Pérotin (1160-1225), 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.

The 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.

A 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 plamchants.

A page from Pérotin’s "Alleluia nativitas"
Two of the pieces on the recommended recording, Sedenwt principes and 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]
Classical Music Timeline

Classical Music History

Instruments Through the Ages

Composers and Masterworks