La prime Estampie Royal: completing the fragment of a medieval melody

The estampie was an internationally popular musical form of the late middle ages. Eight beautiful French estampies from circa 1300 are written in the Manuscrit du Roi, seven of which are complete. The first estampie is a fragment, due to the top half of the page being torn to remove illuminated letters, seen on the right.

After examining what we know about the estampie and the particular characteristics of French estampies, this article searches for historical principles upon which the fragment of La prime Estampie Royal can be made whole again.

The article begins with a video performance of the finished piece played on gittern, then explains the process of historically-informed construction, and ends with the completed music in modern notation.

Click the picture to play the video, which opens in a new window.
La prime Estampie Royal played on gittern by Ian Pittaway. More than half of the music is missing in the manuscript, so this version is what remains of the original, with additional music written to historical principles by Ian Pittaway. The original and new parts of the music are indicated in the video. The complete music can be found at the bottom of this article.

The incomplete estampie

Manuscrit du Roi (Manuscript of the King) or Chansonnier du Roi (Songbook of the King) is one of the oldest surviving sources of music repertoire from the French court, associated with the reign of Charles d’Anjou. It is a collection of 600 troubadour and trouvère songs, compiled c. 1250, with 11 instrumental pieces, including 8 estampies, added c. 1300 in blank spaces. In the modern cataloguing system for troubadour and trouvère manuscripts, this source is known as both Troubadour W and Trouvère M. The collection is now held by Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, classified as Français 844. 

The estampies begin on folio 103v. The top half of folio 103 was torn off at some point when pages were vandalised to remove illuminated initials. This leaves the bottom line only of the first remaining staff of the first estampie, followed by two complete staves. The partial staff and first complete staff are shown above left. The rest of folio 103v is the first part of La seconde Estampie Royal, above right. The title of the first piece is missing, and the rest are named numerically, La seconde Estampie Royal, La tierce Estampie Roial, La quarte Estampie Royal, etc., so clearly the first was La prime Estampie Royal. Over half the music is missing for the first estampie; the second to eighth estampies are complete and intact. The first part of each of the eight estampies is shown above and below.

These estampies are of extraordinary musical quality, from an era when the amount of surviving instrumental music is small. It seems to me, then, a pity if the first were to be left unplayed due to its incomplete state. This is particularly so because filling in the gaps appropriately for prime Estampie requires an investigation into the structure of the other French estampies, yielding deeper knowledge of the form itself.

How do we go about filling in the missing parts? My answer is in three parts: first to understand the estampie form; then to investigate the nature and structure of the other royal estampies in the manuscript; and finally to pick up clues from what is extant in the two remaining staves and one partially remaining staff, and from the principles of medieval composition. In this way, I hope to construct something viable and justifiable for the missing parts.  

Was the estampie a dance?

Estampie was the French name for an internationally popular instrumental form of the 13th, 14th and early 15th century. In Italy it was called the istampitta, istanpitta or stampita, in Occitania the estampida, and it also had the name stantipes, possibly derived from Latin.

In modern literature, the estampie is usually assumed to have been a dance. What the word means is open to conjecture. La estampida is a stampede in modern Spanish. Estampir is a Provençal verb meaning to resound. Stantipes may be derived from the Latin, stante pedes or stanti pedes, meaning standing feet or stationary feet. If it was danced, and we add these ideas together, we have may have a dance involving musical stamping, perhaps on the spot.

This sketchy speculation would be more clear if we had surviving estampie choreography. All we have is a musical description and some passing references by Jean de Grouchy (c. 1255 – c. 1320), a Parisian music theorist better known by his Latinised name, Johannes de Grocheio (or Grocheo), in his Ars musice (Art of music), 1270s–1300, contemporaneous with the eight estampies in Manuscrit du Roi. While Ars musice gives some valuable information, it is in parts vague and open to interpretation.

Grocheio states that the round and ductia – two dance forms – are danced “in carol”, without mentioning the estampie. This may mean that the round and ductia were danced by as many as wished in a circle, as the carol was, implying that if the estampie was danced it was not danced “in carol”, not in a circle. There are contemporaneous illustrations of single musicians playing for single dancers, an example of which is below, so if we assume the estampie was danced, this might lead us to believe it was a single dance, or for a set number, in couples or threes – at least, not “in carol”.

An illustration from folio 106v of a manuscript which is probably Italian in origin, c. 1300-1350, now classified as Universitätsbibliothek Graz 32 (Codex 32 of the University Library in Graz, Austria).
(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window; click in the new window to further enlarge.)
Most images of medieval dance lack description, so the above illustration is an exception.
The miniature labelled “La karole damours”, the carol of love, is from one of many
manuscript versions of Roman de la Rose (British Library Royal 20 A XVII, folio 9r), dated 1340.
The carol is typically shown with any number of dancers forming a ring, male and female
in any configuration, since there were no partners, while a singer, sometimes
with a musician or musicians, stands outside or inside the ring.

There is a more fundamental problem than the lack of estampie choreography: though modern writers regularly refer to the estampie as a dance, no medieval writer states this. Grocheio mentions estampie performers and observers, but he makes no reference to estampie dancers. French court historian Jean Froissart described dancing in his L’espinette amoureuse, 1365–1372, making a distinction between the estampie and the carol: “And as soon as [the minstrels] had stopped the estampies that they beat, those men and women who amused themselves dancing, without hesitation, began to take hands for carolling.” Taken in isolation, this may mean that dancers performed estampies without joining hands then joined them for the carol, or that they observed the minstrels playing estampies then joined hands to begin their dancing. The latter meaning is confirmed by French poet and composer, Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300–1377). In his poem, Remède de Fortune, he describes a lavish entertainment (lines 3959–4000):

Guillaume de Machaut in Codex Vogüé, which consists entirely of his works, created 1370–72, probably under his supervision.

What a sight when, after the meal,
Minstrels came freely forward,
With hair elaborately done and fancy dress.
There they played many a tune.
For gathered in a circle I caught sight of
Vielle, rebab, gittern …
[there follows an extensive
list of musical instruments]
And, to be sure, never before
Had such a melody
Been heard or attended to,
For in that little park I heard and noticed
Each of them according to the pitch
Of that instrument with no disharmony:
Vielle, gittern, citole,
Harp, trumpet, horn, whistle,
Pipe, bladder pipe, smallpipe, nakers,
Tabor, and whatever one might play
With finger, plectrum, or bow.

After they had performed an estampie
The ladies and the rest of the company
Went off in pairs and threes,
Holding each other by the hand,
To a quite lovely room,
And no man or woman present
Was not then eager for entertainment,
Dancing, singing, or making merry
With backgammon, chess, and parsons,
With games, singing, and music,
And who did not find ready the opportunity
To do so as they wished with no trouble.

In the accounts of Jean Froissart and Guillaume de Machaut, first the company are observers and listeners, entertained by minstrels playing estampies, and then they become participants in dancing plus, in Machaut’s account, “games, singing, and music”. In Remède de Fortune, the division between non-participatory and participatory entertainment is especially clear, and estampies are unambiguously played by minstrels for listeners, not dancers. Thus, taking all such historical references into account, and swimming against the tide of previous assumptions, Christiane Schima (1995) has interpreted the primary sources to mean that the estampie was never a dance, but a vocal and instrumental musical form for a listening audience.

The estampie form

Johannes de Grocheio wrote that the “parts of a … stantipes are commonly called puncta [points, meaning sections]. A punctum [point] is a systematic joining together of concords making ascending and descending harmony, having two sections alike in their beginning, differing in their end, which are usually called the close and open … A stantipes is an untexted piece, having a complicated distinction of concords, determined by puncta … Because of its difficulty, it makes the spirit of the performer and also the spirit of the observer focus on it. And often it diverts the rich from depraved thought … [The estampie] is determined by puncta since it is lacking in that percussive measure which is in the ductia [a musical form with sections of equal length], and it is recognised through the distinction of puncta alone.”

To put this more plainly, Grocheio states that an estampie is without words (other sources describe sung estampies, such as Kalenda Maya) and is composed as follows:

• The rising and falling melody is in several sections.
• The estampie is complicated and requires concentration, because its percussive measure – the number of beats in a section – varies with each section. Since instrumental forms usually have sections of equal length, this variety in the percussive measure is the distinguishing feature of an estampie.
• The musical structure is therefore made distinct by each section being played twice with an open and close ending – modern 1st and 2nd time bar – the same at the end of every section.

Grocheio’s description is true of all surviving estampies, and mostly true of other pieces which are probably estampies. His description fits the eight French estampies in Manuscrit du Roi, c. 1300; the eight Italian istanpittas in British Library Additional 29987, c. 1400, and two of the three putative istanpittas in the Faenza Codex, c. 1430 – one appears to be an estampie but lacks open and close endings. His description also fits the two putative English estampies in the Robertsbridge Codex, c. 1320–60, and mostly fits the problematic untitled piece in Douce 139, c. 1286–1352, which has sections of unequal length which initially have open and close endings, the open and close abandoned as the piece progresses (the latter estampie investigated and played in this article).

Grocheio describes to his readers how liturgical music is sung by comparing it to secular instrumental music. In so doing, he gives us a valuable insight into the feel or style of performance of the estampie: “The responsory and alleluia are sung in the manner of a stantipes … so that it impresses devotion and humility on the hearts of the hearers.” What this means is open to interpretation: it suggests to me that the estampie should be stately, reverential, and joyful (and not played at breakneck speed as in some modern performances).

The nature of French estampies

An analysis of the estampies in Manuscrit du Roi reveals the following characteristics, which helps in writing the missing music for La prime Estampie Royal.

Modes are the sets of tonal relationships in medieval music. The relationship between notes in modern music is set by major and minor scales, but whereas today the use of fixed sharps and flats makes every major or minor key tonally identical, the only change being the overall pitch of the scale, the lack of fixed sharps and flats in modes means that a mode starting on D, the dorian mode, has a very different set of tonal or step relationships to a mode starting on E, the phrygian mode. (The gamut, the theoretical range of possible notes in medieval music, includes only natural notes with the exception of Bb. Bb is part of the gamut for use when needed, but is not a fixed feature of any medieval mode.) 

Three more features distinguish modes from modern scales. Firstly, modes have a set note which the tune gravitates to, around which the melody clusters, known as the tenor or reciting note. Secondly, when used in ecclesiastical singing of psalms, each mode has a characteristic intonation figure, a typically occurring melodic sequence. Thirdly, modes are of two kinds: authentic modes start and end on the same note; plagal modes start a fourth below their authentic counterparts and end on the same note as their authentic counterparts. The tenor or reciting note is different in each case: in an authentic mode, the tenor is a fifth above the tonic, except where that note is B, in which case it is raised to C; in a plagal mode, the tenor is a third below the corresponding authentic tenor, except when that note is B, in which case it is raised to C.

The eight medieval modes specified by the church are as follows, with the starting note, tenor and finalis indicated in brackets for each.

An example in modern notation of how a medieval mode functions.

1. dorian (D A D)
2. hypodorian (A F D)
3. phrygian (E C E)
4. hypophrygian (B A E)
5. lydian (F C F)
6. hypolydian (C A F)
7. mixolydian (G D G)
8. hypomixolydian (D C G)

An understanding of the modes is an important foundation for understanding medieval music, but there are three caveats.

1. All modal theory was written for use in church music but, due to the huge power and cultural currency of the church, ecclesiastical modes also had an influence on secular music.

2. Summa musice is an anonymous treatise of c. 1200 for teaching chant. As its author noted, in practice ecclesiastical chants did not always follow the theoretical modes rigidly, and it was therefore sometimes difficult to tell which mode was in use until the resolving cadence rested on the finalis or final note.

3. While some medieval secular music clearly had the modes in mind, other surviving non-religious music bears only a passing resemblance to the modes, if at all, as is the case with the Manuscrit du Roi estampies. The seconde Estampie, for example, starts on F, has no tenor, and the finalis is D. This may be described as very broadly dorian. La quinte [fifth] estampie Real starts on C, has no tenor, and the finalis is A, and La Uitime [eighth] estampie Real starts on C, has no tenor, ends on G, and includes B flats, B naturals, E flats and E naturals, giving these and other estampies musical characteristics which sound quite different to modern music, while also not conforming to the medieval modal system. These French estampies would fall into the category of what Parisian friar and music theorist Jerome of Moravia called “irregular” music – secular non-modal music – in his Tractatus de Musica, c. 1280. In my new music for La prime Estampie Royal, I therefore do not need to adhere to the modal system or follow any mode strictly. Just as the seconde Estampie may be described as broadly but not strictly dorian, I judge the prime Estampie to be broadly but not strictly mixolydian, and have written the missing music accordingly.

The rhythmic mode is the underlying pulse of a piece of medieval music. The theory and variety of rhythmic modes is explained towards the end of another article, available by clicking here. It is sufficient here to state that some estampies are founded on the first rhythmic mode (modern equivalent: a pulse of minim crotchet) or the second (modern equivalent: a pulse of crotchet minim), while others are too rhythmically diverse to be modal. Underlying La prime Estampie Royal is the first rhythmic mode.      

The lengths of puncta in estampies will broadly determine how long the newly-written sections need to be. As described above, in other musical forms we would expect every punctum to be of equal length, but this varies within an estampie. If we transfer the French estampies into modern notation with bar lines then we see that, not including the open and close endings, La seconde Estampie has between 8 and 10 measures in a section, and La sexte estampie between 4 and 9, with similar variety in the other estampies. What remains of La prime Estampie Royal shows it to have the longest sections of all, the remaining complete puncta being 18 measures and 20 measures respectively, indicating that the newly composed sections should be up to a similar length.

The open and close endings – in modern terms, the 1st and 2nd time bars – similarly vary in length. The open and close endings of La seconde Estampie, for example, are 10 and 9 measures respectively, while in La sexte estampie they are 4 and 3 measures. There is no relationship between the lengths of puncta and the length of the open and close ending, so I can only compose according to what feels appropriate for the music. 

The number of puncta or sections in the complete second to eighth estampies is 4, 5, 6 or 7. As we will see below, the number of additional puncta to be written for the first estampie is determined by how many staves on the page we judge to have been torn off. 

The construction of missing parts

The musical notation (neumes) of the 11 instrumental pieces in Manuscrit du Roi is clear, as we would expect from a formal book, and there is no question of the interpretation of the existing final two staves of La prime Estampie Royal. As we see below, the first available staff has only the bottom line remaining, with the next line up of the staff mostly missing but clearly implied. This means at least a portion of the notes on this partial staff are detectable.  

The complete remains of La prime Estampie Royal on folio 103v of Manuscrit du Roi.

To begin to fill in the missing music in an historically informed way, and in a way appropriate to the existing music, we need to be able to answer the following questions:

1. How much music is missing?
2. What is the music of the open and close endings?
3. What principles of medieval composition are appropriate for the missing music?

My conclusions are as follows.   

1. How much music is missing?

The surviving half of folio 103v (below left) has 5 complete staves and a small portion of a 6th staff on the right side of the page. Of these, 2 complete staves and the incomplete staff have La prime Estampie Royal; 1 staff is blank, usual in this manuscript for separating the pieces; and 2 staves have the beginning of La seconde Estampie Royal. The left side of folio 103v ends partway through a word, indicating at least 1 verse written on the missing top of the right column of folio 103v instead of a staff.

Left: The surviving bottom half of folio 103v, including the end of
La prime Estampie Royal and the beginning of La seconde Estampie Royal.
Right: Folio 104r, with 11 staves per vertical half page, on which is written
the rest of the seconde, and the whole of the tierche and quarte Estampie Royal.
(As with all pictures, click to enlarge in a new window; click in the new window to further enlarge.)

The need to complete the remaining words of a verse on the missing top half of the right column of folio 103v indicates a maximum of 10 staves in the right column, rather than 11 seen in the columns of folio 104r. Since we have 5 complete staves and 1 partial staff remaining, a maximum of 4 complete staves of music are missing from La prime Estampie Royal. Since we have 2 complete and 1 partial puncta, this indicates that the original complete prime Estampie Royal was written on 7 or fewer staves. Other estampies are written with 1 punctum per staff, spilling over to 2 staves only when the open and close ending is written in full the first time through. On the basis that the first punctum, with the open and close ending written out in full, would take up 2 staves, my final version assumes 7 staves with 6 puncta. This is in line with other estampies in the manuscript, which have between 4 and 7 puncta.

2. What is the music of the open and close endings (modern 1st and 2nd time bars)?

Johannes de Grocheio stated that the estampie, with its varying section lengths, is given shape by the repeat of open and close endings, the same at the end of every section. In some of the French estampies, the open and close endings are written in full at the end of every section. This is the case with the quinte, sexte, septime, and Uitime (fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth) Estampie Royal. In the others, the open and close ending is written in full the first time, and thereafter the ending is indicated by a short caesura – vertical line – followed by the first 3 notes of the open ending. This is seen in the seconde, tierche, and quarte (second, third and fourth) Estampie Royal. As we see indicated below, this is also the case with La prime Estampie Royal. This means we have only the first 3 notes of the open ending.

We can, however, infer with certainty that the close ending begins likewise since, in all other French estampies, the open and close begin with the same 3 notes – sometimes considerably more than 3 notes – before diverging into an open unresolved ending or a close resolved ending. 

3. What principles of medieval composition are appropriate for the missing music?

Based on music of this period, and these estampies in particular, we should consider the following characteristic aspects of composition: note movement; mode; and rhythm.

The notes of medieval melodies usually move stepwise. When not moving stepwise, we would usually expect the largest single interval to be a fifth. This principle helps in composing missing sections and in deciding the pitches of the missing notes on the partial staff, the first remaining music of the first estampie, seen below. The pitch and time value of the visible and partially visible notes is clear. The notes ripped away must be pitched above the torn top of the remaining page, and the pitches of missing notes can be surmised on the principle of stepwise motion.

A particular feature of the French estampies is that, of 14 extant endings, 7 open and 7 close, 13 endings finish with 2 notes at the same pitch. In 9 of these 13 endings, the note prior to the final 2 is a step below. In the other 4 cases, the note prior to the last 2 is either the same note, or the note above, or 2 or 3 notes below. This general rule of a lead up to 2 notes of the same pitch is utilised in my newly composed open and close endings.     

Modes have been addressed above, and I take this incomplete estampie to be broadly but not strictly mixolydian.

The last question is that of rhythm. In medieval secular music, as in most modern music, a single piece uses a limited number of rhythmic patterns, so before composing it is important to identify those patterns then use them to structure the missing music. In the surviving sections of La prime Estampie Royal, the six rhythms present are shown above. Rhythm 1 and 2 are used separately and also combined to make rhythm 3. Rhythm 4 is also the underlying pulse of the piece, the first of 6 rhythmic modes or underlying pulses in medieval music (explained in the latter part of this article.)

The result

I cannot claim, of course, that I have restored this royal estampie, as that would require knowledge of missing notes which, barring the new discovery of a cognate, are forever lost. But I hope I have shown, at least, that a credible and playable edition of the melody can be created with new material based on known and demonstrable principles of medieval composition generally and the French estampies in particular.

For clarity, in the music below, the original notes from the manuscript are underlined in red; the rest is my own work. Click the music to see it larger in a new window; click on the picture in the new window to enlarge again. If you decide to perform this, or arrive at a different performable version, I’d love to know.


© Ian Pittaway. Not to be reproduced in any form without permission. All rights reserved.



Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits. Manuscrit du Roi, classified as Français 844, or BnF 844, or F-Pn fr. 844. A facsimile can be viewed by clicking here. To go straight to folio 103v, where the estampies appear, click here.

de Grocheio, Johannes (1270–1300, modern publication 2011) Ars musice. Edited and translated by Constant J. Mews, John N. Crossley, Catherine Jeffreys, Leigh McKinnon, and Carol J. Williams. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications.

Kelly, Thomas Forrest (2015) Capturing Music: the story of notation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Mahrt, William P. (2000) Gamut, Solmization, & Modes. In: Duffin, Ross W. (ed.), A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

McGee, Timothy J. (1990) Medieval Instrumental Dances. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

Page, Christopher (1979) Jerome of Moravia on the Rubeba and Viella. The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 32, May 1979, pp. 77-98. Available online by clicking here.

Page, Christopher (1991) Summa Musice. A thirteenth-century manual for singers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Palmer, R. Barton (editor and translator); Leo, Domenic (editor); Smilansky, Uri (editor) (2019) Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry & Music, Volume 2: The Boethian Poems. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications. Available online by clicking here.

Parrish, Carl (1957) The Notation of Medieval Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Pittaway, Ian (2018) Performing medieval music. Part 2: Turning monophony into polyphony. Available online by clicking here.

Pittaway, Ian (2019) The English estampie: interpreting a medieval dance(?) tune. Available online by clicking here.

Pittaway, Ian (2019) Foweles in þe frith (birds in the wood): mystery and beauty in a 13th century song. Available online by clicking here.

Schima, Christiane (1995) Die Estampie. Untersuchungen anhand der überlieferten Denkmäler und zeitgenössischen Erwähnungen [The Estampie. Investigations on the basis of historical materials and contemporary references]. Amsterdam: Thesis Publishers/Rozenberg Publishers.


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