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Renaissance and Its Influces on Music

The Renaissance is commonly thought of as a time of renewal and rediscovery, as the definition of the word implies. In actuality, though, the Renaissance was a time of change from one the extreme of heaven, as noted in the previous faith in the Church and religion, to the opposite extreme of faith in human thinking and ideas, along the lines of science, logic, and reason. Rather than revolving around unblinking faith in the Church and what it represented, the Renaissance allowed for a new faith in human nature and of what the human mind was capable, both in terms of intelligence and creativity. By bringing the focus down to earth, culture was renewed. This renewal of culture can be attributed to many different things, and these characteristics have been debated by historians seemingly since the time that they actually occurred.

Some historians argue that the culture of areas such as Italy existed, but was suppressed by the idealism of the Church. Others would assert major historical events such as the fall of Constantinople in 1453 caused movement in Europe, moving people of like ideas together. One such idea states that after 1453, Greeks began to migrate to areas in Italy, bringing with them the Greek reasoning and love for knowledge. Although since then, more debate has arisen regarding the actual dates of this Greek migration, the facts remain the same. As a rule, historians regard the fall of Constantinople as a rough demarcation of the beginning of the Renaissance.

Common aspects of life in Europe during the Renaissance included admiration of the newly inspired culture, but with a sense of nervousness in the air. This uneasiness existed because of the possible threat of invasion. Italy was invaded in 1494, and Rome was invaded in 1527. Even though this would seem to be a detriment to the cultural prosperity in these areas, what actually happened as a result of these invasions was a second and then a third movement of artists, writers, and musicians, keeping their arts fresh and lively.

As the move was made, both figuratively and literally, away from the Church, new ideals developed to fill the void where the teachings of the Church previously existed. The spread of these new ideals was assisted, if not fueled, by early development of new printing processes. In the early years of the Renaissance, there were only manuscripts to move ideas and conceptions of culture, but later times saw printing and then engraving to assist with this new dissemination of information.

Art reflected the change of focus from ethereal to earthly as the increase of secular themes in painting demonstrates. As musical styles moved away from the Church to the secular world, a new style developed. While the dark, minor chords slowly disappeared from both Religious and secular music, the similarities end there. Music in the Church maintained its distinction by keeping words and lessening the impact of the music; at times, music was omitted altogether, creating an a capella style that did not migrate to secular music. Music moved from the elite of the Church and Royalty to the streets and smaller courts, allowing a commoner exposure to styles. As these styles were molded and formed by the cultural context in which they were growing, they were able to reflect the actual nature of the common man as well as judges and priests. Printing also helped music become more accepted, because printed or engraved sheet music could be more easily obtained (and at a significantly lower cost) than could hand-written manuscripts. The movement of music from the elite to the commoner allowed someone who might not have a chance to reach many people with his creativity to not only create music of his own, but to be able to perform in situations that he would not have otherwise been exposed to.

Music was also influenced by the other arts of the Renaissance. As architecture became more balanced and defined, so did music as is illustrated by the use of more positive sounding, architecturally stable chords. The rhythm of poetry and new writings of this time are also reflected in the repetition (on different levels) in vocal music of this time.

As culture developed, regardless of the reasons or exact timing, it influenced all cultural byproducts of the time. This transition between religious and secular, or between Royalty and commoners, aided by inventions such as the printing process, made an effect that is reflected in the nature of music and its listeners even today.


Burke, Peter. Culture and Society of Renaissance Italy — 1420-1540 Charles Scribner s Sons, New York, 1972.

Burke, Peter. The Italian Renaissance Culture and Society in Italy Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1986.

Haynes, Maria. The Renaissance and Its Influence on Western Civilization University Press, New York, 1993.

Cronin, Vincent. The Flowering of the Renaissance E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., New York, 1969.

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