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Early and Renaissance Music

? - 1600

Periods of Musical History

A quick guide to getting the most
information from this

• All concepts are in bold

• Important information in blue
Early and Renaissance Music

• In music, the word renaissance is used to

describe music composed or performed
between 1450 – 1600.

Music composed or performed earlier than

1450 may be referred to as early or medieval
Early and Renaissance Music

• The word renaissance literally means rebirth,

the name is appropriate to the time as there
was a keen interest in learning and culture.

Most of this learning was based on the ideas

expressed by the ancient Greeks and the
A little perspective…

• 1492 Columbus “discovers” North America

• 1431 Joan of Arc burned at the stake
• Scotch whiskey was invented
• Psychiatric hospitals
• Printing press c.1450
• 1452-1519 Leonardo da Vinci
• 1564-1616 William Shakespeare
• The first flushing toilet c.1591
Famous composers of Early and
Renaissance music


Renaissance Instruments
• Lute

• Lyre

• Sackbut

• Hurdy gurdy
• A group of instruments all from the same
family playing together.

• Early and renaissance music was composed

using a system of modes, modes are an early
version of the major and minor scale systems
we use today. This means that the music
from this period is modal.

It is easy to identify which mode a melody is

written in, all you have to do is look at the
note which the melody begins and ends on, and
the range of the melody.
Sacred and Secular

• Some of the greatest pieces of music from

the renaissance period were sacred. This
means they were composed for the church
and worship.

• Although sacred music was very popular,

composers began to experiment with secular
music, this is non religious music, which was
commonly used for entertainment and dancing.
Six Sections of the Mass
• The mass is one of the Benedictus
largest forms of sacred
music from this period.

It is best described as Agnus Dei

a sacred piece of choral
music, which uses the Credo

six main sections of the Gloria

Roman Catholic liturgy.
Main features of a Mass

• Here are some ways to help identify a mass

from the renaissance period…

– A mass uses Latin text

– Polyphonic texture
– Sung a capella
– Plainchant
Plainchant is an unaccompanied style of singing which has
no regular time signature as it follows the natural rhythm
of the words.

• A motet is a sacred choral work from the

renaissance period, it has very similar
features to that of a mass, however it does
not use religious text that is directly linked
to the liturgy, so it may be used in any church

– Sung a capella
– Polyphonic texture
– Written for chorus

• Besides the great many motets and masses

composed for the Catholic church services,
some composers wrote anthems to be sung
during Protestant services.

– Sung in English NOT Latin

– Performed by a full choir
– Unaccompanied
However on some occasions the anthem may have been
performed with soloists and accompanied by a consort of

• The madrigal is a secular piece of music which

became popular when a collection of Italian
madrigals with English words were published
in England in 1588.

– Through-composed
– Performed a capella
– Imitation
– Polyphonic texture
– Word painting
Word Painting

• There is close association between words ad

music in a madrigal, and the composer would
use every opportunity to introduce word

This is where the music illustrates the words

being sung, for example…
Word painting
• A good example of word painting is illustrated in the
madrigal As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending
by Thomas Weelkes, shown below:

• The ballett was developed from the madrigal,

originally it was danced as well as sung, and
has a distinctive dance rhythm.

– Strophic (opposite of the madrigal)

– “Fa la la” refrain
– Homophonic

• Another type of vocal music which developed

from the madrigal was the ayre. An ayre is in
strophic form could be performed in a variety
of ways:

– By solo voice with a lute accompaniment

– Voices with a consort of viols
– Voices alone
An example of ayre sheet music, the music was
printed in three directions so that all
performers, seated around a table, may share
the same copy of the music.
Dance Music

• Slow
• Stately
• 2 beats in the bar


• Quick
• Lively
• 3 beats in the bar