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(#8) Music in the Renaissance

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Lori Roy

on 14 October 2014

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Transcript of (#8) Music in the Renaissance

Music in the Renaissance
Renaissance is the name given to a complex current of thought that worked deep changes in Europe in the 14th to 16th centuries.

While the Middle Ages focused primarily on religious and spiritual aspects, the Renaissance began to focus more on humanism and the revival of Greco-Roman ideals. Art began to reflect the needs and desires of people and reflected the world around them.

This was the age of Columbus and Magellan, da Vinci, Copernicus, Galileo, and Shakespeare.

Renaissance composers no longer felt obliged to always use
plainchants, but when they did, they treated them as melodies, not as rock-solid foundations for polyphonic structures.

They embellished chants with extra notes, set them in graceful rhythms, and smoothed out passages that struck them as awkward and old-fashioned. This procedure is known as paraphrase.

Composers began to be more concerned with the sonorous aspect of the music rather than it's function. This new sensitivity toward sonority and melody was one of the first signs of Renaissance attitudes toward music.

Early Homophony!
The fifteenth century also saw the beginning of
composed homophony- that is, music of a
harmonic texture. In the simpler plainchant
paraphrases of the time, the melody is often
highlighted by an accompaniment that does not
really sound polyphonic. In reality, is still
polyphonic but most of the time the voices move together and their independence vanishes.

Gillaume DuFay (1400-1474)
Gillaume Dufay was born in the north of France near Belgium, a region that
supplied the whole of France with musicians for a great many years.

For over twenty-five years, however, he worked in Italy, where he came to know artists and thinkers of the Renaissance and the patrons who supported them. His later years were spent at the important French cathedral of Cambrai.

Motet "Nuper rosarum flores"

Motets were developed in the Medieval period by the composers in Notre Dame and continued all the way through the Renaissance.

Motets were originally sacred pieces written with fragments of Gregorian chants and new words added to the top voice. The fragments of the original chant were known as the "cantus firmus." Later, composers developed new forms of motet, which had French words, secular topic, etc.

Organum gradually fell out of fashion and the motet became the leading polyphonic genre for both sacred and secular music.

"Nuper rosarum flores"
A motet composed by Gillaume DuFay for the March 25, 1436 consecration of the Florence cathedral on the occasion of the completion of the cathedral dome designed by Fillipo Brunelleschi.
There are two tenor voices in this motet that form the cantus firmus. The cantus firmus is the Gregorian chant melody that forms the basis of the pieces to which other lines are added.

These two tenor voices repeat four times, but each time, the voices follow a diminution scheme of 6:4:2:3. That is, the feeling of the rhythm and speed starts centering around these numbers during each repetition, and the lengths of the repetition form this ratio. This is unusual because for motets of this time- usually the pattern just gets faster.
People interpret this different ways. One musicologist, Charles Warren, thought it would mimic the dimensions of the cathedral itself. Musicologist Craig Wright proposed a more popular theory; that the numbers represented the dimensions given for the Temple of Solomon as stated in Kings 6:1-20: 60 x 40 x 20 x 30 cubits. Other people think the ratios mean nothing at all.
Text and Translation (first part only) DuFay "Nuper Rosarum Flores"
Nuper rosarum flores
Ex dono pontificis
Hieme licet lorrida
Tibi, virgo coelica,
Pie et sancte deditum
Grandis templum machinae
Condecorarunt perpetim.
Recently garlands of roses
given by the Pope
-despite a terrible winter-
adorned this temple of magnificant structure
forever dedicated in a pious and holy fashion to you, heavenly Virgin.
This motet is also an example of an isorhythmic motet. Isorhythm arranges a fixed pattern of pitches with a repeating rhythmic pattern. The repeating pitch patterns were called the "color" and the repeating rhythms were called the "talea."
The title and text stems from the name of the cathedral itself: Santa Maria del Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flower.
Throughout the Renaissance, works were becoming grander, longer, and more involved. The problem with this large-scale construction was how to write music that would hold together throughout the Mass, the most important of Catholic services. The Mass contains numerous parts:

Kyrie A simple prayer: "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy."
Gloria A long hymn, beginning: "Glory to God in the highest"
Credo A recital of Christian beliefs: "I believe in one God, the Father almighty"
Sanctus Another shorter hymn: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts"
Agnus Dei Another simple prayer: "Lamb of God...have mercy on us."
Josquin Desprez (1450-1521)
Josquin Desprez was the first master of the high Renaissance style.

Like Gillaume Dufay, he was born in the north of France and traveled to Italy.

Josquin Desprez wrote eighteen different settings of the Mass, all large pieces in the standard 5 section form (as well as motets and chansons).

As a high Renaissance composer, it was important to Josquin Desprez that music was an expressive, not just functional. Classical philosophers, such as Plato, has testified that music was capable of arousing emotions in a very powerful way. In the Bible, when Saul is possessed by an evil spirit, David cures him by playing his harp. Renaissance composers sought to give music the power to affect people's emotions and move the soul the way that it had during Classical times. They did this by.....
striving for accurate declamation (words and rhythms followed natural speech patterns)
word/text painting (when motion of the music illustrates the text)

Italian Madrigal
The madrigal was a secular style of song that became popular around 1530.

The madrigal is a short composition set to a one-stanza poem. (stanzas=verses).

It was typically a love poem, with a rapid turnover of ideas and images and usually there was a lot of text painting. Ideally it is sung by one singer per part, in a non-concert setting.

Madrigals are interesting because the music is generally subservient to the words, which often makes it difficult to listen to.
English Madrigal
Italian madrigals became all the rage in England, which then led to a separate style of madrigals as people began writing their own. The taste in English music may have been strongly influenced by Queen Elizabeth's own music.

In 1601, twenty-three English composers contributed madrigals to a patriotic
anthology in Elizabeth's honor called "The Triumphs of Oriana." All of the poems
ended with the same refrain, "Long live fair Oriana!"

Tomas Weelkes Madrigal: As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending.
Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613)
Carlo Gesualdo was a true Renaissance man: He was the Prince of Venoza, the Count of Conza, he played the lute, he composed madrigals, and he was a murderer.

His style of madrigal writing was intensely chromatic. Such chromaticism would not be heard again until the late 19th century.

In 1586, Gesualdo married his first cousin, Donna Maria d'Avalos. Two years later, she began an affair with Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria. Although the affair was well-known in the public eye, Maria was able to keep it secret from Gesualdo himself, until he returned one day from a hunting trip and caught them.

Eyewitness accounts of the murder survive. Although Gesualdo's servants helped him and did most of the murdering, Gesualdo himself stabbed Maria multiple times, shouting "She's not dead yet!" The duke suffered multiple slash wounds from a sword, as well as a shot to the head.
The bodies were then left on display in front of the castle and Gesualdo escaped, free from prosecution (though not revenge). He married again, though his music shows that he suffered a good deal from guilt and grief.
"Moro, lasso, al mio duolo"

Moro, lasso, al mio duolo
E chi mi puo dar vita
Ahi, che m'ancide e non vuol darmi aita!
O dolorosa sorte
Chi dar vita i puo, ahi, mi da morte!
I die! Languishing of grief,
and the person who can give me life,
alas, kills me and does not want to give me aid.
O woeful fate!
That the one who can give me life, alas, gives me death!
Instrumental Music
It's about time...
The best sixteenth century composers concentrated almost entirely on vocal music, on music with words. The English composer William Byrd is the only notable exception. This is in keeping with the Renaissance preoccupation with expression in music, achieved through the association of music with words.
Nevertheless, instruments were being developed, including the first violins and harpsichords and the lute. Other, odd instruments were being developed as well, like the crumhorn, cornett, and sackbut.
Cornetts and sackbuts
lute/ archlute/ theorbo
The most widespread of instrumental genres in Renaissance music was dance music, which was a reflection of the popularity of dancing at the time. Some of the more popular dances were the pavan (a solemn dance in duple meter), the galliard (a faster dance in triple meter), the Italian saltarello, the Irish jig, and the French bransle. This music was often used in Renaissance ballets. Conforming to the dance steps, this music was written in easy-to-follow phrases, almost always 4 or 8 measures long. Each would be played twice in succession to produce forms such as aabbcc.
Other Renaissance Composers
William Byrd
Thomas Weelkes
Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina
Thomas Luis de Victoria
Roland de Lassus (also known as Orlando di Lasso)
Chanson (song) Mille regretz:
A thousand regrets at leaving you
and departing from your loving look.
I feel such great sorrow and grievous pain
that all will see my days are numbered.
Kyrie from
Pange Lingua:
The first four lines of text are repeated in a similar fashion but with slight differences in musical interpretation. The last line is then repeated exactly the same. A lot of text painting throughout. The homophonic texture of the first line starts with a descending chromatic slow line, symbolizing pain and suffering. In the imitative polyphony setting of the second line, the music takes on a lively pace and has ascending major passages. The texture changes back and forth to contrast death vs. life. One can hear each of the singers sighs "ahi, ahi" in the music.
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