After reading the Oxford History of Western Music I got the understanding that most (i.e. pretty much all) medieval (and even most reneissance) music that was written down didn't include any musical instruments. Or at least that's the impression I got from what Taruskin wrote. This clearly seems to be false as the examples above show. Of course, there was probably a lot of music that was played using instruments during that time but was never written down. So, if you could maybe help get rid of my misunderstanding as to the division between pure song, song plus instruments and instruments only during medieval and reneissance times it would be nice.I gave a brief answer, but I would like to expand it a bit. I don't know if many people sit around puzzling over the history of music, but I, at least, find it fascinating. We often think of music as being primarily vocal music. All our current talent shows are for singers. Isn't this odd? Because at other times when we think about music it is in terms of instrumental music. "Should I sign up my child for violin or piano lessons?"
In terms of music history we mostly have the vague idea that music began with chanting, dancing and pounding away on log drums. Which it probably did. But we do have some examples of Neanderthal bone flutes. Our knowledge of the pre-history of music is very sketchy. We have a few examples of ancient music notation, but they are so vague and hard to interpret that performances are mere guesses. This is even true of the great civilization of the ancient Greeks, who must have had a highly developed music as it was used to accompany their highly developed drama. They also invented music theory, though as the music itself has not been preserved it is no more than a floating abstraction.
So the history of music that we can actually know, that is, as the title of the first volume of the Oxford History of Western Music describes it: "Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century" is little more than a millennium old.
You might have the idea that, as vocal music seems to be the predominant kind, that it was written down before instrumental music. But think of the challenge: how would you write down what singers sing? Wouldn't it be much easier to write down what instrumentalists do, as you can simply create a chart of where their fingers go? Much simpler than trying to figure out how to write down pure sound waves, right? But no, oddly enough, the more difficult challenge was taken up first and the reason has to do with the particular historical details. The writing down of music was the invention of Christian monks who needed to accurately record the way in which the liturgy of the church was sung. The reasons for this were partly political as I talked about in this post:
Chant is the foundation of Western music and why that came to be is rather interesting. Turns out that political considerations were crucial. In the 8th century the pope, Stephen II, had to ask Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, for protection against the Lombards who were threatening Rome. Pepin agreed and this collaboration led in time to an alliance between the Franks, soon to be led by Charlemagne, Pepin's son, and Rome, whose then pope, Leo III, would crown him ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. This led to a happy time, the Carolingian renaissance, and the growth and stabilization of many civilized institutions. A system of education was developed and, in order to enable the standardization and dissemination of the chant of the church, the first practical musical notation was created. What we use today is at the end of a long period of development and improvement of this same notation.At the beginning, what we now call vocal notation, i.e. the notation of music to be sung, was just blobby curvy lines attempting to show the contour of the melody. An absolutely crucial step was to define the notes in some way and the solution was the use of horizontal lines to chart the exact pitch of each note. Here is what that looked like:
The northern Franks practiced the Gallican Rite at the time and this was replaced by Roman liturgical texts and, at first, the melodies used with them. At this time, Christian worship was largely sung--one sang to the Lord, one didn't chat with Him. Suppressing the Gallican rite and replacing it with Roman was easy to do with the text, but harder when it came to the music. In order to teach everyone to sing the same melodies in the same way, a better method had to be found than just teaching by rote, which was the only one available at the time. No-one thought it was sufficiently important to write about at the time, so we don't know exactly where and how it happened, but this was when melodies began to be written down and it was the Franks who started the process.
The second big problem was how to notate rhythm and the solution to that took a few centuries and involved the invention of the barline, meter and tie.
Getting back to instrumental music, it was, for many centuries, simply improvised as it is today in many musical genres. The development of notated, i.e. formalized, instrumental music took place in the mid-15th century and, as Taruskin tells us, was inspired by the careers of two blind Flemish violinists, Charles and Jean, who were virtuosos. Their playing was so compelling that the desire arose to write it down and so was born the genre of notated instrumental music. This story doesn't arrive until p. 536 in the Oxford History, which tells you something about the long span of time before much attention was paid to instrumental music.
The improvisations of those blind violinists were recorded by the theorist Tinctoris in vocal notation, but most of the early instrumental music was written down in tablature, which is still in use today in popular music. Here is an example of German keyboard tablature:
And French lute tablature:
In the lute tablature, you will notice that above the indications as to where the fingers go, are stems indicating rhythmic values. A common failing of tablature is that it shows you where to put your fingers, but not when. For that, the rhythmic notation developed for vocal notation is needed. Here is a modern example of tablature. This is the beginning of Kindhearted Woman Blues by Robert Johnson in a modern transcription:
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Here, the guitar part is shown in vocal notation above and tablature below. The guitarist can read the rhythmic values from the upper part.
The publication of notated instrumental music began in the very early 16th century with volumes of tablature for the lute, renaissance guitar and vihuela. The two basic kinds at first were dances and pieces that imitated the style of vocal music. First, here is a dance piece, La Volta, music for a dance with a lot of leaping about. I can't find the original version for lute, but here is John Williams on guitar:
Francesco da Milano wrote many fantasias for lute that recreate the contrapuntal style of vocal music:
To answer the original question, which was prompted by the fact that I put up several examples of 14th and 15th century chansons and they all had instruments accompanying the singers, this is what I wrote:
There is a slow evolution in instrumental music. In the early days of notated music, say, from 1000 AD to 1200, the only thing written down was a vocal melody. We know that instruments were used from various kinds of evidence: carvings of musicians in cathedrals, pictures in manuscripts and written down accounts and descriptions of musical events. But we see nothing in the notation. A chanson from this time was notated as a single melodic line, just like Gregorian chant. The rhythms were pretty iffy too. So modern performing groups try to recreate how they think the music was performed by using instruments: perhaps a vielle or recorder doubling the melodic line, some bare fifths accompanying on the lute and some percussion. We should all remember that these are just guesses!And that is a nice summary.
Later on, as multi-voice secular music developed, there was the possibility of assigning the main melody to the voice and the others to instruments. This is probably the case with the Machaut and Dufay examples. But a percussion part is still pure speculation. The next development is the development of instrumental notation known as tablature. Instead of showing the pitch of the note, this shows you where to put your finger to obtain that note. There are examples of tablature for both keyboards and lute. By the end of the 16th century we see the development of the modern score, with written out parts for both voices and instruments. An example would be the music to Monteverdi's opera Orfeo.