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English Renaissance Music. By Lissy Gulick. Overview.

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Presentation Transcript
  • We think of the Renaissance Era as 1400 - 1600, but musically, defining the beginning of the era is difficult, because the process by which music acquired "Renaissance" characteristics was a gradual one, and musicologists have placed its beginnings anywhere from 1300 to as late as the 1470s.
  • Little survives of the early music of England, by which is meant music that was used by the people before the establishment of musical notation (in the medieval period). And unfortunately, very few early English manuscripts survive, largely due to Henry VII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530’s.
  • On the other hand, folk music, handed down by oral tradition and crossing the Atlantic with the earliest colonists, survives better in our Appalachians than in does at home in England!

Sacred Music

(example 1: Gloria from a mass by Byrd).

  • Common genres of Renaissance sacred music were the Mass and the motet, a Latin-texted sacred polyphonic composition whose text is not part of the Mass Ordinary. Thomas Tallis and William Byrd are probably the best-known English sacred music composers of the period.
secular music
Secular Music
  • In addition, secular music had an increasingly wide distribution, with a wide variety of forms: solo songs or compositions for many voices, of which the most famous is the madrigal; purely instrumental music, such as performance pieces for recorder or viol consorts ( “families” of the same instrument in different sizes), and dance music for various mixed ensembles.
  • In any event, 15th century England produced an explosion of polyphonic composing in both the sacred and the secular genres. Polyphony simply means that, unlike solo or choral pieces, music has several voices or parts being sung or played at the same time.. think of it as a discussion carried on by 3-8 people who don’t wait for others to finish their thoughts before chiming in with their own!

(example 2: Frog Galliard, recorder consort and tamborine)

  • The Renaissance influence internationalized courtly music in both instruments and content: the lute, dulcimer and early forms of the harpsichord were played; ballads and madrigals were sung; the pavane and galliard were danced.
  • Musical knowledge became a vital attribute for the nobleman and woman, and playing an instument was an almost-mandatory social grace.

(example 3: Canario (dance)

  • For other social classes, instruments like the pipe, tabor, bagpipe, shawm, hurdy gurdy and crumhorn accompanied folk music and community dance. The verses of the little dance tune, Canario, feature several typical period instruments: lute, recorders, finger symbals, alto shawm, orgel, and two different crumhorns!
  • The rebec- ancestor of the fiddle – was associated with dance music, continuing into the 18th century; you can hear its echoes even today in the country fiddlin’ of the United States!

a consort of shawms

(example 4) A Lover and His Lass (song)
  • We also have indirect evidence that music was part of university Christmas revels and classically-themed plays given in Latin or Greek: we have records of payments for performances by “townies” and university service people who were also musicians, though not as a primary means of livelihood.

Christmas Revels

  • In addition, music was specifically composed for the theater: dances were created and song words, such as Shakespeare’s A Lover and His Lass, were set to music. (example 4)
music the madrigal example 5 vesta
Music: the Madrigalexample 5: Vesta
  • The madrigalwas the most important secular form of music of its time. It was polyphonic and unaccompanied, with the number of voices varying from two to eight. To our ears, a madrigal sounds melodically and rhythmically complex, so it is difficult for us to think of it as accessible to untrained musicians. But its principal role was as private entertainment for small groups of skilled amateurs. Anna Russell, the late great British musical comedienne, describes madrigal-singing as a social activity among friends much like an evening of cards: people sat around square tables reading music with square notes off of square pages! “Think of the people you play Canasta with, singing madrigals,” she says, “and that is probably just about what it sounded like.”
However, it wasn’t long before virtuoso professional singers began to replace amateurs at these musical evenings, and composers wrote music for them that was not only harder to sing, but with sentiments that tended to require soloists rather than an ensemble to be dramatically convincing.
  • A division between performers and passive audiences – not the large audiences present at a public ceremonial spectacle, as seen earlier in the century, but relatively small, intimate gatherings, with performers and listeners– began to be seen.
  • Much of what was once expressed in a madrigal in 1590, could twenty years later be expressed by an aria in the new form of opera; however, the madrigal continued to live on into the 17th century – not to say at “Madrigal Dinners” in our own time.
  • Our sample is by Thomas Weelkes, "As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending," an elaborate compliment to Elizabeth: Vesta was descending the hill while Elizabeth was climbing up; the vestal virgins all deserted their goddess in order to join the "maiden queen."
music the ricercare
Music: the Ricercare
  • Example 6: ricercare
  • A ricercar (or ricercare) is a late-Renaissance composition. In its most common contemporary usage, it refers to an early kind of fugue. The term means to search out, and many ricercars act as preludes by "searching out" the key or mode of a subsequent piece, or explore variations on a theme from another piece. The term also means an etude or study that explores a technical device in playing an instrument, or singing.
  • The earliest ricercari, for the lute, appeared in late 15th-century manuscripts. Its development paralleled the motet, with which it shared many imitative procedures. Instrumental transcriptions of motets were common in the early sixteenth century, and composers began to create works like them, but written for instruments alone.
  • Greensleeves (EXAMPLE 7) is one of the most familiar songs in the Western hemisphere. Not only is it heard in versions for piano, recorder, harp, lute, guitar, and nearly every other instrument, but its tune was also used for a well-loved Christmas carol (What child is this?)-- in the days before copyright, it was common for melodies to be interchangeable, and for the same melodies to be used (with differing words) for secular and religious purposes.
  • Both the lyrics and music for Greensleeves have been attributed to King Henry VIII (though only speculatively). Greensleeves' special melodic appeal is due at least in part to its use of the Dorian mode (one of the medieval church modes, very similar to the minor mode). The text of is also interesting; although its verse rhyme scheme is a fairly regular ABAB, it has a non-rhyming refrain:

"Alas, my love, you do me wrong

To cast me off discourteously,

For I have loved you oh so long/

Delighting in your company.

Greensleeves was all my joy; Greensleeves was my delight.

Greensleeves, my heart of gold, And all for my lady Greensleeves."

(There are many variants.)

For those of you wondering if the author of this text had a sleeve fetish: during the Renaissance sleeves were often bedecked with jewels and embroidery, and were detachable from the rest of the garment; it wasn't uncommon for a lady to give her sleeve to a man as a love-pledge.
  • Additionally, a large amount of Renaissance poetry and music was about love for a married woman, so it was common to give the beloved a "code name" (in this case, "Greensleeves").
  • (EXAMPLE 8) He That Would an Alehouse Keep, by contrast, is an archetypical tavern drinking song, a piece of popular music which has crossed the border into folk music.
(EXAMPLE 9) Cries – We end with a fascinating anomaly, by Orlando Gibbons, one of England’s greatest polyphonic composers of the period. In this piece, he has set to music a myriad of street-vendors’ cries—it is in effect an “audio recording” of everyday life. It gives us a fascinating glimpse of the street life of Renaissance England-- making up somewhat for the loss of early music and manuscripts!
  • Other resources and music can be found on my website, lissygulick.com. ENJOY!