Renaissance MUSIC

SEE ALSO Borgias Home | The Renaissance | 15th Century Italy | Renaissance Dance Music


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The style of renaissance church music is described as choral polyphony (polyphonic, counterpoint, contrapuntal), meaning more than one part. Homophonic means moving in chords. Monophonic means one melody line. Choral polyphony was intended to be sung a cappella (without instruments). The main forms were the mass and the motet. They had four parts, based on modes, but composers gradually added more accidentals.

One of the most noticeable differences between Medieval and Renaissance styles, is that of musical texture. Whereas a Medieval composer tended to contrast the separate strands of his music, a Renaissance composer aimed to blend them together. Instead of building up the texture layer by layer, he worked gradually through the piece, attending to all parts simultaneously. The key device used to weave this kind of texture is called imitation. Composers were becoming more interested and aware of harmony.

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Renaissance Composers Works
Thomas Tallis
1510-1585
English composer who served under 4 English monarchs. Best known for being one of the Church's best composers
Josquin des Prez
1440 - 1521
Europe's most sought after musician in his time. Best known for his masses and chansons that still survive today.
Pierre de la Rue
1460-1518
Many styles of music mainly vocal. His most popular work was The Requiem masses.
Claudio Monteverdi
1567-1643
His work included the first dramatic Opera Orfeo .
William Byrd
1543-1623
The greatest English composer of all time. With hundreds of individual compositions
Giovanni da Palestrina
1526-1594
The most famous representative of the Roman School of Music. He greatly influenced the development of music in the Roman Catholic Church.
Orlando de Lassus
1530-1594
With over 2000 written works he remains one of Europe's most versatile composers.
John Dowland
1563-1626
Known for his Lute music.
Giovanni Gabrielli
1554-1612
Venetian composer known for his Church and instrumental music.
Tomas Luis de Victoria
1548-1611
Spanish composer known for his Sacred music compositions;
John Farmer
1570-1605
English madrigal composer.



Throughout the Renaissance, music formed a central element in the activities of the curia and a bright thread in the rich tapestry of Roman religious and artistic life. Visit the Sacred Papal Music page (linked below) for examples of sheet music and extant letters of the period.