About the Renaissance era in general
After the Middle Ages, plague-ravaged Europe got back on its feet thanks to the economic drive of northern Italy and the Hanseatic cities. Culture and commerce mixed as wealthy families became patrons of the best and the brightest in art and science. In a dizzying era of voyages of discovery, printing, Reformation and the discovery that the Earth revolved around the Sun, humanism became a leading cultural force. Whereas people in the Middle Ages had focused on what was right from the religious point of view, in the Renaissance the focus shifted to what was beautiful. A free, civilised person was the new ideal for the upper classes, and specifically their ambition was the rebirth (which is what renaissance means in French) of the civilisation of Ancient Greece.
Man is the measure of everything. –Protagoras
Pepin the Short, King of the Franks (714–768), wished to standardise the monophonic chant used in the liturgy of the Church, and therefore it had to be written down. This led to the development of neumes based on Gregorian chant, and over the next few centuries, by the time of the Renaissance, music notation as we know it to day had largely developed. Polyphonic music could not have evolved without musical notation, because in music with many parts it is essential to know the exact timing of each note.
Music in the Renaissance era
The major contribution of the Renaissance to music was the establishment of polyphony and its basic structure, the four-part choir. Have you ever thought about where the names of the most common voice parts come from – soprano, alto, tenor and bass?
The tenor (from the Italian tenere, ‘to hold’) is the high male voice that in early polyphony ‘held’ the cantus firmus or melody, around which the other parts were shaped. The bass (from the Italian basso, ‘low’) is the low male voice that is under the tenor, and while the alto (from the Italian alto, ‘high’) is today the low female voice, it used to be a high male voice, hence the name. The alto is above the tenor, and the soprano (from the Italian sopra, ‘above’) is the high female voice that is above all the others.
Rhythm in the Renaissance era
Rhythm is tied to polyphony.
Melody in the Renaissance era
Every voice is a separate melody.
Harmony in the Renaissance era
Modes and polyphony.
Form in the Renaissance era
Music was divided into sacred and secular.
Tonal colour in the Renaissance era
Singing was supported with instruments.
Dynamics in the Renaissance era
Polyphony governs dynamics.
Instruments of the Renaissance era
New instruments were developed during the Renaissance era. Amateur musicians were keen music makers, and it was to cater to them that the printing and publishing of music began at this time. Improvisation was an important part of music-making in this era, particularly for professional musicians.
Dulcian eli kurtaali
Viola da gamba
Composers of the Renaissance era
Renaissance culture was different in different parts of Europe. Composers typically worked for the Church or for an upper-class patron. Composers often found themselves amidst tensions between humanist and religious views and reflected their era in their music.