What music was played at European medieval universities in the High Middle Ages (circa 1100-1400)—for example, at their commencement or convocation ceremonies, at ceremonies inducting professors into the university, etc.? Who were famous composers of such music?

I've found Romanus Weichlein (1652-1706)'s Encaenia musices for Oxford, but he's much later than I'm looking for. I'm looking for High Middle Ages. Are some of the Piæ Cantiones from that era? If so, which?

  • 3
    You are covering both a geographical area and time period far too broad to generalize on meaningfully. Lute and Drum followed by flute, organ and harpsichord is probably as close to a generalization as one could make for the entire scope. Feb 10, 2015 at 23:23
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    What have you learned by your own investigations so far?
    – Drux
    Feb 13, 2015 at 6:54
  • you know the legend about en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaudeamus_igitur ? I also have a recording of the 2-stanza poem Scribere proposuit. Not sure about how much of the legend is actually true, but I've met people in Portugal and Italy who claim that Gaudeamus was the european university hymn in the middle ages.
    – Luiz
    Oct 16, 2021 at 1:41
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    @Luiz According to your link, the poem was written in 1287, but the musical setting is not medieval (1782).
    – Geremia
    Oct 16, 2021 at 2:00
  • @Geremia I have heard different tunes and read different versions of the same texts (both for Gaudeamos and Scribere proposuit). The current musical setting may be just one among various. It just something that could be investigated (even if to check how true is the legend).
    – Luiz
    Oct 16, 2021 at 18:50

1 Answer 1


I think it may not be an accident that the earliest reference you found to Encaenia composition comes from the late 17th century. From what I've been able to find, music was not a major part of university ceremonial--in fact, many universities were actively hostile to music in general.*

From Life in the Medieval University:

The principle on which modern Deans of colleges have sometimes decided that "gramophones are dogs" and therefore to be excluded from College, can be traced in numerous regulations against musical instruments, which disturb the peace essential to learning.


If scholars are found bearing arms by day in the students' quarter of the town, they are to forfeit their arms, and if they are found at night with either arms or musical instruments in the students' quarter, they are to forfeit arms or instruments. If they are found outside their own quarters, by night or by day, with arms or musical instruments, the town officials will deal with laymen, and the Bishop or the Rector with clerks.

Instead of the whole-class convocations of today, the ceremonies of Inception and Determination were not lively affairs. Students would graduate in small groups as they were deemed ready. According to this history of medieval universities, these ceremonies involved the faculty grilling would-be graduates on texts, a "peculiarly solemn disputation known as 'Vespers'" (452), and then the inceptor's formal inaugural lecture.

The sole reference to celebratory music in the description of the University of Paris' Inception Ceremony is this:

The evening concluded with a banquet given at the expense of the Inceptor or a party of Inceptors to the Masters and others, at which it is probable that the prohibitions which we find in some Universities against dancing or the introduction of actors and trumpeters were not always strictly complied with (453).

In short, it seems unlikely to me that music would have been a part of formal university ceremonial in this era. Attitudes toward music would need to loosen, and graduation ceremonies needed time to evolve into celebratory rituals. However, note that the sources I found were mostly concerned with English and French universities. It is of course possible that, say, Spanish or Italian universities had different customs.

* Music may have been part of the quadrivium, but the sources cited say that it was given scant attention. Consistent with university-wide bans on instruments, instruction in music had more to do with theory, logic, and even mysticism than it did with performance.

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