Sacred and Secular Music of the Renaissance
|Listening (MP3)||Lyrics (Text)|
|A Mighty Fortress is Our God||A Mighty Fortress is Our God (Chorale - M. Luther)|
|Agnus Dei - Pope Marcellus Mass (Palestrina)||Kyrie Eleison - Pope Marcellus Mass (Palestrina)|
|Ah, Robyn (Madrigal - W. Cornish the Younger)||Ah, Robyn (Madrigal - W. Cornish the Younger)|
|Alas, What Shall I Do for Love (Henry VIII)||Alas, What Shall I Do for Love (Henry VIII)|
|As Vesta Was From Latmos Hill Descending (Weelkes)||As Vesta Was From Latmos Hill Descending (Weelkes)|
|Flow My Tears (Ayre - J. Dowland)||Flow My Tears (Ayre - J. Dowland)|
|Now Is the Month of Maying (Madrigal - T. Morley)||Now Is the Month of Maying (Madrigal - T. Morley)|
|O Domine Jesu Christe||O Domine Jesu Christe (Motet-G. Gabrieli)|
|Salve Regina (Motet by O. Lassus)||Salve Regina (Motet - O. Lassus)|
|Tota Pulchra Es (Madrigal - H. Isaac)||Tota Pulchra Es (Madrigal - H. Isaac)|
Overview of the Renaissance
As you study this unit on the Renaissance, it may help to organize your thoughts by thinking about basic Renaissance concepts and values:
* Humanism, dignity of mankind
* Secularism - interest in life in this world
* Authority of Classics
* Emergence of the Self : Individuality and Personal rights
* Arts for personal enjoyment
* Man as the
Measure of Things : Individuals of the Renaissance took great pride in their
new freedom to explore the world/body/stars, to think and reason, to
The term Renaissance was adopted form the French equivalent of the Italian word "Rinascita" meaning literally rebirth - and used to describe the radical and comprehensive changes that took place in European culture the 15th and 16th centuries, bringing about the demise of the Middle Ages the birth of the modern world. We have talked about the Renaissance as an age of "rebirth", an eras of innovation and invention, and an era of expansion through sea and land explorations and scientific discoveries. The period was colored by "humanism" which placed a high value in the individual. To learn, to measure, to understand the structure of reality became the passion of the renaissance as learning reached outside the realm of the church and religious orthodoxy. The age of the "anonymous" artist came to an end. Individual creations of art, as epitomized by the works of Leonardo da Vinci, brought on the interest in humanism. The renaissance came earliest in Italy, as Italians sought to regain the "golden age" of antiquity. The rulers of Italian city-states such as the Medicis of Florence or the Szfordas of Milan, sought to show off their wealth by building splendid palaces. Renaissance princes sought to build their entourages of composers, poets, painters, and playwrights, and instrument makers like Antonio Stradivari. The careers of many musicians came to depend upon the approval and support (patronage) of the nobility, a system that lasted into the 19th century.
During the late 15th century, music making occupied much of the same time that we devote to computers, television, radio, films, newspapers, and magazines. People in the upper and middle classes were expected to develop a considerable amount of musical skill. Music helped to fulfill their need to do something well, to communicate, to express themselves as individuals. After dinner, people would tune up their instruments or voices and read through the latest printed versions of chansons or madrigals.
Renaissance music was skillfully woven into every aspect of court life. Special occasions such as weddings, jousts, hunts, masquerades, and funerals required larger musical forces. Music was also important in daily life, particularly musical instruction of the nobility themselves. During the renaissance it was common for a person to evidence talent in many arts ans sciences. According to Castiglioni in his writing, The Book of the Courtier (1508-1516) :
"A courtier required the ability to sing, to read and understand music notation, and to play diverse musical instruments; though the ability to sing polyphony was good, to be able to sing solos with lute accompaniment was much better." - Castiglioni
Although we traditionally talk about the musical Renaissance as happening between 1450 to 1600, there was no true real rebirth of Greek and Roman music because people of the Renaissance had no true original from ancient Greece or Rome to emulate. Even Greek treatises and philosophic writings of Plato and Aristotle only appeared as Byzantine scholars sought refuge in Italy after the Turkish invasion of Constantinople in 1453.
Italian and English secular madrigals established a highly expressive vocal style with a new emphasis on word painting. Madrigals were set in the vernacular language and featured secular-oriented topics such as love, humor, scenery, affairs. Most of these were performed at home or at social gatherings.
Only a small minority of Renaissance vocal music is poly-textual. Composers were increasingly aware of the importance of setting texts so that listeners could clearly understand the words and comprehend their meaning. A single text set imitatively was more comprehensible than multiple texts set polyphonically as had been done during the Middle Ages. Not only were composers concerned with textual clarity, they became increasingly interested in word (or text) painting. For example, the upward vertical notion of "transcendence" can be depicted as a rising scale passage aligned with the word "ascend", and a descending scale for "descend"; as heaven is viewed as higher than earth, and hell lower. "Death" might be expressed by dissonant sounding chords. Renaissance composers wanted to express a certain amount of realism in their works.
Gabrieli and Church Music at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice
Venice attained the height
of its prosperity and influence as a mercantile power situated between
eastern and western Europe by the 16th century. As the city’s love of
light, colour and grandeur infused the work of its great painters, Titian
and Veronese, so Venetian music became equally rich and colorful in it's
own way. The city of Venice, because of it's location, quickly became a
strong and wealthy mercantile power situated between western and eastern
Europe. Venice maintained some autonomy from Rome and the leadership of
the Catholic Church, and, therefore, could afford to to perform indoor and
outdoor festivals with a flair. The center of ceremonial and musical life
was the great basilica of St Marks, with it's huge outdoor plaza.
St. Mark's Basilica and Plaza (Today)
Gentile Bellini's Procession in St. Mark's Square(1496) - Venice, Italy
Interior of St. Mark's
Cathedral in Venice
It was initially under the influence of a prominent Netherlandish musician, Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562). Willaert's successors as head of music at St Marks were two native Venetians, Andrea Gabrieli (c1510-1586) and his nephew and pupil Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1555-1612) whose music became embedded in the very fabric of the building of St. Mark's Cathedral.
Andrea Gabrieli, the Uncle of Giovanni Gabrieli, was initially a singer at St Marks Cathedral in Venice. In 1562 Andrea traveled to Germany where he formed a lasting friendship with the great Renaissance composer Roland de Lassus (Orlando de Lasso). Upon his return to Venice, Andrea became the first composer to exploit the possibilities created by the unique layout of St Marks (link above). With the intention of exploring the aural/spatial possibilities of this huge three dimensional space (the musical equivalent of linear perspective), Giovanni dispersed his vocal and instrumental ensembles into smaller groups strategically placed around the various alcoves and galleries of the cathedral in order to create magnificent spatial and antiphonal (call-and-response) effects. Giovanni Gabrieli pushed his uncle’s example to even more elaborate extremes, particularly in his relish for the soaring effects which could be gained from the separation of voices and brass instruments. In 1587 he published a collection of church music and madrigals by his uncle and himself, mostly arranged for opposing groups of players. Andrea’s chosen title for this work, concerti, became the earliest instance of a format which would develop into the important new genre of the concerto. Andrea Gabrieli thus forms a link with the next great master of music at St Marks: Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), whose famous Vespers of 1610 propelled the grand, antiphonal style of the Gabrielis into a bold new musical era.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) - "The Prince of Music"
- Palestrina at the Papal Chapel in Rome
-Given the designation "Prince of Music", Palestrina was the unrivalled master of Sixteenth century religious music, Palestrina's influence was felt across the Catholic world for much of the Seventeenth century, and he was revered by his contemporaries as the most accomplished composer of polyphony and choral writing.
- His prolific output of church music was a key feature in the Counter Reformation, composing hundreds of motets and masses
- Hearing Palestrina's choir at the Sistine Chapel, one observer described their "voices like so many bells tunable to one another."
Original Manuscript of the Pope Marcellus Mass
Martin Luther and The Protestant Reformation
Luther's views about music were very strong, and included the following:
* Luther believed strongly in the educational and ethical power of music to "affect" the individual in positive ways.
* Luther wanted his congregations to sing together (unison=one "united" voice) in their native language.
* Luther saw hymns (chorales or Kirchenlied) as a means of spreading the Gospel.
The Reformation, for our purpose here, centered around the theology and actions of three men: Ulrich Zvengli in Switzerland, John Calvin in England, and Martin Luther in Germany. Luther's famous Ninety-five Theses were posted on the door of a church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517. While Luther would have preferred to see internal reform within Catholic tradition and practice, he soon found himself leading people in another direction. As a musician and composer, Luther was both drawn to polyphonic vocal music styles, but repelled by the lack of opportunity for congregational singing within Catholic practice. Certainly polyphony could be beautiful, complex, symbolic and spiritual for those who sang it, but this last element (the spiritual) was missing the mark for most listeners.
The Chorale (Kirchenlied=Church song) is a strophic hymn based on a simple melody with words. This premise is very similar to the idea of both native folk songs and plainchant of the Church - simple melody with text. As a composer, Luther published his first four collections of Chorales in 1524. In 1526 he composed a German Mass substituting German chorales for musical portions of the Proper of the Mass. One of the most popular Chorale tunes attributed to Luther is "Ein Feste Burg" ( A Mighty Fortress is Our God).
Music in England
Music flourished in England during the 16th century. Henry the VIII himself played the pipe organ, the lute, and the virginal, and was known as a composer. The influence of the Italian madrigal on English music eventually produced English madrigals composed by men including: Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Thomas Weelkes, and William Byrd. English composers gave more attention to the purely musical features of the madrigal and less on word painting (Italian).. word painting was still used, but assigned a subserviant role to the overall musical structure of the work. Likewise, lute songs and solo songs with viol accompaniment became popular in both England and France during the 16th century. Dowland's First Book of Songs and Ayres of four parts with tablature for the lute" . many of Dowland's works have a melancholy mood, or are tragic and emotionally intense as "in darkness let me dwell".