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Music of the Renaissance


The Renaissance era (1400-1600) refers to the period that marked the revitalization of art and rebirth of music. Musicians and artists of this time composed and performed style of music that was different from that of the medieval era due to the influence of the ancient Rome Greece classical models.

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Research studies point out that music in the medieval era was stricter while that of the Renaissance, due to general philosophy, flourished and exhibited individualism and difference in terms of artistic freedom (Vaubel, 2005). This essay explores the characteristics and impacts of music during the renaissance era.


To begin with, it is imperative to mention that humanism is a philosophical term affirming individuals’ responsibility and ability in life to lead ethical lives and have freedom and aspirations to achieve good for themselves and the greater humanity. This philosophy is driven by compassion, hopefulness and also inspired by art. Moreover, it is informed by science and has a rationale that is based on dignity and beliefs on human beings (Vaubel, 2005).

Earlier on in the middle ages, social and political power was held by the Catholic Church and as such influenced the kind of music played to sacred topics. However, lack of supernaturalism found in humanism prompted the invention, development, and addition of value to the culture and experience of human beings through scientific methods and reliance upon intelligence and reason.

Impact on music

Renaissance era was dominated by church music that was contrapuntal, counterpoint and had a polyphonic texture. The choral polyphony church music was made up of monophonic and homophonic parts and was meant to be sung without instruments (Vaubel, 2005). Besides church music, secular music was also performed and composed during this period.

Earlier on before rebirth, the kind of music played was restricted and lacked a humanistic approach that moved the hearts and minds of listeners. Humanism transformed the music of renaissance period from frustrating middle-age music to one that is ideal and full of rhetorical eloquence. The stylistic change of this music sprang from musical humanism that was seen by how composers related music and words.

Additionally, humanism created in renaissance music, an imitative counterpoint. This was an art that was used by the Burgundian and French composers. Unlike church music that was strict in patterns, humanism created room for using the same note patterns for music (Vaubel, 2005). Additionally, it impacted on church music by creating a change on how praise and worship songs were sung in the church.

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The impact of reformation from humanism spread from break–off movements that included Calvinism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism to the Roman Catholic Church music led by a German priest called Martin Luther who led reforms in music (Vaubel, 2005). As a result, simpler melodies were introduced in the Catholic Church.

Moreover, as earlier indicated, church music in the renaissance period was mostly acapella. Due to humanism, the church began using musical instruments. By mid-1500s, the use of organ, keyboard instruments such as harpsichord and clavichord as well as brass instruments took center stage. Additionally, for the accompaniment of instrumental music and singing, the lute was extensively used.

Examples of music from the Renaissance

Secular music

It is imperative to note that secular music played during the Renaissance period was divided into two categories that included instrumental and vocal music. The madrigals were examples of secular vocal music. They were sung acapella. In comparison, Italian madrigals were highly sophisticated than English madrigal in terms of intellectual poetry seen in their lofty metaphors.

English madrigals followed “fa la” syllables. An example of secular vocal music was the madrigal by John Farmer called Fair Phyllis that was composed of acapella and polyphonic pieces that tended to alternate between polyphony and homophony (Vaubel, 2005).

Instrumental secular music was made up of a popular genre of dance. The pattern of dance done during a performance at courts engaged the use of intricate steps. An example of dance music was by Michael Praetorius called The Three Dances from Terpsichore (Vaubel, 2005).

Church music

Church music in the renaissance era was harmonious and laced with texture. They included the mass and motet. The latter was sacred and had five movements such as Agnus Dei, Sanctus, Credo, Gloria, and Kyrie. One of the famous composers of church music in the renaissance period was Palestrina.

An example of a motet is Ave Maria sung by Josquin des Prez. Renaissance church music was performed in courts of noblemen, in academies, churches, and private houses. They were composed in Latin with religious texts.

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Both church and secular music were made unique in the sense that musicians and artists of this time composed and performed style of music different from that of the medieval era exhibited individualism and artistic freedom.

Transitioning from Renaissance into the Baroque era

With humanism, composers and musicians developed loads of interest in Rome and Greece ancient cultures. As such, musicians such as the Florentina Camerata group sang texts and wrote monody dramas related to the mythology of the Romans and the Greeks. Their songs had back up made from harmonies played in the background accompanying melody from a singer.

In this music, harmonic instruments such as a keyboard and a cello for bass were used. These drama songs spread into the Baroque era and were later known as opera. Opera was important in the Baroque era since it played a key role in Greek drama shows. Intellectuals from Italy were interested in ancient Greek drama and therefore, they depended on opera music to recapture its spirit.

Opera music blended well with the homophonic music style by using poetic melody to attract the concentration of listeners. It was during the Baroque era that orchestra evolved. It came from a combination of vocal and operatic music. The first great opera music in that era was called Orfeo and was played by Claudio Monteverdi in 1607 (Vaubel, 2005).

The birth of opera was a fulfillment of extreme affections in Baroque music. Melodic freedom due to humanism was shown by the way musicians displayed their emotions. It is imperative to note that music in that era moved the hearts of listeners, composers, and instrumentalists and caused them to freely express their emotions. It was during this time that the modal system of the Renaissance period was replaced by a tonal system of the Baroque era.

Research studies indicate that the antique style music, famously known as Renaissance music, required academic training to gain singing and composing skills. The music style in the Baroque era had new concepts that did not require training. It was a different concept from that which existed during the Renaisthe dance era.

Learning how to express words and emotions in that new concept was spontaneous. Musicians and composers doing secular and church music in Baroque e era mixed stile modern with style antics to make it interesting. The counterpoint art that had dominated the Renaissance period crossed into Barthe one era and reached its peak after being oriented harmonically by Bach.

During this time, Baroque’s music was considered contrapuntal. However, Baroque music took a new turn and adopted new styles such as Basso Continuo and Stile Concertato. With these styles, a keyboard and a bassoon were used to play music. The harmony was filled in with the keyboard while the written parts were performed using the bassoon, cello or the viola da gamba (Vaubel, 2005).

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Stile Concerto involved a concept whereby an ensemble and a group of performers played music in opposition. Finally, it is also imperative to note that the Baroque era marked the first time in history when dynamics and tempo were used in music. Tempo involved styles such as presto and allegro while piano and forte formed the dynamics.


Vaubel, R. (2005). The role of competition in the rise of Baroque and renaissance music. Journal of Cultural Economics, 29(4), 277-297.

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