• The Middle Ages–the period directly preceding the Renaissance–saw the use of music for specific purposes. This included songs used to accompany knights riding into battle, songs for working, for dancing, and most notably for religious ceremony.
  • The majority of this music has been lost. Only church music survived because only men of the church were educated with the ability to notate it.
  • Music, in particular singing, was a very important aspect of religious life. It provided people with a way to communicate with God.
  • Primary style of singing: Gregorian chant. Simple melodies, clear recitation of the text (“lyrics”). Anything beyond this was considered too creative and unnecessary for religious practice.
  • The pipe organ was the only instrument allowed in the church.
  • Music was not seen as an art by scholars, but was more closely related to science because it can be measured (timing, note durations, sound physics, etc.).
  • Music could also be found in the courts of the nobility for the purposes of social gatherings such as dances.
  • Women were not permitted to participate in church music, except in convents, but played a small role in the music of the courts.
  • Some instruments as we know them today were developed in the Middle Ages, such as the sackbut (forerunner of the trombone) and the shawm (ancestor of the oboe).

Origins of Renaissance Music

  • Thinkers of the Renaissance tried to invigorate the arts by looking to the past of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • The effect of classical antiquity on music was much slower, however, because very little of the music had survived in any written form.
  • The “rebirth” of music came in the form of adopting attitudes about past music rather than imitating it.
  • Music became much more of an art during the Renaissance; it was emotional and powerful

Humanism and Music

  • Middle Ages culture = church dominated; submission to the almighty
  • Renaissance culture = focus on the individual
  • Therefore and individual’s creative genius was held in much higher regard (composers were now recognized)
  • Song lyrics and opera themes focussed on the human condition (love, life, death)

Patronage and Music Printing

  • Music was considered an expressive art in the Renaissance, and became an art of the secular world rather than the sacred.
  • This offered musicians and composers greater opportunities for employment, but also opportunities to demand higher salaries since there was a greater demand for their music.
  • Patrons of music were primarily nobles, those with money who can afford to commission pieces from composers.
  • The advent of the printing press created a commercial market for written music at cheap prices
  • It shifted patronage from the nobility to the general public who can now afford to support the musical arts.
  • Music printing brought music into the homes and helped develop a growing amateur musician population and an increase in secular music.

Musical Genres of the Renaissance

  • Motet: religious music for a choir; the singers set a sacred text (often in Latin) to a melody.
  • Madrigal: secular music for a group of four or more people; the singers set a poem (often about love) to a melody.
  • Both genres involve word painting: a way of singing where the sound and direction of the melody imitates or expresses the meaning of the words. Ex.  words like “fast, quickly” would be sung rapidly.
  • Opera: Opera developed during the Renaissance out of the desire to revive ancient Greek dramas.
  • The Florentine Camerata (a group of thinkers and artists) developed the style and techniques of opera based on the conclusions made about what little information they had available on Greek dramas (such as singing the text rather than speaking it).
  • The operatic style of singing all dialogue with accompanied music grew out of this.
  • The orchestra as we know it today also developed with the opera during the Renaissance out of a need to have a musical ensemble more suited for public theatres.
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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