CHAPTER 8: THE MUSIC OF THE RENAISSANCE
Adapted from Introduction to Music Appreciation by Hanse, Whitehouse and Silverman with added text
Dr. N. Boumpani
In the chapter on Rhythm, the Renaissance period was introduced. In this chapter, Renaissance music and the composers who created that music will be examined more in-depth. First, we need to get a general idea of the times in which these composers lived.
In the earlier part of the 1300’s, the plague killed off a great number of Europeans. Ironically, this actually improved the economy and the wealthy began to become patrons of the arts. The Renaissance began in Italy and spread through most of Europe. Renaissance means “rebirth.” At the time, a middle class of businessmen, merchants and those with service-based jobs (blacksmiths, cobblers, etc.) made it possible for education to become more readily available to many. From this period until roughly the 20th century, to be educated meant to also be educated in music. Educated people were expected to read music, and either sing or play an instrument.
Around 1454, Guttenberg invented the printing press. Possible more than any other invention in the western world up to that time, the printing press changed life in a way much like the modern computer did in the 20th century. Not only books were made available to the masses, but, thanks to innovations in notating music, so was printed music. Up until that time, books had been painstakingly hand-copied and often took years to complete. Later, in 1492, in an effort to find a faster trade route to the far east, Columbus discovered America for the Europeans. It was not long before Spain, England, and France set up colonies in the “new world.” From 1476 to 1500 a new age of exploration took place.
Among the hallmarks of the Renaissance was the birth of the philosophy of humanism. For almost 100 years, the Catholic Church had held power of most of medieval life. Life for most people in that time was hard, at best, and miserable at its worst. The Church expected most people to see their poverty and struggles as their life of penance and that the downtrodden should learn to not expect rewards n this life, but “store up for themselves treasures in heaven.” As the new middle class rose, and a rebirth in the arts took place, many people questioned why all gratification must be delayed until death. The Church had also overextended its teachings beyond the spiritual by claiming to have all scientific knowledge as well. The Church persecuted scientists who began to question things like the shape of the earth. As humans began to think and seek out “truth” through the scientific method, the power of the Church began to wane. Humanism was the result of this battle over truth. Oftentimes it seems that when society turns too far in one direction, the next generation takes society as far in the other direction as possible. This might be a good topic for debate.
Humanists believed that a life did not have to be one of total sacrifice and despair. People could achieve things on earth and reap the rewards of their work at the same time. Science began to show the flaws in some of the teachings of the Church. Once such flaw was the Church’s long-held belief that the world was flat, while science showed evidence that it was round. Some historians claim that these humanists totally rejected the teachings of Christianity; however, this not true. As an educator for over 40 years, I have seen this change in textbooks, but the texts never addressed why these changes took place in their books. Not all humanists rejected the spiritual teachings of the Church, but they questioned things beyond that scope. Humanists also believed that humans were entitled to credit for their artistic accomplishments. As a person realizes, when that person makes the effort to look closely at the facts, within any philosophy or religion, there are many differing views.
At the time when some people were rejecting the Church, others were questioning the spiritual teachings of the Catholic Church. Martin Luther was one such person. Luther was priest who claimed that the Catholic Church had become spiritually corrupt. His Ninety-Five Theses was his attempt to get the Pope and higher clergy of the Catholic Church to examine their hearts and teachings. At the time, the leadership of the Catholic Church along with many of the hierarchy of the Church were not going to allow a simple “priest” like Luther to dictate how the Church was to be run. The Church gave Luther the opportunity to recant his position, but Luther did not. Although Luther never meant to create a new church, his excommunication from the Catholic church forced him to form a new “protestant” church. This church became known as the Lutheran Church. This revolt against the Catholic Church would spread and threaten even more of the power of the Catholic Church. This led to a time of incredible bloodshed in Europe over the which form of Christianity would become dominant. Eventually, in 1555, an agreement called The Peace of Augsburg allowed both denominations to co-exist in Europe. Still, bloodshed continued for many years.
MUSICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CATHOLICS AND LUTHERANS
Until 1960, Catholic Masses went largely unchanged. Masses were in Latin, as they have been for around 15 centuries, and only the male clergy sang during much of the mass. Luther believed that the services (masses) of the any church should include the congregation’s interaction. Luther presented the services in the native language of the people (German at that time) so that the congregation could understand the Scriptures. Chorales (hymns of the Lutheran Churches) were written in 4-part harmony and sung by the congregation. Also, instruments were included in worship, something that the Catholics had frowned upon. As we will study in subsequent chapters, the Protestant services would continue to develop throughout the western world. The music would eventually include organs and orchestras as the cantata was developed. Cantatas were musical works sung by the choirs that were written for a particular Sunday and based on the readings of Scripture for each particular Sunday. In the Baroque era, Bach would write around 300 of these cantatas, some of which are still performed today. Luther contended that when the congregation could hear the Scriptures in their own language, and take part in singing, that the congregation would remember more of what was written in the Bible.
APPLICATION FOR TODAY: The idea that music helps people remember has been used for centuries. During the 20th century, with the advent of radio and then television, music was used to sell products through short musical selections called “jingles.” Although these are not used as frequently today, some products use short musical themes for their products that are easy to remember. Human beings forget what they hear quite easily; however, after repeated hearings of a song, humans remember the words they hear that are set to music. Alzheimer’s patients may not even recognize their family members, but will react when music from their youth is heard.
Students can make use of this when studying for test by taking a melody with which they are familiar and changing the words to remember key phrases and definitions, etc. Coupled with other mnemonic devices, music can be a valuable tool for learning. (Mnemonic devices are techniques for helping boost one's memory). For example, in music, when we first introduce beginners to the lines and spaces of the musical staff, in order to remember the liners from the bottom up, which are E – G –B – D – F, we use the device “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Once can do the opposite and take a list of items, take one important letter from each and form a new word. For example, if one had to memorize a list of items, by taking the first letter of each item word, one might construct another word. when this does not work, using a different letter for one item, or introducing a vowel between two letters can help create a mnemonic device. Then set it to a melody. (Your instructor might make this an assignment.)
The Catholic Church launched the Counter Reformation to combat the growing spread of Protestantism. Because the masses of the Catholic church had been written in polyphonic texture for several centuries leading up to this time, the Catholic leadership felt that the polyphonic texture actually made the text hard to understand. The leadership began to think of returning to monophonic chant. It has been written (although some believe this untrue) that one mass written by the composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 – 1594) convinced the church leaders not to abandon polyphonic masses and return to chant. Because of Palestrina’s skill in composing polyphonic masses, he created what some musicians believe to be one of the most beautiful masses of the Renaissance. Take the time to listen to a small part of the “Kyrie” from the Missa Papae Marcelli (Pope Marcellus Mass). Even though one might not understand the meaning of the Latin words, the beauty of this work conveys the meaning of the Kyrie of the mass. The piece is only 1:38. The beginning is an example of polyphonic music by imitation.
EXAMPLE: “Kyrie” from the Pope Marcellus Mass Palestrina
As we have discussed, the music of the Church had a great effect on the secular music since the fall of Rome in 479 AD. Music scholars have long considered what might have happened had the Church returned to monophonic chant.
DISCUSSION: When the Catholic Church was launching their Counter Reformation, why do you think their concern was on music? Could this be because they understood the power of music, or was this a way of avoiding the more serious problems that Martin Luther pointed out? ALSO: Have you ever heard people blame problems in society on music? IF so – what did you think? Please respond to at least 1 post.
As we begin to explore the music of the Renaissance, it is important to understand the characteristics of the music for this era. First, let’s hear an example of Renaissance music performed on original instruments of the era.
EXAMPLE: Renaissance Music in a Castle.
EXAMPLE: Lute Music of John Dowland
CHARACTERISTICS OR RENAISSANCE MUSIC
TIMBRE OR TONE QUALITY
The sound of Renaissance instruments is “thin” to our ears. Details of design and materials of construction gave limited results. The preferred timbre of human voices can only be guessed at because there are no recordings, methods of vocal production were different, and the sound of vowels and other elements of local languages for which music was written are unknown.
Varied from solo instruments such as the lute, harpsichord, organ, to massed choirs with brass and other instrumental accompaniment. During the Renaissance, accompaniment referred to doubling the human voices with the instruments, not playing an independent instrumental accompaniment. Texture in the Renaissance had a solemn, other-worldly quality, especially in sacred music. Secular music generally sounds thin, as opposed to resonant, and does not carry far.
(Plural is tempi) in the years preceding the Baroque Era were generally slower.
Were generally not designated during the Renaissance. Because music written at this time was not created for wide dissemination, the composer and those performing it would have known what they preferred in terms of dynamics and thus they were not recorded. If you were to hear a Renaissance work today, the levels of loudness and softness would be dependent upon what the musicians decided.
Musical works were the province of both sacred and secular music in the Renaissance. Popular musicians, called troubadors, trouviers, and minnesingers among others, sang popular songs such as the villancico (a song style used in the Iberian Peninsula) and frottola (a popular Italian secular song), with the most enduring of all being the Italian madrigal. Sacred music included works such as the motet and the sections of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Credo, and Agnus Dei), and forms that grew out of other parts of the divine service.
Previously, we heard the “Kyrie” from Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass. Palestrina was in service to church music almost his entire life, spending over forty years in churches in Rome. He became renowned especially for his Masses and motets. As we listened to the "Agnus Dei” from the legendary “Mass for Pope Marcellus” we heard a demonstration of talent in creating beautiful polyphonic music that is easy to follow. If the legend that this mass changed the mind of the Catholic Clergy towards abandoning polyphony is true, this piece is certainly evidence.
VOCAL MUSIC: THE MADRIGAL AND THE SONG
Palestrina holds a distinct place in sacred music of the Renaissance, but what about the secular music of the time? Two main developments during the Renaissance are the madrigal and secular song.
Printing music made written music less expensive, as less labor was involved. Formerly the province of rich households, the nobility, and those working with the resources of the Church, printed music became in demand from humbler households during the sixteenth century. Types of popular song became widespread in composition and use—in Spain, the villancico, in Italy, the frottola, and in other styles in other countries. Most enduring of all popular music at this time, however, is the Italian madrigal. All popular music sought to express varieties of emotion, imagery, and specific themes, and to experiment with declamation, expressing character and drama. The madrigal is a work for a number of voices (usually 4 to 6 voices) that is sung acapella (meaning without any instrumental accompaniment).
The Italian madrigal reigned supreme in its achievements in these areas. Poetry of various types was set to through-composed music. Through-composed refers to a style of composition where new music is used for each line of poetry. In the first half of the 1500s, most madrigals were composed for four voices; later five became the norm, with six not unheard of. Composers sought to express the themes of the poems, individual ideas of each line, and even single words.
The English Madrigal, “As Vespa was from Latmos Hill Descending” by Thomas Weelkes, is a great example of Renaissance word painting. Presented in the listening guide you will notice how this has been accomplished. When the group sings “running down the hill” the music emulates running and with the use of descending scales, represents the direction of the running. The lines “Two by two” are sung by two performers, then “three by three” by three voices, etc. See what other examples you can find in this work as you listen and follow the listening guide.
Since the madrigal was written in an older form of the English language, we will discuss the meaning of the lyrics. Vesta was the Roman goddess of hearth, home and family. The lyrics were written to praise the Queen of England of the time, Queen Elizabeth, who is also referred to as “Oriana” in this selection. The words tell the story of how Vesta came to earth one day and came upon Queen Elizabeth. All of the goddess's servants ran down to meet the queen and pay respect to her. Please listen to the complete recording.
EXAMPLE: As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending T. Weelkes
FOCUS: Word Painting
AS VESTA WAS FROM LATMOS HILL DESCENDING
Thomas Weelkes (1576‐1623)
FOCUS: Word Painting
on the word “descending” - pitches descend rapidly
on the word “ascending” - pitches ascend rapidly
for the phrase “running down amain,” the word running is sung over and over in succession as the
the phrase “two by two” is sung by two voices
the phrase “three by three” is sung by three voices
the words “all alone” are sung by one person
|Time||Lyrics||Notes – Word Painting|
|0:00||As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending,||On “descending” – pitches move down rapidly|
|0:16||She spied a maiden queen the same ascending,||On “ascending” – pitches move up rapidly|
|0:40||Attended by all the shepherds swain,|
|0:59||To whom Diana’s darlings came running down amain,||The word “running” is sung in succession as pitches descend|
|1:26||First two by two||Sung by two voices|
|1:30||Then three by three together||Sung by three voices until the word “together” which is sung by everyone.|
|1:37||Leaving their goddess all alone, hasted thither||“all alone” is sung by one voice|
|1:53||And Mingling with the shepherds of her train|
|2:01||With mirthful tunes her presence entertains|
|2:17||Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana|
|2:27||Long live fair Oriana.|
THE SECULAR SONG
The secular song was also popular during the Renaissance era, as it still is today. When you hear one of your favorite artists sing a new song, you are doing what people did over 700 years ago. Of course, they did not have listening devices, so all music was heard live. Since the printing press allowed composers to get their music distributed throughout the western world, these songs were heard by many people. Many of these songs were written about love, or unrequited love. We will examine one selection written by English composer John Dowland (1562-1626). This song is entitled “Come again, sweet love doth now invite.” Listen to the first 1:40 minutes of this work.
EXAMPLE: “Come again, sweet love doth now invite” John Dowland This piece will not include a listening guide. Please listen to the first two minutes and then do the short, related assignment. The first two verses of the song are written below.
Come again: sweet love doth now invite,
Thy graces that refrain,
To do me due delight:
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss,
To die with thee again in sweetest sympathy.
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss,
To die with thee again in sweetest sympathy
Come again that I may cease to mourn,
Through thy unkind disdain,
For now left and forlorn:
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die,
In deadly pain, and endless misery.
I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die,
In deadly pain, and endless misery.
DISCUSSION: Compare this to a song you might here sung today where someone plays a guitar and sings a song. What can you relate to and what sounds very different? After you post, you have to respond to at least one other post.
Renaissance musicians played a variety of instruments. Modern musicians typically specialize in one instrument and possibly closely related ones as well, but it was expected of a musician in this time to be proficient at more than a few instruments. These can be broadly classified into “haut” (louder) and “bas” (softer) instruments. Haut instruments would be suitable for playing outdoors, bas for indoors. Until the end of the sixteenth century, composers did not specify which instruments to use. There were varieties of ensembles, depending upon what was available or working at any given point. Wind instruments include the recorder, transverse flute, shawm, cornett, and trumpet. The sackbut (precursor to the trombone) and the crumhorn (double reed, but still a haut instrument) were additions of the Renaissance. To add percussive effects, the tabor, side drum, kettledrums, cymbals, triangles, and bells were played, though parts for these were not written. In the early Renaissance, instrumental groups would perform music written for voices. As the Renaissance progressed, composers began to write pieces especially for instruments and instrumental groups.
Much of the secular instrumental music was for dancing. An example of the “thin orchestration” discussed at the beginning of this chapter can be found in much of the instrumental music of this period. Below are a few short instrumental pieces that are light-hearted and used for dancing. Please listen to a minute of each.
EXAMPLE: “Dance No. 3. Schiarazula marazula” Giorgio Mainerio
EXAMPLE: Furioso all’Italiana anon.
The lute gained particular favor, as the modern guitar is favored today. It was a five-stringed instrument with a pear shape. Leather straps around the neck to tell the player where to place his or her fingers. Great varieties of effect could be produced, with lutenists playing solo, accompanying singing, and playing in groups. Below is an example of a Renaissance setting of Lute and voice of the song Greensleeves. Again, you need only listen about one minute.
EXAMPLE: Greensleeves anon. (lute and vocalist)
VIOL DA GAMBA
Among the string group of instruments is the viol, or viol da gamba. This is a bowed instrument which is the precursor to the modern violin. The viol family contains instruments in every range, from soprano as the highest to bass as the lowest. A group of viols playing together was referred to as a consort of viols. The violin was present at this time as a three-stringed instrument used to accompany dancing, tuned in intervals of fifths rather than the fourths of the viol. Again, listen to at least one minute.
EXAMPLE: the English Dance Master J. Playford
Keyboard instruments included the pipe organ, which was growing in size and complexity. From the portative (small organ that can be carried) and positive organs (larger version of the portative and on wheels) of the Middle Ages came fixed instruments much larger and capable of grander and more varied sound. Germans later added pedals to extend the range and power of the instrument. The clavichord is a small household keyboard instrument in which keys are connected to brass nubs which strike the string, causing it to vibrate. The harpsichord also has keys, but these are connected to a quill which plucks the string. The harpsichord has a much bolder sound and grew to have two and even three keyboards. It became one of the two most important keyboard instruments in music of the Baroque period, the other being the organ.
What were these instruments playing? As noted, they were added to vocal music to round out and fill in the sound. In time they acquired independent music of their own, with no relation to or reliance upon a composition intended for vocal production. It is important to note that instrumental music was becoming increasingly viewed as independent from vocal music; however, it would not be until the Baroque Era when instrumental music and vocal music would become equal.
While some instrumental music was arranged from pre-existing vocal music, other forms of instrumental music included settings of existing melodies such as chorale melodies of the churches, songs, and dance music. The first instrumental works that had no connection to earlier vocal music appeared at this time. These instrumental works established in the Renaissance include the prelude, fantasia, toccata, ricercar, canzona, sonata, and variation. Variation form was invented in the sixteenth century. It reflected a practice in existence where the musician would vary the music that was presented to him or her in written form. A basic theme could be enhanced by changing the harmony, adding upper or lower notes, using flourishes and runs, and including other devices that inspired the composer or performer.
VENICE, CENTER FOR THE ARTS AND THE ANTIPHONAL
Venice emerged as a principal city for the arts in the western world at this time. Venice was a major urban center in the sixteenth century – a conflux of trade routes, international society, and wealthy patronage. All aspects of society were affected by the immense wealth that predominated. Churches were ornate; the best sculptors, painters, and architects abounded, and musicians were no less affected. St. Mark’s Basilica is a prime example of these displays of artistic endeavor.
Lavishly ornate, with an altar of gold, huge Byzantine domes, and decoration of every known variety and ornament, St. Mark’s also boasted numerous balconies and spacious acoustics. Performance in this place attained spectacular effects in the music of Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1555-1612). On a recording there is no way to capture the complete effect of two choirs or two instrumental groups, sitting across from each other in the vast space of St. Mark’s, singing into the space underneath the resonant main dome of the church. These techniques are not unique to Gabrieli, but he brought them to high achievement.
EXAMPLE: Canzoni et sonate: Canzon IV a 6 G. Gabrieli (1554-1612)
The Renaissance was a period of rebirth. Ancient philosophies (and ancient music) were examined and incorporated into the current life and practices of the time. The questioning the authority of the Catholic Church led to the development of humanism as well as the Lutheran church. This was known as the Reformation and, over the following centuries, led to the creation of many protestant churches. From the organum of Leoninus and Perotinus came the multi-voiced motet and complete settings for the Mass. From the practices of troubadours, trouveres, and minnesingers came the Italian and English madrigals. From accompanying voices and filling in parts in vocal compositions came the independence of instrumental forms. The stage was now set for the birth of opera, the standardization of the Baroque orchestra, the rewriting of rules of composition to reflect major and minor tonality rather than use of modes, and the creation of forms out of older models.
In this chapter we have seen Western Art Music progress in two distinct areas: sacred and secular. Very broadly speaking, during this period music moved from one-voice monophony to manyvoiced polyphony. Monophony began moving toward polyphony with the use of drones and organum. Instituting the use of parallel fifths rather than simply single-line chanting started the process of independent voices moving away from the original monophonic chants. Later all voices moved independently, with none being based on a chant. At first only sacred texts were used for all vocal music; eventually texts came to reflect other themes. This gave rise to new forms of music including the motet.
In secular music, instruments were used merely to double voice parts at first, and in time, music was written for instruments alone. The time period of these developments is approximately 1400-1600, and the areas involved are principally in what is referred to in the modern-day as Europe. Most instrumental music was used for dancing.
The center for the arts during this time was Venice, Italy. In St. Marks Catholic Church, Giovanni Gabrieli became know for antiphonal works, both vocal and instrumental. Antiphonal works would use to complete ensembles or choirs performing across from each other to create a “stereo” sound.