During the early Middle Ages (c. 800-1450) the Catholic Church was a powerful body. It exercised control over many affairs including music. During this time, the church believed that music elevated liturgical words to a higher level. This was also a time of illiteracy, where only the clergy and a few others learned to read and write. As a result, most of the music notation from this time period has been found in highly decorative manuscripts called illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts were written and decorated by hand in either Gothic or Roman notation. Manuscripts that contained text were sometimes left blank or only the staff lines were drawn where the music was to be added later. The most common color for the staff lines was red, but sometimes black was used. The notes were then written in black ink. The paper on which the music was written was mainly vellum made from animal hide.


Neumes - 10th and 11th century neumes.

Illuminated Manuscript

Manuscript - Two pages from a manuscript book.


Manuscript - A page from a manuscript book.

Illuminated Manuscript

Illuminated manuscript from a Catholic Mass.

Illuminated Manuscript

Decorations - Elaborate decoration was typical of the time in illuminated manuscripts.