Life Summary

Adam de la Halle is often referred to as the greatest of the long succession of post Medieval musicians.  He was a poet, musician and innovator of the earliest French theater. He became famous for his use of polyphony and his theatrical productions. Adam originally trained for the clergy (the people of the church). Marriage interfered with his musical career; but with the help of some noble benefactors he was able to pursue  musical studies at the University of Paris. The remainder of his life was spent in service of noble patrons.

His Music

Adam de la Halle was of French origins. All of his lyrics were written in French. Much of his early music was monophonic which shortly after became homophonic and then transformed into polyphonic. Much of his polyphonic work was set for 3 voices or instruments. If a piece of music is monophonic, then  it has only a melody line and no harmony. Much of the medieval music was monophonic. If the music is homophonic then there is only one melody line, but it may be played by two or more instruments.  Many of the songs that were originally monophonic were easily transformed into homophonic by add extra voices or instruments. Polyphonic is the type of music we hear today. Polyphonic is when there is a melody line accompanied by harmony.  A considerable amount of Adam de la Halle’s polyphonic work was designed for plays. One of Adam’s manuscripts contains the oldest known existence of the sharp sign. In 1872 his music was officially published.

Ars Antiqua Time Period

Ars Antiqua is Medieval Latin for “ancient art”. Ars Antiqua was the period of musical activity in 13th century France. The music was characterized by the increasing sophistication of counterpoint (the art of combining simultaneous voice parts). Modern music historians classify the whole 13th century as Ars Antiqua where as older historians classified only the later half of the 13th century as Ars Antiqua. This was the time period when music started to become more formal. In this time period, musical plays were just becoming popular and in 1283 one of the first operas was performed.

Most of the music of the Ars Antiqua time period is anonymous. Two important figures stand out among the anonymity. Pérotin, who became famous in the late 12th century, composed the earliest known music for four voices. Franco of Cologne, who flourished in the middle of the 13th century, was a theorist who organized a new, more precise system of rhythmic notation, the direct ancestor of modern notation.

The most important style of music to originate in the Ars Antiqua is the motet, which retained its popularity for centuries. The essence of this style of music is the simultaneous presentation of more than one text. It originated with the addition of a new text to the upper voices of a sacred polyphonic composition. The lower, slower moving voices retained the original text.

Ars Antiqua was the time period when music as we know it was just beginning. Composers were considered innovators because they invented a great deal of what is used in modern music (for example harmony and modern notation).  The music we listen to today is comprised of everything these composers created. Without this great musical minds, music today would be significantly different.

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