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Renaissance Music Essay, Research Paper

Music During the Renaissance

The vocal forms of the Renaissance were marked by smoothly gliding melodies conceived for the voice. This period of time has been regarded as the golden age of the a cappella style, which means a vocal work without instrumental accompaniment. It’s polyphony was based on a principle called continuous imitation, a style in which the motives move from line to line within the texture, often overlapping one another. As a result, the same theme or motive was heard now in the soprano or alto, and in the tenor or the bass. There resulted a close knit musical fabric capable of the most subtle and varied effects.

Most church music was written in a cappella style. Secular music was divided between purely vocal works and those in which the signers were supported by instruments. The period also saw the growth of solo instrumental music, especially for the lute and the keyboard instruments. In harmony, the Renaissance leaned toward fuller chords. There was turning away from the parallel fifths and octaves favored by Medieval composers to the pleasing thirds and sixths; also a greater use of dissonance was linked with the text, although in sacred music this tendency was carefully controlled. Species counterpoint was now invented, to help students learn counterpoint. Counterpoint is the study of setting independent melodies against each other. The word counterpoint comes from the Latin word Contra – Punctum – which means ” Against a point” or in other words, ” point against point” or ” note against note” . Counterpoint therefore is a horizontal medium and is not like harmony, which is considered more of a vertical concept. Renaissance counterpoint was the best example of clear melody writing, with minimal use of consance – chords one, five and the octave and more use of the dissonance – the sixth and third chord. All melodies were built above or below the cantus firmus- a fixed melody. Now being able to compose for other purposes rather than just for the church, composers asserted themselves as creative artists, not simply church functionaries.

Scared Music

Music played a prominent part in the ritual of the church. There were several types of music of church services in addition to the Gregorian chant; these include polyphonic settings of the Mass, motets and hymns. These were normally based on counterpoint and, especially in the early sixteenth century, on preexistent music. The mass was the central service of the Roman church. Of the Masses for special services, the most important is the Mass for the Dead, the Requiem. Included are prayers in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion. The history of the Mass as an art form extends over the better part of eight hundred years. In that time, it gernered for itself some of the greatest music ever written. The Renaissance motet now became a sacred form with a single Latin text, for use in the Mass and other religious services. These works were in three of four voices, sometimes based on a chant or other cantus firmus. One of the greatest masters of the Renaissance motet was the Franco Flemish composer Josquin Desprez.

During this time, Musicians of the sixteenth century were supported many the chief institutions of their society – the church, city and state as well as royal and aristocratic courts. As the influence of the art spread, professional possibilities widened. There was a corresponding growth in a number of basic musical institutions. There were also increased opportunities for apprentices to study with master singers, players and instrument builders. The rise of the merchant class brought with it a new group of patrons of music. When the printing press was made available to music in the early sixteenth century, printed music books became available – and affordable. This in turn made possible the rise of the great publishing houses. As a result, there was a dramatic upsurge of musical literacy.

The secular music of the Renaissance was intended for both the professional and the amateur. With the rise of the merchant class , music making in the home became increasing popular. Most prosperous homes had a lute or a keyboard instrument. The study of music was important for girls and to a lesser degree boys. Women began to play a prominent part in the performance of music both in the home and in the court. Dance was also increasingly poplar. The instruments to be used in these dance arrangements were determined by the particular occasion. Outdoor performances called for loud instruments such as the shawm and sackbut ( Medieval oboe and trombone). For certain civic occasions, soft instruments such as the recorder and bowed strings were preferred. Although percussion parts were not written out in Renaissance music, the evidence suggests that they were improvised at the performance. In the courts taffle music was often played, that is table music, the people of the court would often dance after their dinner. There were a number of dance types that were popular. The stately court dance known as the pavane often served as the first number of a set, followed by one or more quicker dances, such as the Italian saltarell ( jumping dance) and the French galliard. The allemande, or German dance was popular during the Baroque and finally the ronde, or round dance, a lively dance associated with the outdoors.

In the 1600 century, towards the end of the Renaissance period. This time bristled discussions about le nouve musiche, ” the new music”, and what its adherents proudly named ” the expressive style”

. They soon realized that this representative style could be applied not only to a poem but to an entire drama. In this way, they were led to what many regard as the single most important achievement of the ending Renaissance music and early Baroque music : the invention of Opera.


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