Music in Late Medieval Bruges

Music in Late Medieval Bruges

Music in Late Medieval Bruges

Music in Late Medieval Bruges


Although the musical achievements of the Franco-Flemish school have attracted many writers, this book is the first to show how the artists and composers of Bruges worked side by side to shape their acoustic and visual environment and to express their fellow citizens' spiritual needs in art. By combining the methods of modern musicology and those of local historiography, Strohm vividly recreates the music of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Flanders in its socio-economic context, from the pageants and minstrelsy of the court to popular entertainments and the earliest public concerts.


This book has been written out of admiration for the Belgian people and their history. It is not a fortunate history: the Belgians have always wanted to live in peace with their neighbours, but always became the victims of aggression from outside and of painful internal conflicts. Their contribution to European civilisation has never been politically rewarded.

The readers of these pages will be aware of the significance of early Netherlandish painting; the musicians among them may know about the musical 'Art of the Netherlanders' of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which is a corner-stone of our Western musical heritage. Our respect for the works of composers such as Dufay, Binchois, Ockeghem, Obrecht and Josquin is, in a sense, only a token recognition. Whilst it is so convenient to speak of a 'Netherlandish' or 'Franco-Flemish' school of composition, little effort has been made to look beyond the achievements of individuals, and to identify the contents of a 'Netherlandish' or 'Flemish' tradition, let alone the actual 'schools' which generated it.

What I hope to offer in the following pages are some results of a conscious attempt to meet the Flemish musicians 'at home', and to reassess the cultural significance of their native environment. Bruges was not only the artistic and commercial centre of Flanders at the end of the Middle Ages, but also one of those urban communities in the Low Countries whose coherent and pervasive organisation obviously demanded the contribution of musicians. the city of Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, in particular, cannot have been a musical backwater. Sooner or later, the music of Bruges will have to be studied in much more detail than can be done here, and similar studies of other great cities in the Low Countries will have to follow, if we want to take the concept of the 'Franco-Flemish' tradition seriously.

I have not found it necessary to express my respect for Flemish music of the fifteenth century by using the keyword 'Renaissance'. It is open to discussion to what extent the term can be stretched without becoming purely decorative -- perhaps that is already the case when it is applied to music at all. Even if one does not want to be so restrictive, the onus of explaining what is 'Renaissance' in music and what not is on those who decide to adopt the term. With regard to the musical life of Bruges, I cannot see a major transformation before the end of the . . .

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