Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Time Capsule: 1381

Let’s take a quick look back in time to the year 1381: the Peasants Revolt in England, two 14th c. writers and theologians, and the music of Matteo da Perugia.

death of wat tyler

Photo: Bkwillwm (Wikipedia)

An illustration dated c. 1385-1400, depicting the end of the 1381 peasant's revolt. The image shows London's mayor, Walworth, killing Wat Tyler. There are two images of Richard II; one looks on the killing, while the other is talking to the peasants.

The Black Death, which struck both the Ruling and working classes indiscriminately, disrupted the fragile balance of social order in 14th century Europe. So many people had died from the disease that in order to keep up with the production of goods and services, the dwindling labor force was suddenly in much higher demand. But this didn’t stop rulers from limiting wages, and imposing taxes on their citizens; for the working class, these taxes were especially oppressive.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time
John Kelly
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

In England, the Peasants Revolt of 1381 was one manifestation of this teetering economic and social climate, and was a significant mile-marker in the beginning-of-the-end of feudalism. In June of 1381, led by a man named Wat Tyler, an army of the working poor and their sympathizers began marching toward London. Once in the city, mayhem broke loose. The insurgents sacked the famous palace of the Savoy; they burned buildings, opened prisons and rioted in the city, lynching and beheading wealthy merchants and leaders like Simon Sudbury (who was the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Lord Treasurer, Sir Robert Hales.

In the midst of the chaos, England’s 14-year-old King Richard II agreed to meet with Wat Tyler and the rebels. Although King Richard promised to meet all of their demands, during the negotiations Wat Tyler was stabbed by one of the King’s supporters. With their leader dead, the Peasant Revolt was quickly put down, and by the end of the month Richard II had revoked all the concessions he had promised. Nonetheless, the revolt demonstrated that seeds of social change were already beginning to spread, and that the decline of serfdom in Western Europe was on the horizon.

The Great Rising of 1381: The Peasants' Revolt and England's Failed Revolution
Alastair Dunn
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

About a decade after the 1381 Peasants Revolt, Geoffrey Chaucer referenced the event in his poem “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” and about six centuries later, the 20th century British composer Alan Bush wrote an opera called Wat Tyler, which was a musical account of the revolt told from the perspective of its famous leader.

The Nun's Priest's Prologue and Tale (Cambridge School Chaucer)
Geoffrey Chaucer / Elizabeth Huddlestone
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Disseminal Chaucer: Rereading THE NUN'S PRIEST'S TALE
Peter W. Travis
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

But back to the 14th century…the year of the Peasant’s Revolt was also a year of accomplishment. In 1381, Jean Charlier de Gerson received the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree, (a licence ès letters), from the Collège de Navarre of the University of Paris. He later earned a master of Theology as well. Gerson’s many surviving writings include religious and doctrinal works, poetry, as well as the text for a mass and Office in honor of St. Joseph.  Gerson’s interest in music can be seen in his Tres tractatus de canticis. Besides being an exposition on music theory, the work also references many musical instruments and includes a poem called Carmen de laude musice, or, A Poem in Praise of Music.

1381 was also the year that another scholar, Pietro Filargo da Candia, received his doctorate in theology. Filargo eventually became the Archbishop of Milan and worked there at the same time as the Italian composer, Matteo da Perugia. Matteo composed masses and at least two isorhythmic motets, as well as secular songs in both Italian and French. His music is often characterized by the uses of imitation between voice parts, syncopated rhythms and unusual melodic leaps embellished by lots of Italianate ornamental figures.

Early Music History: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music
Iain Fenlon
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Music heard in this time capsule

Matteo da Perugia: Tr. 4 Ave sancta mundi salus/Agnus Dei (excerpt)
Theatre of Voices / Paul Hillier — Fragments (harmonia mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Matteo da Perugia: Tr. 4 Ave sancta mundi salus/Agnus Dei (excerpt)
Theatre of Voices / Paul Hillier — Fragments (harmonia mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time
John Kelly
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
The Great Rising of 1381: The Peasants' Revolt and England's Failed Revolution
Alastair Dunn
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
The Nun's Priest's Prologue and Tale (Cambridge School Chaucer)
Geoffrey Chaucer / Elizabeth Huddlestone
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Disseminal Chaucer: Rereading THE NUN'S PRIEST'S TALE
Peter W. Travis
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Early Music History: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Music
Iain Fenlon
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Janelle Davis

Janelle Davis is a violinist and performer with period instrument ensembles throughout the United States. She is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Music degree from Indiana University, Bloomington where she specializes in early music.

View all posts by this author »

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Harmonia Early Music:

More Subscription Options

Follow Us

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Harmonia Early Music

About The Hosts

Search Harmonia Early Music

where to hear harmonia