The Music of The Renaissance

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a)  In essence, sacred music was the most predominant during The Middle Ages as a result of the early Catholic Church’s dominance. The early Christian church mainly got their music from the Byzantine and Jewish religious chants that existed during this period. Similar to music in the western world, plainchant was monophonic: ideally, it consisted of a single melody with no symphonic complement or support (Upton 131). The Motet was one of the most important genres of sacred music which was polyphonic and used the religious text that did not exist in the mass. It was a single choral composition founded on a sacred Latin text using imitative polyphony with continuous voice portions that emulated each other. On the other hand, by this time mass was already set to music (Butterfield). However, to the early Catholics, this was a big problem as a result of the fact that mass used elaborates polyphonic. 

b) There is a progression of development of music in The Middle Ages from monophony to polyphony. For instance, the Gregorian chant was monophonic and was performed during several Roman Catholic traditions. The church modes filled in as incredible aids for composing smooth melodies (Burney and Mercer). They were inherently ill-suited to creating harmony, which turned out to be progressively challenging as harmony-composition turned more complex and common. Consequently, the evolution of polyphony begun when many artists started to aggrandize Gregorian chants with a parallel melody line which resulted in nasty-sounding intervals. However, these were primarily corrected by incorporating small deviations from its strict parallel motion to provide smooth sounding intervals. During The Middle Ages, polyphony emerged fully developed by each line acquiring rhythm and independent pitch movement.

Secular Song in the Renaissance

a) In music, progressive changes occurred, and a considerable number of the critical characteristics of lovely music that we see today developed during this period. Clarity was viewed as essential, and the compositions with every one of their ideas needed to be pleasing to the ear, as the center of the art shifted its focus on the experiences of existing humanity. In spite of the fact that humanity was viewed as an influential aspect of a universe made by God, absolute authority of the church began to wear away (Reese). As such, the aesthetic principles found a growing role in music. Before the Renaissance period, many of the secular western compositions were intended to be sung without any accompaniment including several of which were a Capella. However, many instruments were developed and given their voice.

b) Entertainment was booming outside the church.  For instance, Madrigals were a prevalent type of musical entertainment, particularly in England and Italy. Madrigals were founded on love poetry. They were usually sung by the educated people at parties. Unquestionably, Madrigals were emotionally expressive and used a melodic method known as word-painting (Upton). Aforementioned is where the music mirrors the actions of the content. For instance, if the text says 'going up,' the notes will also sound ascending. One well-known Italian madrigal writer was Carlo Gesualdo who is known for his outstanding emotional madrigals, for example, Beltà, poi che t'assenti. The English madrigals tended to be somewhat lighter and even amusing occasionally, using crude or vulgar topics and language. As such, madrigals reflected the humanism of the Renaissance period.

Works Cited

Burney, Charles, and Frank Mercer. A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (1789). Dover Publications, 1957.

Butterfield, Ardis. Poetry and Music in Medieval France: From Jean Renart to Guillaume De Machaut. Cambridge UP, 2002.

Reese, Gustave. Music in the Middle Ages: With an Introduction on the Music of Ancient Times. Norton, 1968.

Upton, Elizabeth R. Music and Performance in the Later Middle Ages. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Upton, Elizabeth R. "Reframing the Sacred/Secular Divide." Music and Performance in the Later Middle Ages, 2013, pp. 131-158.

October 05, 2023


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