Medieval Songs

What Songs Were Popular During Medieval Period?

Welcome to a journey through time as we explore the enchanting world of medieval songs. The era of knights and castles was also a period of rich musical expression, and the melodies created then continue to inspire and captivate us even today. We will take a closer look at the origins of medieval songs, their themes and lyrics, and the instruments used to create them. We will also examine the cultural significance of these songs and their impact on modern music. Join us as we unravel the mysteries of the medieval era’s musical landscape.

Key Takeaways:

  • Medieval songs were an integral part of the cultural expression of the Middle Ages.
  • Themes of chivalry, love, and heroic quests were central to the lyrics of these songs.
  • The lute, drum, and other instruments were used to create the melodies of medieval songs.
  • Medieval songs have had a lasting impact on music throughout history.
  • Talented troubadours, trouveres, and minstrels composed and performed these melodies during the Middle Ages.

The Origins of Medieval Songs

Medieval songs have a rich and fascinating history that can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. These songs were an integral part of medieval culture, serving as a means of entertainment, education, and cultural expression. They provided a window into the values and beliefs of the time, showcasing the romantic tales of chivalry, the enchantment of castles, and the courageous adventures of knights.

The Early Roots of Medieval Songs

The origins of medieval songs can be traced back to the ancient world, where music played an important role in religious and cultural ceremonies. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, music became an essential element of Christian worship, taking on a more sacred and spiritual tone. Gregorian chant, a form of plainchant music, was one of the earliest forms of medieval music, serving as the primary music of the Catholic Church.

The Evolution of Medieval Songs

As the Middle Ages progressed, medieval music evolved in both style and content. It began to incorporate elements of popular secular music, which were often sung by minstrels and troubadours in the courts of kings and nobles. These secular songs, known as chansons, were typically written in French and featured themes of courtly love and chivalry.

Another significant influence on medieval music was the Crusades. These holy wars inspired a new genre of song, known as the Crusade song, which celebrated the heroic deeds of knights who fought in these campaigns. These songs often featured religious themes and were intended to inspire courage and devotion.

The Instruments Used in Medieval Songs

Medieval music was typically performed using a variety of instruments, including the lute, harp, hurdy-gurdy, and percussion instruments like drums and tambourines. The lute was one of the most popular instruments of the time and was often used to provide accompaniment to the human voice. The harp was also a popular instrument and was often used in conjunction with the lute to create a more complex sound.

The Legacy of Medieval Songs

Medieval songs have left an indelible mark on the history of music and continue to influence contemporary artists today. Their themes of love, heroism, and adventure are timeless and continue to captivate audiences around the world. From popular ballads to classical compositions, the influence of medieval music can be heard in a wide range of musical genres.

“Medieval music is the foundation of Western classical music and continues to inspire new generations of musicians today.” – John Haines, Music Historian

Themes and Lyrics of Medieval Songs

The themes and lyrics of medieval songs were a reflection of the cultural values and beliefs of the time. These compositions were often centered around the romantic tales of chivalry, the enchantment of castles, and the courageous adventures of knights. Love, war, religion, and tragedy were also popular themes in medieval songwriting.

The lyrics of these songs were typically sung in the vernacular language of the region, making them accessible to a wide audience. Many of the lyrics were also accompanied by musical notation, allowing for musicians to perform these songs in courts, castles, and taverns.

Songs about Knights

One popular theme in medieval songs was the honor and bravery of knights. These songs showcased the valor and chivalry of these noble warriors, often elevating them to heroic status. The lyrics celebrated the triumphs of knights in battle, their unwavering commitment to their lady loves, and their devotion to their liege lords.

One famous example of a medieval song about knights is “Palästinalied,” which translates to “Song of the Crusades.” This song was written in the 13th century and tells the story of the Crusades from the perspective of a knight.

Songs about Castles

Castles were a central symbol of medieval life, and many songs were written about these imposing fortresses. These songs often romanticized the life of royalty and nobility, depicting castles as places of beauty and wonder.

“Le Châtelain de Coucy,” written in the 13th century, is a famous song about a French castle and its inhabitants. The lyrics describe the castle’s majestic towers, its gardens, and the courtly love story of the lord of the castle and his lady love.

Songs about Medieval Times

Another popular theme in medieval songs was life in the Middle Ages. These songs gave voice to the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the people of the time, often depicting the struggle of the common folk against the injustices of feudal society.

“Robyn Hode,” a ballad from the 15th century, tells the story of a legendary English outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of medieval life, complete with descriptions of Sherwood Forest and the harsh realities of life as a peasant.

Famous Medieval Songs

Many medieval songs have endured through the centuries, inspiring countless artists and performers. “Greensleeves,” a ballad dating back to the 16th century, has been covered by artists ranging from classical musicians to rock bands. Another famous song is “La Rotta,” a lively dance tune popular in medieval Italy.

Medieval songs continue to capture the imaginations of audiences around the world, highlighting the enduring power of these timeless compositions.

Musical Instruments in Medieval Songs

The melodies of medieval songs were often accompanied by a diverse range of musical instruments. These instruments not only added a unique sound to the music but also contributed to the storytelling aspect of the songs.

Stringed Instruments

The lute was a popular instrument during medieval times. Its haunting sound was often associated with romantic and melancholic songs. Other stringed instruments included the vielle, a primitive form of a violin, and the harp, which was often used in religious music.

Wind and Percussion Instruments

The recorder was a commonly used wind instrument, known for its clear and sweet sound. Other popular wind instruments included the shawm, a predecessor to the oboe, and the bagpipe, which was often played by street musicians. Percussion instruments such as the drum, tambourine, and cymbals were also used to create rhythmic accompaniments to the songs.

Comparison of Instruments

Instrument Sound Use
Lute Haunting, melancholic Romantic songs
Vielle High-pitched, nasal Folk music
Harp Resonant, heavenly Religious music
Recorder Clear, sweet Popular songs
Shawm Loud, piercing Outdoor performances
Bagpipe Droning, festive Street music

The use of these instruments varied depending on the type of song being performed. Romantic songs often featured the lute, while folk music was frequently accompanied by the vielle. Religious music often made use of the harp, and outdoor performances relied on the loud and piercing sound of the shawm.

The unique sound of these instruments was integral to the overall experience of medieval songs. They added a layer of depth to the storytelling, immersing listeners in the enchanting world of knights, castles, and romance.

Famous Medieval Songs

The Middle Ages gave birth to countless melodies that have stood the test of time. From tales of courtly love to heroic quests, the themes of medieval songs captivate audiences even to this day. Here are some of the most famous medieval songs:

Song Title Composer Year
Non Avra Ma’ Pieta Francesco Landini 14th century
Fortune My Foe Anonymous 16th century
Greensleeves Unknown 16th century
La Rotta Francesco da Milano 16th century
Miri It Is Anonymous 13th century
Sumer is Icumen In Anonymous 13th century

These compositions have been covered and adapted in modern times, showing that their appeal and influence transcends the centuries. Their melodies still remind us of the nostalgia and romance of medieval times.

Next, we will explore the cultural significance of medieval songs and how they served as a form of entertainment, education, and cultural preservation.

The Role of Medieval Songs in Cultural Expression

Medieval songs played a crucial role in cultural expression during the Middle Ages. They served as a means of entertainment, education, and cultural preservation, offering a window into the values and beliefs of the time.

One of the ways in which medieval songs contributed to cultural expression was by offering a form of entertainment. In an era when there were no modern forms of entertainment like movies or television, songs and music were a valuable source of amusement. Whether performed in castle halls, on the streets, or during religious ceremonies, medieval songs provided a much-needed respite from the daily rigors of life.

Medieval songs were also used as a means of education. Many songs served as mnemonic devices, aiding in the memorization of important historical, religious, and cultural information. For example, songs about knights and chivalry not only provided entertainment but also taught young men about the ideals of honor and bravery. Similarly, songs about religious figures and events helped to spread the teachings of the Church.

Finally, medieval songs served as a form of cultural preservation. Many medieval songs were passed down orally from generation to generation, preserving important historical and cultural information that might otherwise have been lost. In this way, medieval songs played a critical role in maintaining cultural continuity and ensuring that the traditions of the past were not forgotten.

The Power of Music in Medieval Times

“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.” – Robert Fripp

During the Middle Ages, music and song were seen as powerful tools that could have a profound impact on the listener. Many believed that music had the power to heal the sick, calm the troubled mind, and even bring about spiritual enlightenment.

This belief in the power of music is evident in the use of music in religious contexts. In the Catholic Church, for example, music was an integral part of the liturgy, with choral music and plainchant being used to enhance the spiritual experience of the faithful. Likewise, in the Islamic tradition, music played an important role in Sufi chants and in the recitation of the Quran.

Music also played a significant role in secular life. In the courts of kings and nobles, troubadours and minstrels performed songs and music that entertained and delighted their audiences. These performances often included songs about knights, chivalry, and courtly love, themes that were popular among the aristocracy.


Medieval songs are a testament to the power of music as a means of cultural expression. Through their use as a form of entertainment, education, and cultural preservation, these songs played a critical role in shaping the values and beliefs of the Middle Ages. They remain a valuable source of inspiration and insight for musicians and music lovers alike, continuing to captivate audiences with their timeless melodies and enduring messages.

Influence of Medieval Songs on Modern Music

Medieval songs continue to inspire modern music today, with their timeless themes and melodies captivating audiences across genres. From classical compositions to modern adaptations, the influence of medieval songs can be heard in a range of musical styles and forms.

The enduring popularity of songs about knights and castles speaks to the lasting appeal of the medieval era, with many contemporary artists drawing inspiration from the romantic tales of chivalry and adventure. Famous medieval songs such as “Greensleeves” and “Scarborough Fair” have been reinterpreted by countless musicians, highlighting the versatility and adaptability of medieval music.

One notable example of the influence of medieval songs on modern music is the emergence of medieval folk rock in the 1960s and 1970s. Bands such as Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention fused traditional folk melodies with rock instrumentation, creating a new sound that paid homage to the medieval music of the past while also incorporating contemporary elements.

“Medieval music is important for us to understand because it’s the foundation on which all western art music is built, and it’s still alive in the folk traditions of many cultures.”

– Michael Praetorius

The influence of medieval songs extends beyond the realm of popular music, with many classical composers drawing inspiration from the music of the Middle Ages. The works of composers such as Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Igor Stravinsky showcase the ways in which medieval music has informed and inspired contemporary classical compositions.

Medieval Song Modern Adaptation Artist
“Greensleeves” “What Child Is This?” Various
“Scarborough Fair” “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” Simon & Garfunkel
“L’homme Armé” “L’homme Armé: Variations” Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

The preservation and revival of medieval music is also an important aspect of its ongoing influence on modern music. Early music ensembles such as The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen specialize in performing and recording medieval music, ensuring that these ancient melodies continue to be heard and appreciated by new generations.

In conclusion, the enchanting melodies and timeless themes of medieval songs have left an indelible mark on the music of today. From folk rock to classical compositions, the influence of medieval music can be heard in a variety of musical genres and styles, continuing to inspire and captivate audiences around the world.

Notable Composers of Medieval Songs

During the medieval period, troubadours, trouveres, and minstrels were the primary composers and performers of music. These talented individuals brought to life the captivating melodies that have endured for centuries and continue to inspire musicians today.

One of the most celebrated medieval composers is Guillaume de Machaut, who lived in the 14th century. He was a prolific poet and musician, known for his intricate and complex compositions. His works include love songs, religious hymns, and instrumental pieces.

Another renowned composer of medieval music is Hildegard von Bingen, a German abbess who lived in the 12th century. She was a visionary and a mystic who composed a vast collection of sacred music, including antiphons, hymns, and sequences. Her music was characterized by its haunting melodies and ethereal harmonies.

One of the earliest-known composers of medieval music was Guido of Arezzo, an Italian monk who lived in the 10th century. He was a pioneer in the field of music notation and is credited with inventing the staff system, which is still used today. His compositions were primarily religious in nature and included hymns, psalms, and antiphons.

Other notable composers of medieval songs include:

  • Adam de la Halle
  • Bernart de Ventadorn
  • Perotin
  • Leonin
  • John Dunstable
  • Guillaume Dufay
  • Josquin des Prez

These composers and many others left a lasting legacy in the world of music, and their contributions continue to be celebrated and studied by musicians and music scholars alike.

The Preservation and Revival of Medieval Songs

The beauty and historical significance of medieval songs have inspired many to keep them alive and accessible to modern audiences. This section will explore the various methods used to preserve and revive these ancient melodies.

Scholarly Research

Medieval music scholars play a crucial role in the preservation and revival of medieval songs. Through their research, they uncover obscure compositions and manuscripts, decipher lyrics, and analyze the cultural context and musical instruments of the era. This work provides a better understanding of medieval songs and helps to keep them relevant today.

Performance Ensembles

Medieval music performance ensembles offer a unique way to experience medieval songs. These groups specialize in historically informed performances, using period instruments and vocal techniques. They often perform in historic venues, providing an atmosphere that transports audiences to the medieval period.

Modern Adaptations

Medieval songs have been adapted to modern music styles, exposing them to new audiences and keeping them relevant. For example, the medieval-inspired band, Blackmore’s Night, has incorporated medieval instruments and melodies into their music, creating a unique blend of historical and modern sounds.

Online Platforms

The internet has provided a platform for the preservation and dissemination of medieval songs. Online archives, such as the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music and the Early Music Online database, allow easy access to rare manuscripts and compositions. Online performances and tutorials also make medieval music more accessible to modern audiences.

Revival Festivals

Revival festivals celebrate medieval culture, including music, and promote its continued existence. These events often feature performances by medieval music ensembles, as well as workshops on medieval music and instruments. The largest of these festivals is the Festival of Early Music in Utrecht, Netherlands, which has been running since 1982.

Through these various means, medieval songs are preserved and revived for future generations to appreciate. They offer a window into the past and provide a connection to our cultural heritage.


We hope that this journey into the captivating realm of medieval songs has given you a deeper appreciation for the rich musical heritage of the Middle Ages. From the ballads of courtly love to the songs of heroic quests, medieval songs continue to enchant and inspire us today.

Through the themes and lyrics that defined these compositions, we were able to gain insight into the values and beliefs of medieval culture. We also explored the variety of musical instruments that accompanied these songs, and learned about the talented composers who brought them to life.

As we conclude our exploration of medieval songs, we see how they have influenced the development of music throughout history, and continue to inspire contemporary artists. Through preservation and revival efforts, these ancient melodies are kept alive for future generations to appreciate.

Thank you for joining us on this journey. We hope that the stories and melodies of medieval songs will continue to resonate with you for years to come.


What Songs Were Popular During Medieval Period?

Medieval songs covered a wide range of themes, including courtly love, heroic deeds, and religious devotion. Some famous examples include “Sumer Is Icumen In,” “Gaudeamus Igitur,” and “L’Homme Armé.”

What were the origins of medieval songs?

Medieval songs have roots in various musical traditions, including Gregorian chant, troubadour songs, and folk music. These diverse influences shaped the development of medieval music over time.

What were the common themes and lyrics of medieval songs?

Medieval songs often focused on themes of chivalry, courtly love, and religious devotion. The lyrics depicted tales of knights, damsels, and the virtues of honor and bravery.

What musical instruments were used in medieval songs?

Medieval songs were accompanied by a variety of instruments, including the lute, harp, flute, and percussion instruments such as drums and tambourines.

Can you name some famous medieval songs?

Some famous medieval songs include “Greensleeves,” “Ave Maria,” and “Carmina Burana.” These timeless compositions continue to be recognized and appreciated today.

What role did medieval songs play in cultural expression?

Medieval songs served as a form of cultural expression, reflecting the values, beliefs, and entertainment of the time. They provided a way to pass down stories and traditions through music.

How did medieval songs influence modern music?

The melodies and structures of medieval songs have had a lasting impact on music throughout history. Elements of medieval music can be found in classical compositions, folk music, and even contemporary genres such as pop and rock.

Who were some notable composers of medieval songs?

Notable composers of medieval songs include Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut, and Troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn. Their works demonstrated the diverse styles and techniques of medieval music.

How have medieval songs been preserved and revived?

Medieval songs have been preserved through scholarly research, recordings, and performances by dedicated musicians and ensembles. Efforts have been made to revive these ancient melodies and keep them alive for future generations.