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Music History
Renaissance Music
1450 - 1625
Historical Context
Renaissance = Rebirth
Regional Spread of the
Started in Italy – Florence
Then it spread to France,
Germany and England.
Historical Context continued…
 Renaissance Science, Art and
Religious figures
Portraits done of well-known figures
in Greek and Roman backgrounds
Paintings looked 3-dimensional
through the use of shading, the
study of anatomy and drawing from
real models.
Oil paint was created, leading to
paintings surviving centuries
Historical Context cont’d…
 Gutenberg’s Printing Press in
This helped to spread new
knowledge of science and the arts
Awareness of new philosophies,
religious texts and music.
 Columbus sailed to the new world
 It was discovered that the earth is
a moving planet by Copernicus, a
Polish astronomer
Important Terms…
 Ayres – (Lutes songs) – English term for solo
song with lute accompaniment
 Accidentals – modes treated more freely using
accidentals to create more harmonic variety.
 Basso Continuo – a type of bass line written
below the main voice creating a richer fuller
texture. It was often played by the harpsichord
player and doubled by a cello.
 Cantus firmus – masses and motets were often
based on a cantus firmus which could be a
popular song instead of a chant.
Important Terms…
 Consorts – a group of instruments playing
together; if the group of instruments was from
one family it was called a whole consort; if it was
from a variety of families it was considered a
broken consort.
 Counterpoint – Adding melodic material above
or below an existing melody; or a technique that
combines two or more melodic lines in a way
that establishes a harmonic relationship while
keeping their own horizontal individuality
 Imitation – like a canon only the whole melody is
not imitated, only a bit of the beginning. The
parts then continue to weave together.
Important Terms…
 Equal Temperament – the development in the
Renaissance which divided the octave into 12 equal
semitones – used on our modern day keyboard so that
F-sharp and G-flat are the same note. This began in
1518, but did not become common practice until the 17th
 Madrigal – A polyphonic song for four to six voices that
uses the language of that region. Developed in Italy and
made popular in England during the 16th and 17th
 Motets – a polyphonic composition based on a sacred
text and usually sung without accompaniment.
 Renaissance – re-birth of revival; the revival of classical
art, architecture, literature and learning that originated in
the 14th century and later spread throughout Europe.
Musical Context
 Music was considered a highly important art
 With the uncertainty of the Dark Ages over, the renaissance
brought a ‘re-birth’ of culture and learning.
 Printed music utilized and widely distributed
 Notation: music tended to be written with ½ notes and
bar lines or ties were not used
 This was mostly due to the limitation of the printing press and
the type of paper being used.
Musical Context cont’d…
 Since notation was flexible musicians were trained to
 How long notes were to be held
 Whether or not there was a need for accidentals
 How to avoid certain intervals like parallel 5ths and 8ths
 Increasing reliance on the third as a
consonance (good sound)
 Simplification of voices within the
polyphony – smoothness
 Increases in vocal ranges
 Period of great development
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
 Born in Palestrina, Rome
 Wrote 100s of compositions
 Including masses, motets, magnificats
 Focused primarily on sacred music
 very serious, conservative and objective
 Associated with Roman Catholic Church
 He was hired by the church to improve the state of church music
 At this point it had become too complex, too secular and too
 The church leaders wanted the music to become more clear and
 His secular music is confined to madrigals
 Master of counterpoint
Pope Marcellus Mass: Credo & Agnus Dei I
 Written for a six part choir
 Polyphony at this time was frowned upon, but
Palestrina’s style of writing allowed the words to be clear
and understood.
 The Credo of a mass is often the most difficult to write
due to its importance and length, however Palestrina did
away with the usual imitation for the sake of clear diction.
 The phrases are sung simultaneously, creating a clear
picture in the listeners mind.
 The Agnus Dei has very few words, which Palestrina
stretched out to produce a piece of greater importance
within the Mass.
 It is in this part of the mass that Palestrina uses imitation.
The voices are sometimes only one quarter note apart.
Giovanni Gabrieli
 Born in Venice
 Composer and organist
 Preferred sacred and instrumental music
 Worked for a church, San Marco, that had two choir lofts facing
each other
 he would use choir lofts to create a call and answer effect
 This ‘Polychoral’ style had been used for decades, but Gabrielli pioneered
the use for carefully constructed groups of instrumentalists and singers
 Original for his specific instrumentation and use of dynamics
 The first to develop dynamic markings and to use Basso Continuo
 Killed by a kidney stone
Grand Concerto: In ecclesiis
 This piece uses:
 Four solo voices (which usually sing with the
chorus, but sing some parts alone)
 A four part chorus
 A six-part instrumental ensemble
 And an organ playing the continuo
 At a time when composers usually issued parts without
specifying the instruments, Gabrieli carefully designated
the following:
 Three cornetti (a version of the trumpet)
 An alto violin (basically the modern day viola)
 Two sackbuts (a trombone like instrument)
 Gabrieli utilizes some “daring” harmonies – the 3rd –
mostly for the brilliant colour it brought rather than
expression of the text.
John Dowland
 Born in the United Kingdom
(most likely London or Dublin)
 Famous for composition of ayres
 Wrote music mainly for his instrument – the lute including several
books for solo lute, lute songs (one voice and lute) and partsongs with lute accompaniment
 Wrote music based on the “melancholia”
 A disease caused by an imbalance in one or more of the four basic bodily
 Wrote with intense melancholy – tragic and emotional
 His motto was “Always Dowland, always mourning.”
Air: Flow my tears
for voice and lute
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad
infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their lost fortunes
Light doth but shame disclose.
Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my
weary days
Of all joys have deprived.
From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.
Hark! you shadows that in darkness
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite.
 Shawm
 Trumpet
 Sackbut
 Recorder
 Harpsichord
 Clavier
 Lute
 Viol
 Violin family