First Advisor

John Ott

Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Mensural notation, Composition (Music) -- History -- To 1500, Music theory -- History -- 500-1400, Musical notation




The innovative developments in polyphonic compositional techniques between 1280 and 1321 constituted rapid musical progress; the horizons of music's potential had expanded exponentially, and those that followed, through the turn of the century, were eager to continue to push its boundaries. Though many eminent scholars have done much to advance our base of knowledge on late medieval music's developments as well as its historical and cultural context, little has been posited as to why polyphony might have progressed so rapidly at this particular time. Richard Taruskin is adamant that the fourteenth century was "a time of intensive and deliberate technical progress," and for the impetus for this progress, he proposes an established precedent from the previous century, the influence of scholarly culture, cerebral recreation, and a closing of the speculative/practical gap. These are certainly all contributing factors-some of which will be dealt with in this paper-but he goes no further than a single remark. A look at the historiography of two related subjects-music's place in the curriculum of the late-medieval university and the influence of the works of Aristotle and other scholastic trends on the music theory of the time-will set the stage for an inquiry into the conditions under which polyphony made its leaps in the late Middle Ages.


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