Ars nova

Ars nova

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Ars nova refers to a musical style which flourished in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and the Burgundian Low Countries
Burgundian Netherlands
In the history of the Low Countries, the Burgundian Netherlands refers to a number of Imperial and French fiefs ruled in personal union by the House of Valois-Burgundy and their Habsburg heirs in the period from 1384 to 1482...

 in the Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

: more particularly, in the period between the preparation of the Roman de Fauvel
Roman de Fauvel
The Roman de Fauvel, translated as The Story of the Fawn-Colored Beast, is a 14th century French poem accredited to French royal clerk Gervais du Bus, though probably best known for its musical arrangement by Philippe de Vitry in the Ars Nova style...

(1310 – 1314) and the death of the composer Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available....

 in 1377 (whose poems were a large inspiration for Johannes Ciconia
Johannes Ciconia
Johannes Ciconia was a late medieval composer and music theorist who worked most of his adult life in Italy, particularly in the service of the Papal Chapels and at the cathedral of Padua....

) . Sometimes the term is used more generally to refer to all European polyphonic
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 music of the 14th century, thereby including such figures as Francesco Landini
Francesco Landini
Francesco degli Organi, Francesco il Cieco, or Francesco da Firenze, called by later generations Francesco Landini or Landino was an Italian composer, organist, singer, poet and instrument maker...

, who was working in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. Occasionally the term "Italian ars nova" is used to denote the music of Landini and his compatriots (see Music of the Trecento
Music of the trecento
The Trecento was a period of vigorous activity in Italy in the arts, including painting, architecture, literature, and music. The music of the Trecento paralleled the achievements in the other arts in many ways, for example, in pioneering new forms of expression, especially in secular song in the...

 for the concurrent musical movement in Italy). In ancient and medieval Latin the term ars nova does not mean "new art", but rather "new technique", and was first used in two contemporaneous manuscripts, titled Ars novae musicae (New Technique of Music) (c. 1320) by Johannes de Muris, and Ars nova notandi (A New Technique of Writing [Music]) attributed to Philippe de Vitry
Philippe de Vitry
Philippe de Vitry was a French composer, music theorist and poet. He was an accomplished, innovative, and influential composer, and may also have been the author of the Ars Nova treatise...

 (c. 1322). However, the term was only first used to describe an historical era by Johannes Wolf in 1904.

Ars nova is generally used in conjunction with another term, ars antiqua
Ars antiqua
Ars antiqua, also called ars veterum or ars vetus, refers to the music of Europe of the late Middle Ages between approximately 1170 and 1310, covering the period of the Notre Dame school of polyphony and the subsequent years which saw the early development of the motet...

, which refers to the music of the immediately preceding age, usually extending back to take in the period of Notre Dame
Notre Dame school
The group of composers working at or near the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris from about 1160 to 1250, along with the music they produced, is referred to as the Notre Dame school, or the Notre Dame School of Polyphony....

In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 (therefore covering the period from about 1170 to 1320). Roughly, then, the ars antiqua is the music of the thirteenth century, and the ars nova the music of the fourteenth; many music histories use the terms in this more general sense.

Controversial in the Roman Catholic Church, the music was starkly rejected by Pope John XXII, but embraced by Pope Clement VI. The monophonic chant, already harmonized with simple organum
Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion , or a combination of...

, was becoming altered, fragmented, and hidden beneath secular tunes. The lyrics of love poems might be sung above sacred texts, or the sacred text might be placed within a familiar secular melody. It was not merely polyphony that offended the medieval ears, but the notion of secular music merging with the sacred and making its way into the liturgy.

Ars nova versus Ars antiqua

Stylistically, the music of the ars nova differed from the preceding era in several ways. Developments in notation allowed notes to be written with greater independence of rhythm, shunning the straitjacket of the rhythmic mode
Rhythmic mode
In medieval music, the rhythmic modes were set patterns of long and short durations . The value of each note is not determined by the form of the written note , but rather by its position within a group of notes written as a single figure called a "ligature", and by the position of the ligature...

s, which prevailed in the thirteenth century; secular music acquired much of the polyphonic sophistication previously found only in sacred music; and new techniques and forms, such as isorhythm
Isorhythm is a musical technique that arranges a fixed pattern of pitches with a repeating rhythmic pattern.-Detail:...

 and the isorhythmic motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

, became prevalent. The overall aesthetic effect of these changes was to create music of greater expressiveness and variety than had been the case in the thirteenth century. Indeed the sudden historical change which occurred, with its startling new degree of musical expressiveness, can be likened to the introduction of perspective
Perspective (graphical)
Perspective in the graphic arts, such as drawing, is an approximate representation, on a flat surface , of an image as it is seen by the eye...

 in painting, and it is useful to consider that the changes to the musical art in the period of the ars nova were contemporary with the great early Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 revolutions in painting and literature.

The greatest practitioner of the new musical style was undoubtedly Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut
Guillaume de Machaut was a Medieval French poet and composer. He is one of the earliest composers on whom significant biographical information is available....

, who also had an equally distinguished career as a canon at Reims Cathedral and as a poet. The ars nova style is nowhere more perfectly displayed than in his considerable body of motets, lai
A lai is a lyrical, narrative poem written in octosyllabic couplets that often deals with tales of adventure and romance.Lais were mainly composed in France and Germany, during the 13th and 14th centuries. A Provençal term for a similar kind of poem is descort.The English term lay is a...

s, virelai
A virelai is a form of medieval French verse used often in poetry and music. It is one of the three formes fixes and was one of the most common verse forms set to music in Europe from the late thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.A virelai is similar to a rondeau...

s, rondeaux
Rondeau (music)
The rondeau was a Medieval and early Renaissance musical form, based on the contemporary popular poetic rondeau form. It is distinct from the 18th century rondo, though the terms are likely related...

, and ballade
The ballade is a form of French poetry. It was one of the three formes fixes and one of the verse forms in France most commonly set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries....


Towards the end of the fourteenth century a new stylistic school of composers and poets centered on Avignon
Avignon is a French commune in southeastern France in the départment of the Vaucluse bordered by the left bank of the Rhône river. Of the 94,787 inhabitants of the city on 1 January 2010, 12 000 live in the ancient town centre surrounded by its medieval ramparts.Often referred to as the...

 in southern France developed; the highly mannered style of this period is often called the ars subtilior
Ars subtilior
Ars subtilior is a musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity, centered around Paris, Avignon in southern France, also in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century. The style also is found in the French Cypriot repertory...

, though some scholars choose to consider it a late development of the ars nova rather than breaking it out as a separate school. This strange but interesting repertory of music, limited in geographical distribution (southern France, Aragon
Aragon is a modern autonomous community in Spain, coextensive with the medieval Kingdom of Aragon. Located in northeastern Spain, the Aragonese autonomous community comprises three provinces : Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel. Its capital is Zaragoza...

 and later Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

), and clearly intended for performance by specialists for an audience of connoisseurs, is like an endnote to the entire Middle Ages.



  • Chants du xivème siècle. Mora Vocis Ensemble. France: Mandala, 1999. CD recording MAN 4946.
  • Denkmäler alter Musik aus dem Codex Reina (14./15. Jh.). Syntagma Musicum (Kees Otten, dir.). Das Alte Werk. [N.p.]: Telefunken, 1979. LP recording 6.42357.
  • Domna. Esther Lamandier, voice, harp, and portative organ. Paris: Alienor, 1987. CD recording AL 1019.
  • La fontaine amoureuse: Poetry and Music of Guillaume de Machaut. Music for a While, with Tom Klunis, narrator. Berkeley: 1750 Arch Records, 1977. LP recording 1773.
  • Guillaume de Machaut. Je, Guillaumes Dessus Nommez. Ensemble Gilles Binchois (Dominique Vellard, dir.). [N.p.]: Cantus, 2003. CD recording 9804.
  • Guillaume de Machaut. La Messe de Nostre Dame und Motetten. James Bowman, Tom Sutcliffe, countertenors; Capella Antiqua München (Konrad Ruhland, dir.). Das Alte Werk. Hamburg: Telefunken, 1970. LP recording 6.41125 AS.
  • Guillaume de Machaut. La messe de Nostre Dame; Le voir dit. Oxford Camerata (Jeremy Summerly, dir.). Hong Kong: Naxos, 2004. CD recording 8553833.
  • Guillaume de Machaut. Messe de Notre Dame. Ensemble Organum
    Ensemble Organum
    Ensemble Organum is a group performing early music, co-founded in 1982 by Marcel Pérès and is based in France. Its members have changed, but have included at one time or another, Josep Cabré, Josep Benet, Gérard Lesne, Antoine Sicot, Malcolm Bothwell...

     (Marcel Pérès
    Marcel Pérès
    Marcel Pérès is a French musicologist, composer, choral director and singer, and the founder of the early music group Ensemble Organum. He is an authority on Gregorian and pre-Gregorian chant....

    , dir.). Arles: Harmonia Mundi, 1997. CD recording 901590.
  • Guillaume de Machaut. Messe de Notre Dame; Le lai de la fonteinne; Ma fin est mon commencement. Hilliard Ensemble
    Hilliard Ensemble
    The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music. Founded in 1974, the group is named after the Elizabethan miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard....

     (Paul Hillier
    Paul Hillier
    Paul Douglas Hillier is a conductor, music director and baritone. He specializes in early music and contemporary art music, especially that by composers Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford and the Guildhall School of Music, beginning his professional career while a...

    , dir.). London: Hyperion, 1989.
  • Guillaume de Machaut. Motets. Hilliard Ensemble
    Hilliard Ensemble
    The Hilliard Ensemble is a British male vocal quartet originally devoted to the performance of early music. Founded in 1974, the group is named after the Elizabethan miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard....

    . Munich: ECM Records, 2004.
  • Philippe De Vitry and the Ars Nova—Motets. Orlando Consort. Wotton-Under-Edge, Glos., England: Amon Ra, 1990. CD recording CD-SAR 49.
  • Philippe de Vitry. Motets & Chansons. Sequentia
    Sequentia (music group)
    Sequentia is an early music ensemble, founded in 1977 by Benjamin Bagby and the late Barbara Thornton . The group specializes mainly in Medieval music. Sequentia focuses particularly on music with texts, specifically chants and other stories with music, such as the Icelandic Edda...

     (Benjamin Bagby
    Benjamin Bagby
    Benjamin Bagby is a singer, composer, harpist, and groundbreaking performer of medieval music. Educated at Oberlin College and the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Bagby founded the ensemble Sequentia with Barbara Thornton in 1977...

     and Barbara Thornton, dir.) Freiburg: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1991. CD recording 77095-2-RC.
  • Roman de Fauvel. Jean Bollery (speaker), Studio der Frühen Musik (Thomas Binkley, dir.). Reflexe: Stationen europäischer Musik. Cologne: EMI, 1972. LP recording 1C 063-30 103.
  • Le roman de Fauvel. Anne Azéma (soprano, narration), Dominique Visse (countertenor, narration), Boston Camerata and Ensemble Project Ars Nova (Joel Cohen, dir.). France: Erato, 1995. CD recording 4509-96392-2.
  • The Service of Venus and Mars: Music for the Knights of the Garter, 1340–1440. Gothic Voices
    Gothic Voices
    Gothic Voices is a United Kingdom based vocal ensemble specialising in repertoire from the 11th to the 15th century. The group was formed in 1981 by scholar and musician Christopher Page....

     (Christopher Page
    Christopher Page
    Christopher Page is an expert on medieval music, instruments and performance practice. He has written seven books regarding medieval music...

    , dir.). London: Hyperion, 1987. CD recording CDA 66238.
  • The Spirit of England and France I: Music of the Late Middle Ages for Court and Church. Gothic Voices (Christopher Page, dir.). London: Hyperion Records, 1994. CD recording CDA66739.
  • The Study of Love: French Songs and Motets of the 14th Century. Gothic Voices (Christopher Page, dir.). London: Hyperion Records, 1992. CD recording CDA66619.
  • Zodiac, Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior in the Low Countries and Europe, Capilla Flamenca
    Capilla Flamenca
    Capilla Flamenca is a vocal and instrumental early music consort based in Leuven, Belgium. The group specialises in 14th to 16th Century music from Flanders and takes its name from the choir of the court chapel of Emperor Charles V...

    , 2004 (Eufoda 1360)