During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, musical instruments were used to play both vocal music as well as independent instrumental music, composed either for an ensemble of instruments or for a solo instrument only. There were two basic methods for using instruments for the performance of vocal music: (1) one musical part--the soprano, alto, tenor, or bass--could be performed on an instrument by simply playing the notes (that is, the melody) and omitting the text or (2) one or more of the musical parts could be doubled by instruments and singers, that is, both a singer and an instrumentalist could perform one part simultaneously. But, in addition to using instruments to substitute for or double vocal parts, there were three basic types of independent instrumental music, that is, abstract, textless music composed specifically to be played on musical instruments: (1) compositions based upon vocal forms, (2) dance music (e. g., instrumental suites), (3) music for an instrumental soloist. During the Late Renaissance, for example, vocal forms often provided the model for instrumental music: the vocal motet style of composition, for example, generated instrumental ensemble pieces called ricercar while the French chanson generated similar pieces identified by the term canzona. Dance music was also played by instruments, and it was used for social dancing, a widespread and popular activity during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Early dances were identified by such terms as saltarello, trotto, estampie, pavane, galliard, passamezzo, saltarello, allemande, courante, branle, etc. For instrumental solo music, composers preferred those instruments that could harmonize melodies all by themselves, particularly the guitar-like lute and keyboard instruments, the harpsichord and the organ. For these instruments, improvisatory pieces--identified by such terms as fantasia, toccata, intonazione, or prelude--were composed by virtuoso players. Another type of composition for solo instrumental performance was the theme and variations, that is, an introductory melody (the theme) that receives a number of successive musical paraphrases (variations). The ricercar and canzona developed into the Baroque musical form called fugue; the dance music developed into stylized (i.e., nondanced and idiomatic) concert pieces; and the theme and variation form continued to inspired and challenge composers during the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
The best-known and most frequently recorded composers from the Middle Ages and Renaissance are (1) Leonin, (2) Guillaume de Machaut, (3) Guillaume Dufay, (4) Johannes Ockeghem, (5) Josquin des Prez (6) Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, (7) Orlandus Lassus, (8) William Byrd, (9) Luca Marenzio and (10) Giovanni Gabrieli. With these ten composers we have masterpieces of sacred, secular, vocal and instrumental music from the Late Middle Ages through the Late Renaissance, from the end of the 12th century to the beginning of the 17th century. Leonin (or Leoninus) flourished from about 1163 to 1190 and, along with his equally famous student Perotin (Perotinus), was a choirmaster at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The first significant composer of polyphonic music, he composed a collection of two-voice settings of Gregorian chant called Magnus liber organi (the "great book of organum"), while Perotin later revised it by adding one or two additional voice parts to many of Leonin's two-voice organa. (Organum was the Medieval Latin term for polyphonic church music.) Guillaume de Machaut, the most famous poet/musician of the 14th century, was the first to set the complete Mass Ordinary polyphonically. He also composed polyphonic chansons, motets, and over 40 monophonic songs. He was an ordained priest and a civil servant under King John of Bohemia and Charles V of France. His musical style is rhythmic, syncopated, and highly imaginative and personal, compared with the sweeter and more euphonious style of his Italian contemporary, Francesco Landini. Guillaume Dufay, the best-remembered Burgundian composer, was celebrated during his time as the greatest composer of the first half of the 15th century. He was widely travelled and composed to Latin, French, and Italian texts. He was a choirboy at Cambrai Cathedral, an ordained priest, and welcomed at several Italian and French royal courts. He composed Masses, chansons, and motets--all in a flowing and carefully controlled euphonious style. Johannes Ockeghem, the "Prince of Music" of the second half of the 15th century, was a composer, teacher, choirmaster, and a singer. He served in the chapel of three French kings, at Antwerp Cathedral, at Notre Dame Cathedral, and at St. Martin's in Tours. His low, sonorous, and dark vocal timbres may be heard in his Masses, chansons, and motets. Possibly a pupil of Ockeghem, and as widely travelled as Dufay, Josquin des Prez
Josquin des Prez - Ave Maria
too was universally admired as a great composer during his lifetime and, just as Dufay and Ockeghem, greatly influenced succeeding generations of composers of polyphonic music. His works include over 100 motets, 18 Masses, and about 70 polyphonic chansons--all considered masterpieces today. His motets and chansons are especially imaginative and provocative. The greatest composer of polyphonic Masses during the high Renaissance period was, without a doubt, the Italian master Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. He composed over 100 Masses, over 350 motets, and over 100 madrigals. His music is smooth, balanced, and refined. Students in music schools across America and Europe still study his highly developed and controlled "classical" polyphonic style of composition. He was a choirboy at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, an accomplished organist, and a composer for various churches in Rome. Even more versatile and cosmopolitan than Machaut, Dufay, and Josquin was the late Renaissance Franco-Flemish composer Orlandus Lassus who, during his lifetime, was also lauded as the "Prince of Music." He lived in Mons, Sicily, Rome, Antwerp, and Munich, and he composed motets, Masses, chansons, madrigals, Lieder, psalms, hymns, and Passions. The best-known and finest of the Elizabethan English composers was William Byrd, whose students included Thomas Morley, Thomas Tomkins, Peter Philips, Thomas Weelkes and John Bull--all very famous and highly regarded English composers of the late Renaissance. Having mastered the Franco-Flemish style of Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin, Lassus, and Palestrina, Byrd composed Latin church music (i.e., Catholic), English church music (i.e., Anglican), miscellaneous sacred and secular vocal music and keyboard music (for the English harpsichord, the so-called virginal). He served as organist and choirmaster at Lincoln Cathedral and the Chapel Royal in London. The greatest composer of Italian madrigals during the late Renaissance was the prolific Luca Marenzio who composed 16 books of madrigals, as well as a few Masses and motets. He was a choirboy at the Cathedral of Brescia and spent time in the Polish court, in Rome, Ferrara, Mantua, and Florence. His style is highly varied--from light to serious, simple to complex, and brilliant to declamatory. The greatest composer of Italian instrumental music during the late Renaissance was Giovanni Gabrieli who composed instrumental pieces such as canzonas, sonatas, ricercari, fantasias, and toccatas. In addition, he composed motets for both instruments and voices, the Sacrae symphoniae. His style is colorful, syncopated, and sonorous--just as the architecture, sculpture, and painting in turn-of-the-century Venice where he lived and worked. Giovanni was the pupil of his famous uncle Andrea (who studied with Adrian Willaert, a pupil of Lassus) and was organist and composer at St. Mark's in Venice.
(ah kah-pel'-ah). Designation for choral music without instrumental accompaniment.
(al'-to). Low female voice. Second highest sounding part.
A wind instrument with several reed pipes and a windbag for storing the player's air.
(bal-a' de coor). A French renaissance court entertainment. A spectacle that blended drama, music, and dance.
(bas). Low male voice. The lowest part of a musical composition.
(bo). An accessory to string instruments, used to sustain the sound of the vibrating strings.
The technique of using the bow on stringed instruments (violins, violas, cellos, etc.). The mastery of the bow includes a considerable number of different manners of bowing.
(kan'-tus fir'-mus). An existing melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition for contrapuntal voices.
(kan-zon'-ah). A type of Renaissance instrumental composition derived from the French chanson.
(shahn-so). A polyphonic secular song sung in French.
Unaccompanied musical recitation of certain liturgical texts, mainly on a monotone, with slightly elaborated beginning, ending, and punctuation formulas.
(kwi'-er). A group of church singers, as opposed to a chorus.
(kor'-us). A group of secular singers.
(ko-leg'-oom moo'-ze-koom). A university performing group that studies and plays music composed before the Classical period upon appropriate instruments and in the appropriate style.
(kahn'-sort). A term used in the Renaissance period for a small instrumental ensemble. A consort is said to be "whole" (for example, a chest of viols or a nest of recorders) or "broken" (an ensemble with contrasting instruments).
(kahn-tra-pun'-tal). In the style of counterpoint.
(kor-net'-to). A tubular wooden wind instrument with fingerholes and a cup-shaped mouthpiece; in use from the Middle Ages until the Baroque Era.
(kaun'-ter-point). The technique or study of combining melodic lines to make polyphony.
Two or more rhythmic patterns played simultaneously.
(krum'-horn). A curved double-reed Renaissance instrument with a nearly cylindrical pipe and a wind cap to cover the reeds.
The manner of setting words to music; the kinds of rhythms and pitches used on various syllables.
A long held note or notes. A pipe or string that sounds a continuous tone. Common in the Middle Ages.
A zither, differentiated from the psaltery by its playing technique: instead of being plucked it is struck with curved beaters, padded sticks, etc.
(fahn'-tah-ze-ah). A term that encompasses works in an improvisatory style, of the solo pieces for lute or keyboard instruments.
A Medieval bowed string instrument, forerunner of the violin.
Board attached to the upper surface of the neck of certain stringed instruments against which the strings are pressed by the performer's fingers.
The methodical use of the fingers in playing instruments.
A wind instrument known since prehistoric times and distributed among practically all peoples. The highest member (except for the piccolo) of the woodwind section of a modern symphony orchestra.
(gahl'-yard). A leaping dance in a fast triple meter, often preceded by a slower pavane.
(gemz'-horn). Early form of recorder, made of a chamois horn with a fipple inserted at the wide end and apparently 3-6 front fingerholes.
A particular type of composition.
(plainsong). The liturgical chant of the Roman Catholic Church.
String instrument with strings running in a plane perpendicular to the resonator, consisting of a resonator, or body, and a neck, between which a series of parallel strings are stretched vertically or diagonally.
(harp'-se-kord). A keyboard instrument, forerunner of the piano; its bright tone is produced by plucking the strings with quills.
(ho-mahf'-one). Music in which one voice leads melodically, being supported by an accompaniment in chordal or a slightly more elaborate style.
A popular mechanical instrument (particularly during the Middle Ages, whose four to six strings are activated by a wheel turned by a crank.
(him). A congregational song sung in praise of God. Christian hymns are not taken directly from the Bible.
A particular style appropriate for a particular instrument.
A form of repetition in which a melody is restated in different musical parts.
Performance of music which is made up (created) at the moment, not from memory or from written music; a manner of playing extemporaneously.
Music performed on instruments, as opposed to music performed by voices (vocal or choral music).
The different types of instruments making up an ensemble.
Generic name for all mechanisms producing musical sounds and hence for all musical media with the exception of the human voice.
(in-ter-ma'-deo). An Italian renaissance court entertainment. A spectacle that blended drama, music, and dance.
The personal and creative element in the performance of music, which, as in drama, depends on a middleman between the composer and the audience. The player or conductor, while studying a composition, absorbs it and, consciously or unconsciously, models it according to his own general ideas and taste. A personal interpretation is the performer's great privilege, granted him by the composer.
Double-reed Renaissance wind instruments with cylindrical 2-channel bore.
(leed). A polyphonic secular song sung in German.
A string instrument with a neck that extends beyond the resonator. A guitar-like instrument, especially important in the 16th century.
(mad'-ri-gul). A 16th-century Italian (or English) song for three to eight voices.
(mask). An English renaissance court entertainment. A spectacle that blended drama, music, and dance.
(mass) The main Catholic service; music for this service.
(me-liz'-mah). A melodic ornamentation; one syllable sung on more than one tone of a song.
The aspect of music concerned with the relative pitch of notes (tones), as distinct from rhythm. The succession of single tones varying in pitch and rhythm and having a recognizable musical shape.
The period preceding the Renaissance, in music roughly from 600 to 1400 (or 1450).
(mah-no-fahn'-ik). Music composed for unaccompanied voice or unison voices. That is, a single melodic line.
(mo-tet'). Vocal composition, typically set to sacred words, having vastly differing characteristics from the 13th century to the present.
A system for preserving music by means of written signs. May consist of notes or neumes, a graph or graphs, tablature, numbers, letters or, in some cases, symbols unique to a culture.
An wind instrument having a keyboard that operates a series of pipes connected with a wind chest; this chest is supplied with air by various means. It is the most complex musical instrument of the world.
(or'-gun-oom). The earliest form of Medieval polyphony.
A note or group of notes used as decoration of a principle melodic note, vocal or instrumental. May be a spontaneous act on the part of the performer/interpreter.
The music for a particular instrument (recorder, flute, viol, etc.) or voice (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) in an ensemble.
(pah-zah-met'-zo). A moderately fast dance, often followed by a saltarello.
(pah-vahn'). A slow dignified courtly Renaissance dance, often followed by a galliard.
The study of how music is performed.
(po-lif'-onee). Music or musical texture with two or more simultaneous voice-lines rationally ordered together.
The melodic and rhythmic setting of a poetic text.
(sal'-tre). A many-stringed plucked zither with a flat soundboard. Popular during the Middle Ages.
(rak'-et). Double-reed wind instrument of the 16th & 17th centuries, made of a short cylinder of ivory or wood, in which a number of parallel cylindrical channels are bored up and down, connected alternately at the top and bottom to form one continuous tube.
(re'-bik). A Medieval 3- or 4-stringed bowed lute with an arched back.
A wooden end-blown flute with a beaked mouthpiece played in a vertical position. Common during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque Era.
A thin, elongated piece of cane, wood, metal, plastic, or other material by means of which a number of instruments (chiefly wind instruments) are sounded. There are single, double, even quadruple reeds.
A small wooden cap with a blowhole on top; it enclosed the reed of some 16th-century double-reed instruments.
The period c. 1400 (or 1450) -1600, preceded by the Middle Ages and followed by the Baroque Era.
(ri'-cher-kar). A Renaissance polyphonic instrumental compositions derived from the motet.
The Renaissance trombone.
(sahl'-tah-rello). A fast Medieval monophonic dance. A fast leaping Renaissance dance, often preceded by a slower passamezzo.
A double-reed ancestor to the oboe, generally employed in the Medieval period with "loud" outdoor instruments.
(so-prahn'-o). High female voice. Highest sounding melody.
Strings have been made of a variety of materials: fiber, gut, horsehair, silk, metal, nylon. Strings may be classed as open or stopped; as melody, sympathetic, or drone strings; as on-board or off-board strings.
(stro'-fik). Designation for a song in which all stanzas of the text are sung to the same music.
Method of treating all the elements: form, melody, rhythm, timbre, etc.
(tab'-le-chur). One of several systems of notation using various symbols rather than notes on a staff. Used in renaissance lute and keyboard music.
(ta'-ber). A Medieval drum played with sticks.
The skill of the performer, whether vocal or instrumental.
Refers to the speed of the underlying beat. The speed is determined by the number of beats counted over the span of sixty seconds.
High male voice. Next to the lowest musical part.
In vocal music, particularly songs, the text is one of the prime considerations of a composer. Correct accentuation, clarity of pronunciation, emphasis of important words, etc., are basic requirements of good vocal style.
The relationship of all melodic/harmonic parts in a musical composition: monophony, heterophony, polyphony, homophony.
(tahmb). The characteristic quality of the sound produced by a particular voice or instrument.
(ve'-el). The most important fiddle of the 13th to 15th centuries in Europe.
(ve-way'-lah). A Spanish guitar of the 16th century.
(ve-ol' or vi'-el). A fretted bowed string instrument in one of several sizes, forerunner of the violin family.
(ve-o'-lah dah gam'-bah). The bass member of the viol family.
(ve-an-se'-ko). A polyphonic secular song sung in Spanish.
The degree of loudness of sound.
Generic name for all instruments in which the sound-generating medium is an enclosed column of air.