- Christopher Page
The broadest definition of the medieval period encompasses all the centuries between ‘antiquity’ and the ‘Renaissance’. The earliest writer to evoke this intermediary phase was Filippo Villani, who observed in a treatise of 1382 that the islands in the Mediterranean had borne different names in ‘ancient, middle and modern times’ (priscis mediis modernisque temporibus; see McLaughlin). Such a division of the past into antiquity, the present and the times in between may seem unremarkable, but the Trecento discernment of ‘middle times’ has shaped Western conceptions of the past for 600 years. The need to acknowledge a comprehensive shift somewhere between 1350 and 1550 that affected the arts, technology and the large political configurations of states and nations has rarely been disputed, but the appropriateness of the terms ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’, with the value judgments they imply, has been contested many times. Music historians now have a complex transaction with them, for the discernment of ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’ phases in the continuous tradition of Western music is a legacy from the 19th century when few compositions from either period had been made available for study. Those interested in the history of music were not then in a position to challenge the views that historians of the Italian visual arts and culture, notably Jakob Burckhardt, had developed so persuasively, especially since Burckhardt and others expounded them with materials that had been fundamental to the experience of educated men and women in Europe since the days of the Grand Tour....