Instrumental Music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque Period





Instrumental Music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque Period

In these contemporary times, much attention is directed towards the utilization and development of vocal music. This is illustrated particularly by the different institutions and entertainment programs that have been set up in order to encourage increased talent in respect to vocal music. However, the focus on this form of music is not at fault. Accordingly, the considerable majority of sets or pieces that survived past the 16th century mainly comprised voices as well as instruments. In addition, dances, fares, and an array of instrumental set pieces were exhibited throughout the periods of the Middle Ages towards the Renaissance or the Baroque Period. Nonetheless, since performers engaged in the exhibition of music via recollection or improvisation, a large quantity of this creation did not survive. On the other hand, instrumental music was viewed as functional. Even though this form of music was inculcated in events such as dining or dancing, most people rarely listened to it or played it. As an outcome of this, it was not as admired or supported as vocal music. However, from the onset of the Middle Ages to the culmination of the Baroque period, instrumental music was highly recognized as a staple in the music context.

Uses of Instrumental Music and Effect of Socio-cultural Factors

Use of Instrumental Music in the Middle Ages

Prior to the start of the Middle Ages, instrumental music was not a popular form of entertainment. In the onset of the respective period, this form of music was utilized in the accompaniment of social gatherings such as dinners. Additionally, instrumental music was used for the purpose of entertainment particularly in dances as well as fanfares and a range of instrumental pieces (Grout 271). However, the incursion of religion especially in Western Europe would later add responsibilities to instrumental music. After the fall of the extensive Roman Empire particularly in 5th century AD, the western side of Europe went through a period infamously distinguished as the Dark Ages. The period gained the mentioned reference due to the power and authority that hordes of Huns, Vandals, and Visigoths possessed over majority of the European lands. Due to the conflict between these groups, the respective period was characterized by certain dimensions.

These dimensions comprised the participation in consistent armed struggles, the lack of presence of a Roman Emperor, and the disappearance of urbanized life. Consequently, the novel emergent Christian Church evolved into a dominating factor within Europe over the following nine centuries. The Church was responsible for the administration of justice, the instigation of ‘Holy’ movements against Eastern forces, the establishment of Universities, and dictation of the fate of art, music, and literature. At this time, the Gregorian Chant was first form of instrumental music created by Pope Gregory I (Strohm and Blackburn 77). In contrast to other uses of instrumental music, the Gregorian Chant was used in enhancing services presented at Catholic Churches scattered across Europe. Additionally, the monophonic texture of the chant became a staple of instrumental music within Europe. As such, the use of instrumental music was evident in churches.

Use of Instrumental Music in the Renaissance

In contrast to the Middle Ages, instrumental music was recognized as a distinct form of music during the Renaissance Era. Even though this type of music was used mostly in the church, people began using it from functions that took place outside the confines of Christian religious establishments. Specifically, instrumental music became a popular form of entertainment in the courts. Additionally, the nobility such as kings and their respective princes engaged in the composition of instrumental music for their own entertainment and the benefit of pleasing their guests and followers. Similarly, dukes would also compose their own versions of instrumental music for the sole pleasure of entertainment. Accordingly, a single court could instantly accommodate over sixty composers comprised of instrumentalists and vocalists. A music director was also present for every court that took part in the composition of instrumental pieces in order to allow the direction of the performers within the establishment. Apart from this, instrumental music was also performed in weddings, civic processions, and wedding ceremonies (Parrish 109).

Use of Instrumental Music in the Baroque Age

Instrumental music during the Baroque Period was demanded considerably. Despite the significance of vocal music at the time, instrumental music became a staple in various quarters and establishments within the Baroque society. Churches, nobility courts, municipalities, and opera houses wanted instrumental music for entertainment purposes (Parrish 127). Due to this increase in demand, composers were usually under high pressure to create new music. Additionally, the audiences influenced the pressure that befell most composers during the Baroque period. Since most of them expressed lack of favor with pieces that were based in the old-fashioned design, composers were forced to develop new pieces that were characteristic of the times. As an outcome of this demand and the pressure to develop creative and innovative instrumental pieces, instrumental music evolved into an all-purpose form of entertainment during the Baroque period.

Development of Instrumental Composition

With the escalation in interest for instrumental music, the respective form of music underwent a series of developments from the Middle Ages towards the conclusion of the Baroque period. After 1450, a large quantity of instrumental music was usually written down. This is based on the notion that this type of art was worthy of preservation. Additionally, the composition of instrumental music in a written form exhibited the musical literacy evident among numerous instrumentalists. Based on this new development, it was possible for instrumentalists to compose instrumental forms of vocal music and dance music. As an outcome, instrumental music evolved into a form that was entertaining as well as challenging in comparison to vocal music. The composition of instrumental music in the Middle Ages was defined by dependence on a single line of music as evidenced in the Gregorian Chant’s monophonic texture (Reese 102).

Nevertheless, as time progressed towards the Renaissance era, the composition of instrumental music began incorporating words or vocals. The compositions that were developed at the time sought to establish a deeper emotional feeling to the words used in the respective pieces. As an outcome, word painting evolved into a significant aspect of instrumental composition based on the way it enabled composers to develop or depict a sequence of poetic illustrations. Unlike instrumental music in the Middle Ages, this type of music took part as sentimental music in the Renaissance period. At the time, instrumental music expressed emotion within an equilibrium and without deviating towards extremities of tone color, dynamics, and rhythm. The establishment of a polyphonic texture contributed to the sound that emanated from instrumental music at the time. In opposition to medieval times, the music possesses a complete sound as exhibited by the flow in its rhythm as well as defined beat (Munrow 67).

The development of instrumental composition in the Baroque period was illustrated by the role that opera houses assumed in singing the respective pieces. Even though opera was rife in sentiments, there was considerable deviation in emotion. However, such pieces were still capable of disseminating a single mood over a lengthy period. Despite this, the consistency of the rhythm was responsible for the unity in mood. In addition to this, composers focused on the development of instrumental music by maintaining rhythm throughout a complete set piece in order to drive and ensure the forward motion from becoming uninterrupted. Apart from the rhythm and mood, the development of composition focused on the integration of melody (Parrish 123). Based on this, composers ensured that the dynamics and the melody were continuous despite their deviation from symmetry or balance.


Instrumental music was a staple element of art towards the onset of the Middle Ages. Prior to this, most emphasis was placed on vocal music. However, after the occurrence of the Dark Ages and the subsequent delivery of power to the Catholic Church, instrumental music slowly emerged as an imperative form of music. The first instrumental form of music to be introduced in Europe was the Gregorian Chant, which was developed by Pope Gregory I. The chant was mainly used in order to intensify the services normally present in church. Following this, instrumental music began developing considerably by veering away from the restrictions established by the church. The socio-cultural implications that were evidenced by the need for entertainment especially in the courts, municipalities, and opera houses influenced increased focus on instrumental music as well as its development in between the Middle Ages and the Baroque period.


Works Cited

Grout, Donald J. A History of Western Music. New York: Norton, 2014. Print.

Munrow, David. Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. London: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Parrish, Carl. A Treasury of Early Music: An Anthology of Masterworks of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque Era. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Reese, Gustave. Music in the Middle Ages: With an Introduction on the Music of Ancient Times. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.

Strohm, Reinhard, and Bonnie J. Blackburn. Music As Concept and Practice in the Late Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

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