We’re going way back for this one… (I know this isn’t the sort of thing most of my followers are looking for, but give it a shot; it’s short and inoffensive.)
Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun later canonized locally as a saint, was a preeminent songwriter in the days of the Second Crusade. Her fans included a number of popes and emperors (most notably Eugene III and Frederick Barbarossa, respectively). Her most famous work is a morality play called “Ordo virtutum” (Play of the Virtues) from 1150 or 1151.
The piece can be seen as transitional lyrically, but musically strayed minimally from norms of the day. The music is monophonic (only one line of melody - no harmony, no countermelody) and sung in melismatic plainsong. For people without significant music background, melismatic means the music was often sung with many notes per lyric syllable and plainsong is, well, a plain unadorned song - a chant.
The significance of the piece comes from its lyrics. “Ordo virtutum” is a morality play. It is the first definitively attested morality play by more than a century. ‘What is a morality play and why do I care?’ you ask. A morality play is a one in which the main character encounters various crises, each forcing a moral decision. You care because, while still deeply rooted in Christian theology, “Ordu virtutum” differs from all previous Christian “theater” in that the story is a new, separate creation. Before Hildegard, all such works described Biblical mysteries and only Biblical mysteries (we now call those, creatively, “mystery plays”).
When considered with other big changes of the 12th Century Renaissance like the rise of cathedral schools, the development of Gothic architecture, the first paper production in Europe, and the rediscovery of the Ancient world, Hildegard of Bingen’s “Ordo virutum” can be seen as a step toward the secularism that came to define later European society. That argument has been made fairly convincingly using, among other evidence, morality plays of the late 13th and 14th centuries.
The portion of “Ordo virtutum” I included here is in fact two segments of the final processional. I guess this “song” (these two melodies) would be called “Hoc scio” since that is the first phrase of this segment. Eh. Too many details. I doubt anybody read this far anyway…