Ventadour, a well-known troubador BernardDeVentadour.jpg
Bernard de Ventadour, a well-known troubador

In the 12th century, traveling noblemen and musicians called troubadours began traveling southern France. Inspired by the Code of Chivalry, troubadours composed and performed vernacular songs, in contrast to the older tradition dating back to the 10th century of goliards. The tradition seems to have originated in Aquitaine, and troubadours became most prominent in Europe in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. [5] Provence was the region with the most troubadours, but the practice soon spread north and aristocrats like Adam de la Halle became the first trouvères. Contemporaneous with the troubadours, the trouvères, another itinerant class of musicians, used the langue d'oil, while the troubadours used langue d'oc. This period ended abruptly with the Albigensian Crusade, which decimated southern France. [6]

Ars nova and ars subtilior

Two of the major developments in music in the 14th century occurred in France. The first was ars nova, a new, predominantly secular style of music. It began with the publication of the Roman de Fauvel [7] and culminated in the rondeaux, ballades, lais, virelais, motets, and single surviving mass of Guillaume de Machaut, who died in 1377. Philippe de Vitry, also a representative of ars nova, invented an improved system of musical notation and may have been the first composer of the isorhythmic motet.

The other important development was the extremely complex and sophisticated art of secular song which flourished in Avignon at the very end of the 14th century, ars subtilior. Ars subtilior immediately followed ars nova, and as the Latin definition suggests, this style was subtler than the earlier works. Ars subtilior was also even more complex, making it difficult to sing and most popular among music specialists.

French-language music

The earliest known French-language song is Le Carillon de Vendôme, dating from the early 15th century.[ citation needed ]

Renaissance music

The move of the center of musical activity from Paris to Burgundy defines the beginning of the musical Renaissance in France. The political instability under weak kings and continued dismemberment and acquisition of territory by the English during the Hundred Years' War all contributed to moving musicians east.

French musical domination of Europe ended during the Renaissance, and Flemish and Italian musicians became more important. Later French composers of the Renaissance include Antoine Brumel, Nicolas Gombert, Pierre de La Rue, Pierre de Manchicourt, Claude Goudimel, Pierre Certon, Jean Mouton, Claudin de Sermisy, Guillaume Bouzignac, Eustache du Caurroy and Clément Janequin. The French chanson became popular during this time, and was exported to Italy as the canzona.


The motet was known from the Medieval era, but after about 1463, it evolved into an utterly distinct form. The cascading, passing chords created by the interplay between multiple voices and the absence of a strong or obvious beat are the features that distinguish the medieval vocal styles from those of the Renaissance. Instead, the Renaissance motet was a short polyphonic musical setting in imitative counterpoint, for chorus, of a religious text not specifically connected to the liturgy of a given day, and therefore suitable for use in any service. The cantus firmus was extended during the Renaissance period, making the motet suitable for use in a larger variety of services. [4] The texts of antiphons were frequently used as motet texts. This is the sort of composition that is most familiarly called by the name of "motet," and the Renaissance period marked the flowering of the form.


The chanson encompasses a wide array of forms and styles of secular song, through a period of almost three hundred years. The first important composer of chansons was Guillaume de Machaut, with later figures in the genre including Johannes Ockeghem and Josquin des Prez. Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois wrote so-called Burgundian chansons, which were somewhat simpler in style, while Claudin de Sermisy and Clément Janequin were composers of so-called Parisian chansons which abandoned the formes fixes (as Josquin had also done) and were in a simpler, more homophonic style (many of these Parisian works were published by Pierre Attaingnant). Later composers, such as Orlando de Lassus, were influenced by the Italian madrigal.

Burgundian School

Composers who worked at the courts of the Dukes of Burgundy are known collectively as the Burgundian School; some of the principal names associated with this school are Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Hayne van Ghizeghem and Antoine Busnois. They wrote vernacular secular music in a clear, simple, melodic style, principally rondeaux, but also Latin sacred music, such as motets and cantus firmus masses.

Baroque music

"Les Cinq Sens: L'Ouie", an etching by Abraham Bosse, c. 1638 Musiciens du Baroque.jpg
"Les Cinq Sens: L'Ouïe", an etching by Abraham Bosse, c. 1638

With the arrival of Calvinism, music was relatively simple, at least in the parts of France subject to Calvinist influence. In strictly Calvinist areas, the only musical expression allowed was singing of French translations of the Psalms, for instance those written by Goudimel (who was killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572). Starting with the 17th century, Italian and German opera was the most influential form of music, though French opera composers like Balthasar de Beaujoyeaux, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Henri Desmarest, Marin Marais, Jean Philippe Rameau and Jean Baptiste Lully made a distinctive national style characterized by dance rhythms, spoken dialogue and a lack of Italian recitative arias.

The Baroque period saw a flourishing of harpsichord music. Influential composers included Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Louis Couperin, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, François Couperin. Jean Philippe Rameau, a prominent opera composer, wrote an influential treatise on musical theory, especially in the subject of harmony; he also introduced the clarinet into his orchestras.

The Baroque period saw also a flourishing of "Grand Motet and Petit Motet" music. Influential composers included, Henri Dumont, Jean Gilles, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Henri Desmarest, Michel Richard Delalande, André Campra, and Jean-Joseph de Mondonville.

Air de cour

In the late Renaissance and early Baroque period, approximately from 1570 to 1650 and peaking from 1610 and 1635, a type of popular secular vocal music called air de cour spread throughout France. Though airs de cour originally used only one voice with lute accompaniment, [8] they grew to incorporate four to five voices by the end of the 16th century. Halfway through the 17th century, they switched back again to a single voice.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Medieval music</span> Western music created during the Middle Ages

Medieval music encompasses the sacred and secular music of Western Europe during the Middle Ages, from approximately the 6th to 15th centuries. It is the first and longest major era of Western classical music and followed by the Renaissance music; the two eras comprise what musicologists generally term as early music, preceding the common practice period. Following the traditional division of the Middle Ages, medieval music can be divided into Early (500–1150), High (1000–1300), and Late (1300–1400) medieval music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Motet</span> Vocal musical composition in Western classical music

In Western classical music, a motet is mainly a vocal musical composition, of highly diverse form and style, from high medieval music to the present. The motet was one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music. According to Margaret Bent, "a piece of music in several parts with words" is as precise a definition of the motet as will serve from the 13th to the late 16th century and beyond. The late 13th-century theorist Johannes de Grocheo believed that the motet was "not to be celebrated in the presence of common people, because they do not notice its subtlety, nor are they delighted in hearing it, but in the presence of the educated and of those who are seeking out subtleties in the arts".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Renaissance music</span> Western musical period between the 15th and 17th centuries

Renaissance music is traditionally understood to cover European music of the 15th and 16th centuries, later than the Renaissance era as it is understood in other disciplines. Rather than starting from the early 14th-century ars nova, the Trecento music was treated by musicology as a coda to Medieval music and the new era dated from the rise of triadic harmony and the spread of the ' contenance angloise ' style from Britain to the Burgundian School. A convenient watershed for its end is the adoption of basso continuo at the beginning of the Baroque period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guillaume de Machaut</span> Medieval French composer and poet (c. 1300–1377)

Guillaume de Machaut was a French composer and poet who was the central figure of the ars nova style in late medieval music. His dominance of the genre is such that modern musicologists use his death to separate the ars nova from the subsequent ars subtilior movement. Regarded as the most significant French composer and poet of the 14th century, he is often seen as the century's leading European composer.

Monophony Musical texture

In music, monophony is the simplest of musical textures, consisting of a melody, typically sung by a single singer or played by a single instrument player without accompanying harmony or chords. Many folk songs and traditional songs are monophonic. A melody is also considered to be monophonic if a group of singers sings the same melody together at the unison or with the same melody notes duplicated at the octave. If an entire melody is played by two or more instruments or sung by a choir with a fixed interval, such as a perfect fifth, it is also said to be monophony. The musical texture of a song or musical piece is determined by assessing whether varying components are used, such as an accompaniment part or polyphonic melody lines.

Pérotin was a composer associated with the Notre Dame school of polyphony in Paris and the broader ars antiqua musical style of high medieval music. He is credited with developing the polyphonic practices of his predecessor, Léonin, with the introduction of three and four-part harmonies.

Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion, or a combination of both of these techniques may be employed. As no real independent second voice exists, this is a form of heterophony. In its earliest stages, organum involved two musical voices: a Gregorian chant melody, and the same melody transposed by a consonant interval, usually a perfect fifth or fourth. In these cases the composition often began and ended on a unison, the added voice keeping to the initial tone until the first part has reached a fifth or fourth, from where both voices proceeded in parallel harmony, with the reverse process at the end. Organum was originally improvised; while one singer performed a notated melody, another singer—singing "by ear"—provided the unnotated second melody. Over time, composers began to write added parts that were not just simple transpositions, thus creating true polyphony.

A chanson is generally any lyric-driven French song, though it most often refers to the secular polyphonic French songs of late medieval and Renaissance music. The genre had origins in the monophonic songs of troubadours and trouvères, though the only polyphonic precedents were 16 works by Adam de la Halle and one by Jehan de Lescurel. Not until the ars nova composer Guillaume de Machaut did any composer write a significant number of polyphonic chansons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adam de la Halle</span> French trouvère (1245–50 – 1285–88/after 1306)

Adam de la Halle was a French poet-composer trouvère. Among the few medieval composers to write both monophonic and polyphonic music, in this respect he has been considered both a conservative and progressive composer, resulting in a complex legacy: he cultivated admired representatives of older trouvère genres, but also experimented with newer dramatic works. Adam represented the final generation of the trouvère tradition and "has long been regarded as one of the most important musical and literary figures of thirteenth-century Europe".

<i>Ars antiqua</i> Musical style of the High Middle Ages

Ars antiqua, also called ars veterum or ars vetus, is a term used by modern scholars to refer to the Medieval music of Europe during the High Middle Ages, between approximately 1170 and 1310. This covers the period of the Notre-Dame school of polyphony, and the subsequent years which saw the early development of the motet, a highly varied choral musical composition. Usually the term ars antiqua is restricted to sacred (church) or polyphonic music, excluding the secular (non-religious) monophonic songs of the troubadours, and trouvères. Although colloquially the term ars antiqua is used more loosely to mean all European music of the 13th century, and from slightly before.

<i>Ars nova</i> Musical style of the Late Middle Ages

Ars nova refers to a musical style which flourished in the Kingdom of France and its surroundings during the Late Middle Ages. More particularly, it refers to the period between the preparation of the Roman de Fauvel (1310s) and the death of composer Guillaume de Machaut in 1377. The term is sometimes used more generally to refer to all European polyphonic music of the fourteenth century. For instance, the term "Italian ars nova" is sometimes used to denote the music of Francesco Landini and his compatriots, although Trecento music is the more common term for the contemporary 14th-century music in Italy. The "ars" in "ars nova" can be read as "technique", or "style". The term was first used in two musical treatises, titled Ars novae musicae by Johannes de Muris, and a collection of writings attributed to Philippe de Vitry often simply called "Ars nova" today. Musicologist Johannes Wolf first applied to the term as description of an entire era in 1904.

<i>Ars subtilior</i> Musical style of the late middle ages

Ars subtilior is a musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity, centered on Paris, Avignon in southern France, and also in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century. The style also is found in the French Cypriot repertory. Often the term is used in contrast with ars nova, which applies to the musical style of the preceding period from about 1310 to about 1370; though some scholars prefer to consider ars subtilior a subcategory of the earlier style. Primary sources for ars subtilior are the Chantilly Codex, the Modena Codex, and the Turin Manuscript.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burgundian School</span>

The Burgundian School was a group of composers active in the 15th century in what is now northern and eastern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, centered on the court of the Dukes of Burgundy. The school inaugurated the music of Burgundy.

The Notre-Dame school or the Notre-Dame school of polyphony refers to the group of composers working at or near the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris from about 1160 to 1250, along with the music they produced.

Franco of Cologne was a German music theorist and possibly a composer. He was one of the most influential theorists of the Late Middle Ages, and was the first to propose an idea which was to transform musical notation permanently: that the duration of any note should be determined by its appearance on the page, and not from context alone. The result was Franconian notation, described most famously in his Ars cantus mensurabilis.

Solage, possibly Jean So(u)lage, was a French composer, and probably also a poet. He composed the most pieces in the Chantilly Codex, the principal source of music of the ars subtilior, the manneristic compositional school centered on Avignon at the end of the century.

Johannes Cesaris was a French composer of the late Medieval era and early Renaissance. He was one of the composers of the transitional style between the two epochs, and was active at the Burgundian court in the early 15th century.

Non-religious secular music and sacred music were the two main genres of Western music during the Middle Ages and Renaissance era. The oldest written examples of secular music are songs with Latin lyrics. However, many secular songs were sung in the vernacular language, unlike the sacred songs that followed the Latin language of the Church. These earliest types were known as the chanson de geste and were popular amongst the traveling jongleurs and minstrels of the time.

The Saint Martial School was a medieval school of music composition centered in the Abbey of Saint Martial, Limoges, France. Most active from the 9th to 12th centuries, some scholars describe its practices, music, and manuscripts as 'Aquitanian'. It is known for the composition of tropes, sequences, and early organum. In this respect, it was an important precursor to the Notre Dame School. Adémar de Chabannes and his nephew Roger de Chabannes were important proponents of this school.

Chantilly Codex

The Chantilly Codex is a manuscript of medieval music containing pieces from the style known as the Ars subtilior. It is held in the museum at the Château de Chantilly in Chantilly, Oise.


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