Accessibility statement

From Medieval to Renaissance: polyphonic music, 1300 to 1450

  • Module tutor: Dr Nicky Losseff
  • Level: C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)
  • Modules codes: MUS00054H, MUS00071I, MUS00062C

Aims and content

The period from 1300 to 1450 saw the highly complex polyphony of the late Middle Ages give way to the new, simpler styles of the early Renaissance. In this project, we explore the polyphonic music of the 14th and early 15th century, focusing especially on the sacred genres of mass and motet but also covering secular songs. We will examine the social, liturgical and historical contexts in which that music was used. We begin with Machaut and Vitry, move onto the ars subtilior, then look at the music of the English composers Dunstable and Power and finally examine some works by Dufay. The project involves musical analysis, examination of relevant historical documents, singing some of the music being studied, the transcription of mensural notation, participation in discussions and presentations, and some preparation for class seminars. No prior knowledge is assumed, but don’t sign up for this project unless you are prepared to sing!


From clausula to isorhythmic motet: Vitry’s Vos qui admirimini. Secular song: the formes fixes. Mass ordinaries of the 14th century. Machaut’s Mass. The ars subtilior. The Old Hall manuscript. Masses and motets by Power and Dunstable. The  ‘Contenance Angloise’. Early cantus firmus masses. Guillaume Dufay: Ecclesie militantes; Missa Se la face est pale. Black and white mensural notation (tempus perfectum, prolatio major; tempus imperfectum, prolatio major and minor).


Assessment is by four weekly exercises (10% of the project mark each, therefore 40% in total) and by a larger submission (60%) which may be a transcription, a performance, or an essay.

Reading and listening


  • Yudkin, Jeremy. Music in Medieval Europe. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.
  • Wilson, David Fenwick. Music of the Middle Ages: Style and Structure. New York: Schirmer, 1990.
  • Hughes, Andrew. Style and Symbol: Medieval Music, 900-1453. Ottawa: Institute of Mediaeval Music, 1989
  • McKinnon, James, ed. Antiquity and the Middle Ages: From Ancient Greece to the 15th Century. Music and Society. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990
  • Atlas, Allan. Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400-1600. New York: Norton, 1998
  • Strohm, Reinhard. The Rise of European Music, 1380-1500. Cambridge, CUP, 1993
  • Fallows, David. Dufay. London: Dent, 1982
  • Bent, Margaret. Dunstaple. Oxford: OUP, 1981

Essential listening:

  • Anonymous 4, An English Ladymass. CD 1031
  • Anonymous 4, On Yoolis Night. CD 356
  • Ensemble Organum, Messe de Tournai. CD 362
  • Gothic Voices, A Song for Francesca. CD714
  • Gothic Voices, Lancaster and Valois. CD 1027
  • Gothic Voices, The Medieval Romantics. CD 1019
  • Gothic Voices, The Mirror of Narcissus. CD 121
  • Gothic Voices, The Service of Venus and Mars. CD 357
  • Gothic Voices, The Study of Love. CD 1018
  • Hilliard Ensemble, Machaut's Mass. CD355
  • Hilliard Ensemble, Medieval English Music. CD367
  • Sequentia, Philippe de Vitry, 1291-1361. CD 354

There will be a project website nearer the time with direct links to recordings, etc.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the project all students should:

  • have a good aural knowledge of major genres of music between 1300 and 1450 (mass, motet, secular song)
  • have a good general understanding of the development of late medieval and early renaissance polyphony
  • have gained deeper insight into selected topics (as above)
  • have explored current analytical methodologies relevant to late
  • medieval and early renaissance music
  • have developed the ability to conduct some basic research into music of the period
  • be able to transcribe basic mensural notation
  • have had experience of singing music between 1300 and 1450

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A6, A8, A9, A12

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B6, B8, B9, B12

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C6, C8, C9, C12