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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 11 months ago

Renaissance 1400-1600



Historical Context

The start of the renaissance in the 15th century is somewhat ambiguous. It is marked with the rise of humanism as well as the end of feudalistic society. It is generally considered to range from 1400 to 1600. Interest in ancient art was renewed during this period. Some examples include writings of ancient Greeks and Romans, which led to an general interest in learning. Opportunities opened for the lower class for education and slowly, class became less of a limiting factor in society. The Renaissance was also marked by the change in views of the world from a more religious view to a more realistic view. Explorers such as Christopher Columbus and others such as Nicolaus Capernicus and Galileo Galilei mark this change in views. Slowly, music also changed its aim from purely religious music, to secular. The invention of movable type to print books by Johann Gutenberg in 1450 allowed Ottaviano de'Petrucci in 1501 to apply printing to music. This allowed easier dispersion and spread of works to the public. Also, this quickly allowed the spread of music, as entertainment and as an art, to reach people of all classes and places. The Renaissance movement made music more accessable to the general public than it had been before this time. (Miller 49-50)


Important dates


1417 Single Papacy restored to Rome
1450 Gutenberg perfects printing from movable type
1453 End of Hudred Years' War
1475 Tinctoris's Terminorum Musicae Diffinitorium
1477 Demise of the duchies of Burgundy
1492 Columbus's voyage to the West Indies
1496 Practica musice by Franchinus Gaffurius
1497 Death of Ockeghem and Josquin's composition of "Déploration sur le trépas de Jean Ockeghem"
1501 Petrucci first prints polyphonic music (Harmonice musices odhecaton A)
1503 Josquin commands high salary as maestro di cappella at Ferrara
1508 Intabulatura de lauto by Joan Ambrosio
1511 Sebastian Virdung's Musica getutsct und ausgezogen (A Summary of Music in Germany)
1517 Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the Wittenberg Cathedral door
1524 First publication of Lutheran chorales
1536 Luis de Milán: Libro de musica de vihuela de mano intitulado El Maestro
1539 Arcadeot[s first book of madrigals published
1545-1563 Council of Trent
1549 First publication of Sternhold and Hopkins's Psalter
1558 Gioseffo Zarlino's Le istituzioni harmoniche (The Art of Counterpoint)
1559 Adrian Willaer: Musica nova
1567 Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli published
1575 Byrd-Tallis: Cantiones Sacrae
1592 Anthology of Italian madrigals, Il trionfo de Dori
1601 Thomas Morley's collection of madrigals, The Triumphes of Oriana
1609 Fitzwilliam Virginal Book copied by Francis Tregian

(Miller 47-48)


Style of Music

Most music was written with polyphonic texture, featuring four or more parts in imitation, for sacred vocal music. There was greater sense of harmony in the parts, but pieces were composed with modes, instead of scales. The over all style evolved over the centuries, starting with the dominant Flemish and French style. The ability for performers and composers to move through different countries and cultures slowly allowed different styles to adapt, assimulate, and evolve. National styles, such as from Italy, slowly began to rise later in the sixteenth century. Whole scores were rare. Most of the compositions were individual sections, and bar lines were also very rarely used.


Forms of Music

Common forms used in religious music during this time included mass, motet, laude, and madrigale spirituale. Most of the religious music had a dominant vocal part sung by church choirs. Some forms of vocal music during the period include madrigal, frottola, ccaccia, chanson, villancico, villotta, canzonetta, villanella and the lute song. Finally, instrumental music during the renaissance included toccata, prelude, canzona, intabulation, and ricercar.


Instrumental Music

The popularity of instrumental music rose during the sixteenth century. Though not use to a full extent, instrumental music still existed in the form of secular dance music. When used with vocal music, they were only used to double parts in the early sixteenth century, but later the use evolved into a wider range. The most popular instrument was the lute. Other instruments include viola, racckett, sackbut, trumpet, and crumhorn.



Composers of the early renaissance include Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474), Johannes Ockeghem (1410-1497), Jacob Obrecht (1457-1505), and Josquin des Prez (1440-1521). Composers of the late renaissance include Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), Jacob Handl (1550-1591), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), and Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). There is a very thin line of distinction between early and late renaissance composers.


Josquin des Prez 1440~1521

A Renaissance composer that studied under Johannes Ockeghem (1420~1495), a Flemish school composer. He was one of the most prominent musicians, composing many masses, motets, and other music, though most of his surviving music consists of secular music. He first worked as a singer in the Sistine Chapel. Though he drew much upon Dufay and Ockeghem in his early works, he used their styles to develope his own. His music became the beginnings of Late or High Renaissance.


Thomas Tallis 1505~1585

A composer that worked mainly for the church for British royalty. He wrote many pieces in Latin and English, such as motets and English anthems. He was known for his mastery of composing vocal music with easy melodies.


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 1525~1594

A very famous composer of music for the Roman Catholic Church, Palestrina first worked as a singer for the church. He later worked as an organist in Palestrina and master of the Cappella Giuila. Upon his dedication of masses to Pope Julius III, he was given a position in the Pontifical Chapel. He also worked as conductor at the Lateran church in Rome. In 1560, he composed Improperia with such success that it has been played at the Sistine Chapel every Good Friday. He was also hired by the Church to rid religious music of secular characteristics: use of street-ballads and tumultuous counterpoint. The most famous of these compositions was Missa papae Marcelli.


Tomas Luis de Victoria 1548~1611

Victoria's music shunned the elaborate counterpoint of his contemporaries, using simple lines and homophonic structure. He did however seek rhythmic variety. He used dissonance more than Palestrina and used some intervals that were prohibited in the application of the 16th century counterpoint. Uncommon to most sacred music in Spain at this time, Victoria used instruments in his religious music.



  • Miller, Hugh M. and Dale Cockrell. History of Western Music. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

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