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1 SHOM – Late Renaissance

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Dates 1550-1600 (Renaissance usually said to begin ca. 1420)

Sample tracks

Tallis (1505-1585) If ye love me  
Palestrina (1525-1594) Missa Aeterna Christi Munera (opening of Agnus Dei)  
Dowland (1563-1626) Come again: Sweet love doth now invite (first two verses)  
Byrd (1540-1623) ‘Pièces en 4 variations’ from Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (first three variations)  

Historical hooks

  • 1501 – Petrucci produces the first triple impression printed score
  • 1503 – Da Vinci paints Mona Lisa
  • 1517 – Martin Luther kicks off the Reformation with a series of statements criticising the Catholic church
  • 1531 – Church of England breaks from Catholic Church under Henry VII
  • 1545 – Catholic church convenes the Council of Trent to address the need for reform (Counter-Reformation)
  • 1558 – Elizabeth I accedes throne in England
  • 1581 – Philip II accedes throne in Spain
  • 1588 – Defeat of Spanish Armada

Raphael’s Madonna dell Granduca (1505)

Bramante’s Tempietto di San Pietro in Rome (1502)

Music in the Renaissance

  • Most composers in the Renaissance period were part of the growing middle classes, usually working either at the courts of noblemen or for the church.
  • During the Renaissance composers gradually moved away from the very rigid structures of Mediaeval music. Whilst in early Renaissance music it was still common, for example, was to weave a musical texture around a pre-existing melody sung in long notes in the tenor part (cantus firmus), textures became more fluid in the sixteenth century.
  • As composers developed a freer style, they also became more interested in the details of setting a text; Mediaeval composers, by contrast, often did not even show exactly how the words were supposed to fit with the music (although composers did sometimes evoke the text through the music – for example in Solage’s Fumeux fume par fumee from the fourteenth century).
  • In the early sixteenth century composers were increasingly writing in score rather than adding one complete part at a time
  • The late Renaissance also saw the rise of distinctive national styles – previously an international style had developed that was dominated by composers from the lowlands of Northern Europe.
  • Musicians in the sixteenth century continued the earlier tradition of arranging vocal music for solo and ensemble instruments. Lute and keyboard arrangements of vocal music usually involved both improvised and written ornamentation.
  • Unlike in the earlier part of the Renaissance, composers increasingly specified for which instruments they were writing (a trend that continued in the Baroque period).

Stylistic features

Common forms
  • Through-composed with points of imitation
  • Variations
  • Dances
  • Settings of pre-existing melodies
Melody and rhythm
  • Regular pulse but flexible metre/accentuation
  • Rhythm tends either to be fluid with irregular phrase lengths (e.g. in sacred polyphony of Palestrina) or dominated by strong dance patterns (e.g. instrumental dances and some madrigals)

·         Melodic motion is mostly stepwise

Harmony and tonality
  • Modal
  • Mostly triadic harmony in root and first inversion
  • Suspensions at cadences
  • False relations
  • Tierce de Picardie
Texture and resources
  • Homogenous textures (parts relatively equal and blended)
  • Extensive use of counterpoint, particularly imitation (dance-style music tends to be simpler and more homophonic)
  • Consorts of viols, recorders and brass
  • A cappella
  • Text in vocal music clearer than in earlier music

Typical pieces (all tracks available on Short History of Music Moodle)

Instrumental (including keyboard)
Fantasia, Ricercar & Canzona Willaert (1490-1562) ‘Ricercar X’ from Nova Musica
Variations Byrd (1540-1623) ‘Pièces en 4 variations’ from Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (Fortune No. 65, BK 6)
Cabezon (1510-1566) Diferencias sobre el canto de La Dama le demanda
Dances (e.g. Pavane, Galliard, Allemande, Courante etc.) Holborne (1545-1602)– Pavane and Galliard (NAM)
Settings of sacred melodies (e.g. hymns, Psalms etc.) Tallis (1505-1585) Hymn ‘Iam lucis orto sidere
Mass Palestrina (1525-1594) Missa Aeterna Christi Munera
Motet (& Venetian polychoral motet) Victoria (1548-1611) O quam gloriosum
Gabrieli (1555-1612) In ecclesiis (NAM) – transitional work with many early Baroque features.
Anthem &

Verse anthem

Tallis (1505-1585) If ye love me
Gibbons (1583-1625) This is the record of John
Madrigal Gibbons (1583–1625) The silver Swanne
Weelkes (1575-1623) Sing we at pleasure (NAM)
Lute song Dowland (1563-1626) Come again: Sweet love doth now invite


Compare with earlier music such as the Ballade Dame, de qui toute ma joie vient  by Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) or the motet Vasilissa ergo gaude by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)

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