While my content is usually based around historic food, today’s post will be a little bit different. I have chosen to use my ever-decreasing free time to revisit a subject I used to write about on this blog and to finally complete a project that has been gathering dust for the past few years.
Medieval food is a special interest of mine, but my love of the era is not limited to cuisine! There is a fascinating wealth of music (with surviving lyrics and/or notation) that comes from the hundreds of years that are lumped into the “Middle Ages” and Early Renaissance. That is an enormous span of time in which a wide variety of musical styles evolved and thrived. In those centuries the people of Western Europe (and beyond) enjoyed far more than just religious chanting. There were love ballads, epic war carols, fast-paced dance instrumentals and much more.
Because I’ve found that medieval music resources can be overly academic or seemingly out of reach for the average person, I decided to bring some of these wonderful pieces of music to life using a more accessible medium: Piano sheet music!
About the Project
None of these songs were intended to be played on the piano because it didn’t exist. Most of them contained only one or two melodies without any harmonies and a couple likely didn’t have any musical accompaniment at all. So some creative license was taken out of necessity to adapt these songs to be played on a historically-inaccurate instrument. Still, I tried my best to preserve all of the original notes and capture the spirit of the songs, while also writing notation for intermediate-level pianists.
I am not an expert on early music, nor am I an accomplished composer, but hopefully this will help someone out there discover a new appreciation for medieval music without being limited to only playing Greensleeves.
I have completed 8 songs, but only 4 are available at the moment. I have chosen to keep this entire site ad-free, so although I’d love to just hand them out to all interested readers, I am selling these for a small commission through SheetMusicPlus. Please honor the copyright.
Thank you so much for your support and I hope you enjoy my work!
O Ignee Spiritus by Hildegard von Bingen- 12th century German
This religious chant was sung a cappella and in unison. This one is especially beautiful, in my opinion, because of the use of melisma. Melisma is a style of singing one syllable over multiple notes. Think of the Gloria chorus in the Christmas carol Angels We Have Heard On High. That’s melisma.
If you want to know more about Gregorian and other chants in the Middle Ages, check out one of my earlier articles: Gregorian Chant: A Beginner’s Guide.
Como Poden per sas Culpas by Alfonso X “el Sabio”- 13th Century Spanish
Como Poden is also known as Cantiga 166 from the Cantigas of Santa Maria. There are some 400 cantigas in the collection and all of them are monophonic (single melody). I’ve given this one a purposeful use of “hemiola,” which is a rhythmic switch between 6/8 and 3/4 time. Hemiola rhythms are commonly found in Spanish and Latin music.
Fun fact- I just recently discovered that an arrangement of this song is used in the first Conan the Barbarian movie, which I’ve never seen by the way. So you Conan fans might actually recognize it.
Here is a midi recording:
Wilson’s Wilde by Anonymous- 16th Century English
This Renaissance song was actually written for the lute. The official composer of the melody is unknown, but copies of it can be found in multiple locations including the John Dowland Lute Book (ca 1594-1600).
As a pianist, I like this one a lot. I’ve thrown in a few ornaments (mordents, etc) to sort of mimic the sound of a lute.
Palastinalied by Walther von der Vogelweide – 13th Century German
Walther von der Vogelweide was a very famous German poet and traveling singer/Minnesänger. This particular song- translated as “Song of Palestine”- was written around the time of the Crusades and is sung from the point of view of a crusader seeing Christ’s homeland. There are quite a few modern versions of this song. Some are slow and steady like a march and others are very expressive.
If you’re interested in learning more about minstrels and minnesingers like Walther von der Vogelweide check out Part One of another old medieval music article I wrote.
Douce Dame Jolie – Guillaume de Machaut, French
Agincourt Carol- Folk English
Ecco la Primavera– Francesco Landini- Italian
Ah Robyn Gentyl Robyn- William Cornysh, English
About the Recordings:
For now, we’ll have to make do with some electronic midi recordings. These should at least give you an idea of what the songs sound like.
Allegory of Music, in a manuscript of Echecs amoureux
Robinet Testard – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 143, fol. 65v. Public Domain