What are some medieval pieces for violin?

Edited: May 13, 2018, 8:00 AM · I've been trying to search some violin sheet music that originates from the medieval ages and I can't find any. The closest i got to wash Hildegard von Bingen and even that was more Christian than medieval. I want to learn a piece that takes you back to the medieval age. Do you know any?

Replies (26)

Edited: May 13, 2018, 8:59 AM · There was no violin yet in the Middle Ages, but a similar instrument from that time is the vielle. Look for vielle music. Also most composed (notated) music from the Middle Ages will be overtly Christian (and vocal), especially liturgical music. No doubt there was secular instrumental music, dances likely being common, but such music was not written down much, if at all.
May 13, 2018, 8:57 AM · there's a few things wrong with this. the violin was a product of the renaissance, not the middle ages. also, music notation was very different back then. any original sheet music you find is going to consist of neumes and not the noteheads you're familiar with, so it will essentially be indecipherable. most music during this time wasn't written down, either. of the music that was written down, it didn't account for everything and they were basically fake books that merely reminded the performer of what to sing, which brings up another point:
most music written during the medieval times was choral, not instrumental. sure, there were instruments, but they usually improvised or doubled choral parts (as far as we know. not much music was written down so it's a guess). and of this choral music, a majority of it came from the church, because the church was the center of learning and therefore they were some of the only people who wrote music down at all.
there's a few more things I could mention, but that's the gist of it. the only violin music from the middle ages you're going to find is:
a). written in modern times and inspired by the middle ages
b). by people like hildegard von bingen and transcribed from choral parts
if you find any instrumental parts that work on violin, it would be
c). (most likely) super duper catholic
d). virtually indecipherable
e). not as fun to play as you would think

May 13, 2018, 9:27 AM · @Anna Cats, your "a)" is what I meant. I know the violin wasn't invented back then that why I asked for music that would have that medieval feeling to it. Also, there had to be someone in this world who took the time to compose music that if sent back in time would fit perfectly with the medieval era. Or someone who recomposed their music with modern day instruments.
Yes the church was powerful. Hildegard von Bingen was herself (what can be easily described as) a "holy woman".
And as for the vocal music, I have a question regarding that: if there was nothing but holy vocal music then what did they dance to in balls??(*???)?
If that isn't possible than could you guys please suggest some music that has a 'lord of the rings" feel to it or anything similar you've heard in a medieval era themed movie?
May 13, 2018, 10:03 AM · as I said a lot of instrumental music back then was improvised, kind of like modern-day jazz, so if you see paintings of people in the middle ages dancing to an instrument, that's what it was. the problem with music that has a medieval feeling to it is that we really don't know for sure what that music actually sounded like. lord of the rings music has an otherworldly vibe but medieval might not be the best descriptor.
what you could do that I think would be interesting is transcribed two vocal lines from the middle ages and play them as double stops on the violin. alternatively, you can find books with lord of the rings music specifically for violin at a music store.
May 13, 2018, 12:00 PM · Is there a particular event at which you are planning to give a "medieval-inspired" performance? Or is this just for your personal enjoyment?

Anna gave you some good suggestions. The music to the Lord of the Rings is beautiful but I don't think there's any intersection between it and actual medieval music.

I remember very little from the required (remedial) "pre-music history" class at Indiana which covered Western music from Gregorian chant up to but not including J.S. Bach. The main thing I remember was how the professor would talk about this composer and his innovations and that composer and his innovations, and then I would go to the listening library and it all sounded exactly the same to me.

May 13, 2018, 12:29 PM · There is considerable overlap of the end of the Medieval period and the start of the Renaissance. So you can find published works of medieval music written in modern notation.

Although it is possible to find scans of ancient music manuscripts, it takes considerable research to learn notations like neumes (used for vocal music like chants) and tablatures (common for lute music). I recommend you restrict yourself to compilations of ancient music published in the 18th Century and later.

I found Medieval vocal works to be the least satisfying when transcribed to the violin. They seem to make heavy use of the complexities of the human voice, and use very little rhythmic or tempo structure.

Lute and flute/recorder music transcribes very well, IMO. Most of the ancient lute music I have discovered covers the end of the Medieval period and so sounds close to modern Western music.

There are compilations of ancient harp music, but transcriptions to the violin can be technically challenging because of the chord structure.

A starting point is the IMSLP website. Do a search for "medieval".

May 13, 2018, 4:39 PM · Lord of the Rings is a highly contemporary film score -- essentially in the style of Romantic music with modern atonality. There are bits that intend to evoke the medieval era, but it's not any more medieval than, say, the score to "Excalibur" (which is Wagner).

I agree that if you're looking for "medieval violin", you should look up music for the vielle. There's some performances on YouTube, and you can probably pick up the tunes by ear.

May 13, 2018, 10:10 PM · In music history, there was a profound change in style from the midaeval to the Rennaisance. Polyphonic music of Leonin, Perotin, Machaut is a culture shock, modern listeners don't get it, you might as well be listening to music from Mars. I suspect that what you would really want to do is Rennaisance era. Check out the multiple you-tube clips made by Jordi Saval, from Spain. A survival of sorts of the Spanish Middle Ages would be the classical ensemble of Morocco. At the end of the period there is the Oxford Press reprint of Playford's Dancing Master, English Country Dances, (~1650).
May 13, 2018, 11:51 PM · In the 1300s there was this popular hit, played with bells and sounds of squeaky cart wheels. The lyrics went "Bring out your dead! CLANG Bring out your dead!"

Apart of that one, there are many documented songs (Cantigas) which were played by the troubadours. It is difficult to say how would they sound, as only the poems are kept, but I always like to think that they would be something like Loreena McKennitt's "The Lady of Shalott". I like that song.

There is a lot documentation of dance music and court music. At least in Al Andalus (Andalucia), with music treaties made by arabs as soon as the 800s. I think that to get as close as possible to medieval music, the main source would be the traditional folk music. Gipsy, flamenco, Coptish, etc.

Edited: May 14, 2018, 4:22 AM · Thank you everyone. Especially for the suggestions that will get me close. :)
May 14, 2018, 5:20 AM · Violetta, if you were to join the long-established folk music forum www.thesession.org (joining is quick, easy and free) you could put your question to its membership. I think there is a possibility that someone there could come up with useful information on the grounds that a lot of instrumental folk music dates back many centuries, perhaps occasionally even pre-Renaissance.
May 14, 2018, 5:26 AM · Look up anything involving Estampie / Estampitta, Saltarello, or La Rotta.

Often there is an authentic melody that can be traced to original medieval sources, but instrumentation and harmony are a case of make-it-up-as-you-go-along (both today and in the medieval period), and the melody that survives is very brief. For instance:


The medieval fiddle was very much a dance instrument, so don't play it like Brahms.

The best people I know at bringing this to life (for us mere mortals to imitate) were the Studio der Freuhen Musick (if I have spelled that correctly) - worth looking up their recordings, they are amazing musicians

May 14, 2018, 5:31 AM · Medieval violin music is still alive and well - search YouTube for "medieval violin".
Edited: May 14, 2018, 12:26 PM · Anthology of Medieval Music. Edited by Richard H. Hoppin. WW Norton Company. C1978
ISBN 0 39302201-1 cloth 0 193 09080 9 - paperback
May 14, 2018, 10:09 AM · For some reason this thread keeps making me think of the tavern music from a game I played as a kid. I used to hang out and just listen to the tunes because they fascinated me so much, and I'd try to play them by ear on my violin.


May 14, 2018, 7:07 PM · Much of that music in games to give the medieval ambience is from the s. XVI, which is not strictly speaking "medieval"... But for that kind I recommend "El cancionero de Medinacelli" I think it's the kind of feeling that the OP is looking for...

Personally I have the project of transposing Gaspar Sanz's works for Barroque Guitar to Violin and Viola... EspaƱoletas is just too beautiful to stay only for guitar!! And it "tastes" as popular medieval music as much as one can imagine!

May 14, 2018, 10:31 PM · Hmm, some of the dances by Tielman Susato come across as evoking the medieval era too, even though I know that's not really what medieval music sounded like. They're usually played on brass today, but I see no reason they couldn't be transcribed ror strings.
May 15, 2018, 8:27 AM · All this medieval talk is making me hungry for a giant turkey leg.
May 15, 2018, 8:37 AM · The tune "La Folia" springs to mind. It has a very pre-baroque sound. I'm not sure anyone truly knows where it came from. Great thing about it is that you can play any arrangements or improvisations you want and you can hardly go wrong. There is a famous set of variations by Corelli -- a subset of which is in Suzuki Book 6. Don't feel bad if you cannot play those variations, as they're serious intermediate level repertoire. But listening to it will give you ideas for what you can do yourself. The tune itself is totally timeless and there is hardly anything more beautiful ever devised by the human brain.

Having a guitar player join you would be extra fun. They can figure out the chords.

Scott your comment reminds me of a favorite New Yorker cartoon. Two cavemen are sitting on either side of a huge pile of bones. One says to the other, "I'm really getting tired of this paleo diet."

May 15, 2018, 10:52 AM · Thank you so much for taking the time and helping me. This was exactly what I wanted. I also searched for vielle music and apparently that instrument can add a medieval touch to anything. ?(-?-)?
May 17, 2018, 3:12 AM · As far as I know, the Agincourt Song is unambiguously medieval, as is Sumer Is Icumen In. Both can be googled.
May 17, 2018, 3:12 AM · As far as I know, the Agincourt Song is unambiguously medieval, as is Sumer Is Icumen In. Both can be googled.
Edited: May 17, 2018, 11:02 AM · Also there are a great many old songs have found their way into the Christmas Carol genre. I have a book of old European carols and the editor claims that many of them are from ca. 1600. I suppose that's not really medieval time but the tunes have that "old" sound to them.

The thing about old songs (especially vocal music) is that they were transferred from one person to another audibly -- not usually by writing them down. But of course there were always monks and other churchmen that had nothing else to do, so they wrote as much as they had paper to write on.

Keyboard music, on the other hand, gets written down. So you might be able to find old music that was composed for organ, and there is a great deal of pre-baroque stuff that was written for the virginals.

May 17, 2018, 12:09 PM · Oh, speaking of Christmas carols, the ones by Michael Praetorius have a certain medieval sound to them -- which isn't surprising, because many of his pieces are chorale settings of even older songs.

Also, now that I think of it... the student drinking song "Gaudeamus igitur" dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest secular songs still sung today.

May 17, 2018, 7:47 PM · Wikipedia is your friend. First go here:
and find some names, then go here:
and find some music.

I suppose the same trick would work with composers from other countries, but I tried England.

A friend and I played what I called pre-music together for a while, and it was a blast. I played English concertina for the violin part, and he ran the bass on cello, then viol, later. Most of what we played was songs, written without measure markings. Purcell or Byrd, maybe.....

May 18, 2018, 5:12 AM · How about the Bear Dance? One version here: https://thesession.org/tunes/10453

Known to be at least 500 years old.

Mediaeval feel, and lovely to improvise around.

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