In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Notre Dame School and the Music of the Magnus liber organi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Editions of Music
  • Bibliographies
  • Manuscript Studies
  • Clerics and Institutions
  • Composition and Performance
  • Historiography and Reception
  • Discography

Medieval Studies The Notre Dame School and the Music of the Magnus liber organi
Mary E. Wolinski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0334


The Notre Dame School encompasses the musicians who created a distinctive style of music for the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris from roughly the mid-twelfth to the mid-thirteenth centuries. The term is apt, for the Cathedral boasted of a school well before the emergence of the university of Paris. While its most prominent scholars were known for theology, the cathedral also trained its own boy choristers. The music of the Notre Dame School consisted of special types of polyphony that exhibit a breadth of conception and rhythmic organization that was unprecedented. Organa are arrangements of chant melodies for more than one voice that were sung during Mass or Divine Offices at Notre Dame. Conducti are musical settings, either polyphonic or monophonic, of Latin poems. Most are devotional, but others have historical and even secular themes. The earliest motets combine short passages of chant in the lowest voice (tenor) with Latin or French poems, sacred or secular, in the upper voices. Clausulae are musically the same as motets, but without any poetry. They occur within organa or collections of clausulae. Unlike organa, which were specifically for the services, conducti and motets were extraliturgical and sung in various venues, including at the feasts of the educated according to the theorist Johannes de Grocheio. The English medieval theorist known as Anonymous IV tells us that Master Leoninus was the best composer of organa and made the great book of organum (magnus liber organi) based on the chant books for the Mass and Divine Offices to enhance those services. This magnus liber organi was in use until the time of Master Perotinus, who made better clausulae. Anonymous IV attributes certain four-part and three-part organa, as well as polyphonic and monophonic conducti, to Perotinus and asserts that the books of Perotinus were in use in the choir of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Anonymous IV also names several other church musicians active in Paris and England. Three manuscripts that preserve the most complete versions of the magnus liber organi are known as W1, W2, and F. Two originated in Paris, while W1 is Scottish, reflecting the wide dissemination of the repertory. Other sources of Notre Dame repertory were copied in the British Isles and the continent, from the Iberian Peninsula to eastern Europe.

General Overviews

General overviews of the music associated with Notre Dame Cathedral in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries are found within historical surveys of medieval music, encyclopedias of music, and textbooks. See the chapters on Notre Dame music in the textbooks Fassler 2014, Hoppin 1978, Wilson 1990, and Yudkin 2017. Roesner 2018 is a clear and thorough description that is the most up to date. The chapter focuses on the background of Notre Dame Cathedral as a musical institution, the magnus liber organi, and the organa and clausulae that were part of the liturgy of the cathedral. For an encyclopedic article see Finscher 1994–2008, which is extensive, with a bibliography that includes the groundbreaking publications of the early twentieth century, many of which are in German. While challenging to read, Finscher 1994–2008 will repay the effort; it emphasizes the manuscript sources and applies the Latin terminology of medieval music treatises to discussions of the polyphonic repertory. The article also describes conducti and motets.

  • Fassler, Margot. Music in the Medieval West. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014.

    See Part III, “Schools and Urban Sounds in the Thirteenth Century” (pp. 143–191) for a description of the cultural context of music in that period. Chapter 8, “Then Truly Was the Time of Singing Come” focuses on monophony in the orbit of the Franciscans, students, clerics, and courtly poet-singers. Chapter 9, “Music and Learning in the Thirteenth Century,” describes the relationship between music and scholasticism, religious women, liturgy, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Accompanied by an anthology of music.

  • Finscher, Ludwig. “Notre Dame und Notre-Dame-Handschriften.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 29 vols. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 462–485. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1994–2008.

    Emphasis on manuscript sources, history, theory, and genres. With musical examples and images of manuscript sources. Extensive bibliography. Available online by subscription.

  • Hoppin, Richard H. Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978.

    Chapter 9, “The School of Notre Dame, I: Organum” (pp. 215–241), introduces the historical background, musical notation, harmony, structure, and rhythm of organa and clausulae. Chapter 10, “The School of Notre Dame, II: Conductus and Motet” (pp. 242–255) concerns the various types of Latin conducti and the creation of Latin motets by troping, or adding, text to pre-existent organa. Accompanied by an anthology of music.

  • Roesner, Edward H. “Notre Dame.” In The Cambridge History of Medieval Music. 2 vols. Edited by Mark Everist and Thomas Forrest Kelly, 834–880. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    Provides most recent research on the institution, composers, transmission, and style of music composed for Notre Dame. Discusses organa and clausulae with musical examples.

  • Wilson, David Fenwick. Music of the Middle Ages: Style and Structure. New York: Schirmer, 1990.

    Chapter 9, “Sacred Music in Paris” (pp. 189–223), describes the rhythm, notation, harmony, form, and polyphonic techniques of organa and conducti. Chapter 10, “The Early Motet (ca. 1200-1270)” provides similar details about the early motet. Includes a practicum in writing textless motets on assigned chants. Accompanied by an anthology of music.

  • Yudkin, Jeremy. Music in Medieval Europe. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    Chapter 9, “The New Music of Paris” provides background on the University of Paris and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the style of the polyphony in the magnus liber organi, and discussions of organa, conducti, clausulae, motets, and hockets. Includes comments on notation and performance.

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.