The History of Early Music Styles – Renaissance Period (Part Three)

The introduction of polyphony during the MedievalEra helped to set the stage for the birth of Renaissance Music. The Renaissance Age was, of course, a time of “rebirth” and European citizens, especially those of noble class, grew in their knowledge of the sciences, philosophy, and the arts. During this time; however, a renewed desire to learn was mostly in part to the discovery of the early Roman and Greek writings. This era began approximately 1400 CE and ended near 1600 CE. The Protestant Reformation was also a significant event that took place during the Renaissance Period.

One of the most significant inventions of the day was that of the printing press. This invention made it possible for people, especially the upper classes, learn how to read music and perfect their talents. Having printed music accessible to the public was an enormous leap from that of the sacred texts which were strictly for the use in the Catholic Church and monasteries. The invention of the printing press also meant that composers had another form or income because they sold their works to music teachers, as well as to churches, both Catholic and Protestant.

The motet and the mass were two of the most widely written pieces of music for the Roman Catholic Church. A motet is a short piece of sacred choral music. It is written in Latin and has polyphonic parts that do not require accompaniment.Mass is another form of sacred music that has five sections, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Angus Dei. The masswas also written with polyphonic vocal parts. The pipe organaccompanied some of the motets and masses. Many instruments were not allowed in the church because they were associated with the secular music of the day which was becoming more prominent. Slowly, though, other musical instruments, such as the viol, lute, and the recorder or flute gained respect and the Catholic Church used them in their repertoire. The Reformation also brought hymns or chorales to the Protestant churches. The congregation sang these hymns. Hymns were significantly different from the masses and liturgy that the priests and monks of the Catholic Church chanted or sang.

Polyphony was an integral part of Renaissance Music; however, many musicians during this period chose to simplify polyphony making it more pleasing to the ear. As new instruments were invented, simplified polyphony made it possible for composers to integrate multiple instruments in the musical scores, and the musicians were able to master the materialeasier because it was not complicated like the works of the Medieval composers.

One of the prominent composers of the Renaissance was Josquin des,Prez. Prez was a Flemish composer and wrote music for the Roman Catholic Church, as well as secular music. In his secular works, he brought French poetry to life. He also composed instrumental music and Italian frottole. A frottolewas a simple composition that had four distinct vocal parts, with a clear melody line and chords. It can be accompanied or unaccompanied,and it was usually in three-quarter time or four-four time.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was another well-known composer during the Renaissance. According to, was the Maestro di Cappella at the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s Cathedral. He featured a wide range of musical expression with pure, fluid lines, mixed with various tonal qualities and in his sacred works. Palestrina’smost famous work is the Pope Marcellus Mass.

Near the close of the Renaissance Period, the Madrigal originated in England and became quite popular. Poets and composers wrote many English Madrigals which told many a sad story of rejected love.

The Renaissance Era was an excellent time for improvement, change,and growth in every area of life. Composers learned that they had the power to influence the listener’s emotions through their music. They did this through the musical style, as well as the words that were in the composition. Stirring a person’s feelingsthrough music has been carried on throughout the ages to the present day.