In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin and Vernacular Song in Medieval Italy

  • Introduction
  • Dictionaries
  • Bibliographies
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Catalogues and Databases
  • Hymns, Sequences, and Related Forms in Latin
  • Lauda
  • Canzone
  • Other Forms and Contrafacta
  • Italian Trecento

Medieval Studies Latin and Vernacular Song in Medieval Italy
Marco Gozzi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0313


A song is a composition for one or more voices, usually accompanied, and written in a fairly simple style, designed so as to enhance the poetic text it is set to. This bibliography concerns the Western secular and religious song in medieval Italy (ninth to fifteenth centuries). In the case of Latin religious songs (hymns, sequences, conductus, tropes, versus, prosulae, etc.), it is difficult to establish their Italian origin since many melodies and texts sung in the Italian peninsula circulated widely throughout Europe. Furthermore, there is not a clear definition of what territory could be called “Italy” in the Middle Ages. In medieval Italy there is a very strong presence of French and Franco-Flemish music, in langue d’oc (troubadours)—two thirds of surviving Provençal song books were originally written in the northern Italian region of Veneto during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries—and d’oil (trouvères), as well as French forms (chansons: rondeaux, virelai, ballade). This repertory was performed by Italian or French musicians; the extreme mobility of clergy, schoolmasters, and musicians throughout Europe, and thus of songs, is one of the main characteristics of medieval culture. The main song forms in medieval Italy are those of (1) liturgical chant in Latin: hymns and sequences; and (2) songs in the Italian vernacular: canzone, ballata (monodic and polyphonic), caccia, madrigal, lauda, cantare, as well as the performance of extended poems on stereotyped melodic formulas. A key role in the dissemination of religious songs (in Latin and the vernacular) was played by schools and lay confraternities, with a strong involvement of singers of all ages, thus including children. It is necessary to remember that our knowledge of Italian medieval music is based solely on the very few surviving written sources, while the melodies and texts of most Italian medieval songs, transmitted almost exclusively by oral tradition, are now lost. The second necessary remark concerns the relationship between the manuscript transmission of songs with notation and their performance practice. For example, in the performance of both sacred and secular monodic repertoire, it is evident that many songs were performed with the accompaniment of a second, improvised voice, i.e., extempore polyphony. This practice is described in many terms: secundare, succinere, organizare, biscantare, discantare and so on.


Any research in the field of music should start from the lexical and biographical entries of the two main musical dictionaries, in German and English (both available online): major articles in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart—MGG give current and comprehensive overviews. Both dictionaries include significant general articles on topics related to medieval song, including biographical information and lists of compositions for many composers. As far as Italy is concerned, it is possible to consult also the Dizionario enciclopedico universale della musica e dei musicisti (not yet available online). The main entries to be consulted related to Latin and vernacular song in medieval Italy are: Ars Nova, Ballata, Caccia, Canzone, Conductus, Italy, Lauda, Madrigal/Madrigale, Sequence, Song and any entry on the musical history of important Italian centers. The main biographical entries related to Italian medieval composers, poets, and theorists related to Latin and vernacular song are: Andrea da Firenze, Antonello da Caserta, Antonio da Cividale, Antonio da Tempo, Antonius Romanus, Bartolo (Bartholus) da Firenze, Bartolino da Padova, Bartolomeo da Bologna, Bonaiutus Corsini, Casella, Donato da Cascia, Egidio de Francia, Filippo da Caserta, Franchino Gaffurio, Gherardello da Firenze, Gian Toscano, Giovanni da Firenze, Guilielmus de Francia (frate Guiglielmo di Santo Spirito), Jacopo da Bologna, Jacopo da Fogliano, Jacopo Pianellaio, Antonius Janue, Johannes de Quadris, Francesco Landini, Marco Dall’Aquila, Marchetto da Padova, Lorenzo Masini da Firenze, Matteo da Perugia, Giovanni Mazzuoli, Nicolaus Zacharie, Nicolò da Perugia, Nicolò de’ Rossi, Paolo da Firenze, Michele Pesenti, Maestro Piero, Giovanni Quirini, Rosso da Collegrano, Rufino d’Assisi, Franco Sacchetti, Salimbene de Adam (da Parma), Giovanni Spataro, Sordello da Goito, Andrea Stefani, Ugolino da Orvieto, Vincenzo da Rimini, Antonio Zacara da Teramo. For these and other entries related to Italian poets and musicians of the Middle Ages it is useful to consult also the Dizionario biografico degli Italiani (DBI), available online.

  • Basso, Alberto, ed. Dizionario enciclopedico universale della musica e dei musicisti. 16 vols. Turin, Italy: Unione Tipografico Editrice Torinese, 1983–1999.

    The Dizionario is a good starting point in the case of entries written by important Italian and foreign scholars. Yet it is now mostly outdated and the scientific quality of its entries is very variable.

  • Dizionario biografico degli Italiani (DBI).

    (Biographical dictionary of Italians). With its more than forty thousand entries, all freely available online, the DBI contains biographies of important Italian figures from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the present day. The printed form (one hundred volumes): Dizionario biografico degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana), began in 1960 and was completed in 2020 under the direction of Raffaele Romanelli.

  • Finscher, Ludwig, ed. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyclopädie der Musik begründet von Friedrich Blume. 2d ed. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1994–2008.

    The MGG is a general music encyclopaedia; it offers in-depth articles on every aspect of music as well as many related areas. The Personenteil includes medieval musicians, as well as biographical entries on contemporary scholars of medieval music. MGG online is based on this second print edition, with frequent online updates and additions; available by subscription. Sachteil: 9 vols. and Register. Personenteil: 17 vols.

  • Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2d ed. 29 vols. London: Macmillan, 2001.

    It is one of the largest reference works on the history and theory of music. Comprehensive resource for music research with over fifty-two thousand articles written by nearly nine thousand scholars. Articles includes bibliographies, published editions, and guides to manuscript sources. Its online version Grove Music Online, is available by subscription, and it is continuously updated.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.