As Europe transitioned from the violence of the Dark Ages into the Middle Ages, music became increasingly important. The earliest music was sung or played in unison, with harmonies gradually introduced over time. Not all of it was religious in nature; the crusades brought in Arab love songs which were popular, and the French Troubadours and minstrels sang of romance and courtly love. These and other influences blended together with existing pagan and religious music traditions to create a rich, beautiful, musical heritage we can still enjoy.
A large entertainment industry grew up around music, for both the wealthy and the poor. Holidays, special celebrations, and festivals were filled with music, which was believed to aid in digestion. It was therefore frequently played at mealtimes and in between courses of food during feasts.
A variety of instruments were played, their varied sounds evoking the proper mood for each occasion. Some we’re still familiar with today like the bagpipe, harp, harpsichord, lute, horn, whistle, bell, drum, and recorder. Others are more obscure, such as the Kortholt, Lizard, Cornamuse, Shawm, and Zink. You can go to this site to see a more extensive list and hear samples of what these instruments actually sounded like.
And since no post on music should remain silent, I’ve included a YouTube video that plays an hour’s worth of authentic musical selections from the early Middle Ages. Hope you enjoy it!