Music and Musicians in the Renaissance
If music be the food of love, play on! ~ Orsino, Twelfth Night
In the Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) and the Jacobean Era (1603-1625), there was a fondness for spectacle and pageantry. At court, trumpets and drums resounded to announce mealtimes; in town, these instruments were used by theatre troupes to herald upcoming performances (Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh, 2003, and Folkerth, 2002). Music, then, is applied boldly and lavishly in everyday life and in drama, an imitation of life.
The major classes of musical instruments used in the High and Late Renaissance include plucked strings, bowed strings, brass, double reeds, other winds, keyboards, and percussions (McGee, 1985). Lutes, drums, and trumpets were often used, but the instruments that were especially popular during the Renaissance include the bass viol, treble viol, viola, violin, tenor sackbut, cornetto, bass sackbut, curtal, tenor shawm, bass recorder, and harpsichord (McGee, 1985).
From the Early Renaissance to the High Renaissance, there was a movement from vocal music to a combination of vocal and instrumental music (Brown, 1976). There are seven categories of instrumental music: 1) vocal music played by instruments, 2) settings of pre-existing melodies, 3) variation sets, 4) ricercars, fantasias, and canzonas, 5) preludes, preambles, and toccatas for solo instruments, 6) dance music, and 7) songs composed specifically for lute and solo voice (Brown, 1976). Italy dominated the stage for instrumental music at this time, and it was not until the last decades of the sixteenth century that English instrumental music became popular (Brown, 1976). Surviving sources indicate that the earliest printed lute music is Italian (Brown, 1976).
Performance of Music
As musical styles evolved, there is an increased use of polyphony, filled chords, and imitation (McGee, 1985). Musicians use imitation and variation as an aide memoire, because printed works were considered to be amateur music that is only played at home (Brown, 1976). Partly because of the public’s love for spectacle and decoration, ornamentation was used widely in music. The fast passagework of runs, turns, and trills helps to sustain the fragile sounds of the lute, vihuela, and harpsichord (Brown, 1976). At this time, the largest category of instrumental music based on pre-existent vocal melodies consists of liturgical organ music and plainchants (Brown, 1976). The movement to combine vocal and instrumental music had affected secular as well as sacred music: most of the hymns, antiphons, and psalm tones have sections for organ alone alternating with vocal polyphony (Brown, 1976).
The composers of this era are respected by the public, and King Henry VIII himself was a musician and composer at this time. John Dowland (1562-1626) composed lute songs,...