Although a lot of medieval music - and therefore composers - have been lost to us, there are surviving works from some of the most important composers of the period.


Who were the most famous medieval composers?

Stephen of Liège

One of the earliest formal composers we know of, Liege was active towards the end of the early medieval period, which lasted from 500-1150AD. He was Bishop of Liege from 901-920, wrote biographies of saints and religious icons and composed Gregorian chant, including three Proper Offices for the Office of the Trinity, the Office of the Invention of St Stephen and the Office of St Lambert.


A French composer famous for pioneering works in the organum style (a form of heterophony in which a plainchant is accompanied by another part), Léonin worked at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in the 12th century. The major work attributed to him was the Magnus liber ('great book') designed for use by the choir of the new cathedral.


A composer associated with the Notre Dame school of polyphony in Paris, the 13th-century French composer Perotin is credited with developing the polyphonic style of his predecessor Leonin with the introduction of three-and-four-part harmony. Among the most famous compositions attributed to him are the four-voice Viderunt omnes and Sederunt principes.

Hildegard von Bingen

Perhaps the most famous composer of the medieval period, Hildegard von Bingen was a German abbess, writer, philosopher, poet and composer. Claiming that the music she wrote came to her when she was in a trance-like state, she composed monophonic chants for the 12th century Catholic church, specialising in music for women's voices.
We named Hildegard von Bingen one of the greatest female composers ever

Guillaume de Machaut

The most famous exponent of the Ars Nova style, the 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut wrote sacred music, the best-known example being the Messe de Nostre Dame. He was also a poet, writing extensively about courtly love.


Main image: Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) writing 'the new courtly love poems', France. © Universal Images Group/ Getty Images


Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.