The renaissance period


Representative composers:  Desprez, Palestrina, Byrd, Lasso, Weelkes, Dowland

MELODY:  Mainly stepwise motion within a moderately narrow range; still mainly diatonic, but some intense chromaticism found in madrigals from end of period.

Diatonic:  pertaining to the seven notes that make up either the major or the minor scale.

Chromatic:  moving fret to the very next fret…1/2 steps

Madrigals:  a popular genre of secular vocal music that originated in Italy during the Renaissance, in which usually four or five voices sing love poems.

HARMONY:  More careful use of dissonance than in the Middle Ages as the triad, a consonant chord, becomes the basic building block of harmony.

            Dissonance:  a discordant mingling of sounds.

            Consonance:  pitches sounding agreeable and stable.

            Triad:  a chord consisting of three pitches and two intervals of a third.   

RHYTHM:  Duple meter is now as common as triple meter; rhythm in sacred vocal music (Mass and Motet) is relaxed and without strong downbeats; rhythm in secular vocal music (chanson and madrigal) and in instrumental dances is usually lively and catchy; with frequent use if syncopation.

Duple meter:  stressing every other beat/ONE two, ONE two – hence 2 beats per measure.

Triple meter: three beats per measure emphasizing every third beat--ONE two three, ONE two three.

Mass:  the central religious service of the Roman Catholic church, one that incorporates singing for spiritual reflection or as accompaniment to sacred acts.

Motet:  a composition for choir or larger chorus setting a religious, devotional, or solemn text; often sung a cappella.

Chanson:  a French term used broadly to indicate a lyrical song from the Middle Ages into the twentieth century.

Madrigal:  a popular genre of secular vocal music that originated in Italy during the Renaissance, in which usually four or five voices sing love poems

Syncopation:  a rhythmic device in which the natural accent falling on a strong beat is displaced to a weak beat or between the beats.

COLOR:  Although more music for instruments alone has survived, the predominant sound remains that of unaccompanied vocal music, whether for soloist or for choir.    

TEXTURE:  Contrapuntal, polyphonic texture for four or five vocal lines is heard throughout Mass, motet, and madrigal, though occasional passages of chordal homophonic texture are inserted for variety.

Contrapuntal:  counterpoint is simply the harmonious opposition of two or more independent musical lines.  Because counterpoint presupposes polyphony the terms “contrapuntal texture” and “polyphonic texture” are often used interchangeably.

Homophonic:  a texture in which all the voices, or lines, move to new pitches at roughly the same time; often referred to in contradistinction to polyphony.

FORM:  Strict musical forms are not often used; most Masses, motets, madrigals, chansons and instrumental dances are through-composed—have no musical repetitions and hence no standard formal plan.

Josquin Desprez ca. 1475 
The Michelangelo of music
Motet, Ave Maria

Sections in imitation couterpoint (polyphony) alternate with passages of chordal writing (homophony) for musical variety.

Thomas Weelkes

One of the best English madrigalists

Madrigal, As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending (1601)

Listen for word-painting

Bk 6’s Guardame Los Vacas, Bk 3’s Nonesuch, Greensleeves, and Packington’s Pound