also called Perotin the Great, was a European composer,
believed to be French, who lived around the end of the
12th and beginning of the 13th century.
He was the most famous member of the Notre Dame
school of polyphony and the ars antiqua style. He was
one of very few composers of his day whose name has been
preserved, and can be reliably attached to individual
compositions; this is due to the testimony of an
anonymous English student at Notre Dame known as
Anonymous IV, who wrote about him and his predecessor
Léonin. Anonymous IV called him "Magister Petronius" ("Pérotin
the Master"). The title, employed also by Johannes de
Garlandia, means that Perotinus, like Leoninus, earned
the degree magister artium, almost certainly in Paris,
and that he was licensed to teach. The name Perotinus,
the Latin diminutive of Petrus, is assumed to be derived
from the French name Pérotin, diminutive of Pierre. The
diminutive was presumably a mark of respect bestowed by
his colleagues. He was also designated "magnus" by
Anonymous IV, a mark of the esteem in which he was held,
even long after his death.
details of Perotin's life are shrouded in mystery.
What is certain is that he was one of the two great
masters of the Notre Dame school, an important group
of composers and singers working under the patronage
of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris during the
twelfth century. He may also have been a canon
there. One of the activities of this School was the
development of musical pieces using harmony -that is,
very early polyphony. Perotin's music far surpassed
in beauty and complexity the basic, unadventurous
polyphonic styles that were usual for his day.
slightly earlier composer of Notre Dame, named
Leonin, compiled a vast cycle of polyphonic music
celebrating all the major feast days of the church
year, known as the Magnus liber organi
(Great book of organum). Perotin expanded and
developed the collection as well as improving music
notation. He did not, as far as we know, create
original compositions himself; rather he developed
what was at his disposal, such as the works of
Leonin and others. Leonin wrote mainly tor two vocal
parts, as was the custom.
Perotin's compositions included three, even four
voices. His ability to weave together multi-part
vocals to create works of extraordinary beauty
earned him a high reputation. The vast, resonant
interior of the mighty new Gothic cathedral of Notre
Dame must have greatly amplified these impressive
A page from Pérotin’s "Alleluia nativitas"
the pieces on the recommended recording, Sedenwt principesand Videmnt omnes(the latter may have been
written for Christmas celebrations in
1198), are written for four
voices. Perotin's melodic lines, ornate and rich,
extended the known capabilities of the human voice.
The long, sustained notes of the basic plainchant
(called the tenor) that formed part of these works
may have been earned by a singer or played on a
simple organ; the upper voices sang shorter notes in
a number of inventive rhythms. Both pieces last as
long as an individual movement in a classical
symphony or concerto. As such, they are astonishing
feats of composition for their time and true
representatives of Perotin's achievement
— the crafting of new ways of
expressing the language of music.
Perotin "Alleluia nativitas"
Pérotin: Viderunt omnes [with
score - original manuscript]