French Music History

Evidence as to beginning of French music history has been pin down to Organum in 10th century. Medieval French music consisted of Notre dame school, Motet and songs of troubadours and trouveres.

Notre Dame School referred to those composers who worked at Paris in the Note dame Cathedral. It is also called the School of polyphony.


Troubadours were songs composed by noblemen and musicians who were travelling towards south of France. Ars nova and Ars Subtilior also developed during the medieval period.

Renaissance, often called Rebirth signified the cultural and artistic movement in France. Musical renaissance in France began with the shift of musical activity to Burgundy from Paris.

Chanson which included powerful popular music with a wide array is considered to be the most significant contribution to French music by renaissance period. The Motet which evolved during the medieval period transformed into a distinct form in the Renaissance period.


Music in France was greatly influenced and was simplified to a great extent when Calvinism arrived. In certain areas music meant singing Psalms in French translation. This is known as Baroque era. Harpsichord music flourished during the Baroque period.

Towards the beginning of Baroque period a new type of vocal music known as air de cour spread through France.

Air de cour incorporated four to five voices in the 16th century and in the 17th century switched back to single voice. Contribution of French music towards musical instruments is worth mentioning.

One of the major French inventions was the French horn. The orchestral brass French horn which we use in the modern period was made out of hunting horns earlier.

This French invention captured the centre stage of the operas in 16th century. But it was a German Fritz Kruspe who has been recognized as the inventor of modern double French horn.

France has gifted to the world of music extraordinary composers like Camille saint -Saenz, Johann Strauss, Georges Bizet, Anton Bruckner etc. Georges Brassens who was a pioneer of contemporary French music composed songs which were more like French poems set to acoustic guitar music.

In the 19th century there was a composer Achille claude Debussy who wrote songs, instrumental, piano, vocal and choral works. His famous works are "Claire de lune" and Pelleas et melisande.

Though it was difficult to sketch the history of French music, historians and musicologists established the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance.