Tension In Renaissance Music Essay

1008 words - 5 pages

Two particularly questionable practices in sacred composition became standard in the Renaissance: cantus firmus, and “imitation Masses”. Cantus firmus was a popular style of Liturgical music in which the composer uses an existing plain-chant melody and builds atop it an intricate, weaving, polyphony. More often than not, the original chant is unrecognizable or nearly concealed. Perhaps Renaissance musicians saw this as a sort of loophole, an outlet for their creativity while being able to claim continuity with Church tradition. Regardless, the practice was received with hesitance and distaste by traditional clergy, while it was applauded by popular culture. Cantus firmus soon began to draw, ...view middle of the document...

” The document goes on to condemn certain elaborate types of music used in the Mass saying:
“They intoxicate the ear without satisfying it, they dramatize the text with gestures and, instead of promoting devotion, they prevent it by creating a sensuous atmosphere. Thus it was not without good reason that Boethius said: ‘A person who is intrinsically sensuous will delight in hearing these indecent melodies, and one who listens to them frequently will be weakened thereby and lose the virility of his soul.’ Consequently, We and Our Brethren (the cardinals)… are now prepared to take effective action to prohibit, cast out, and banish such things from the Church of God.”
The document continues to clearly prohibit the use of such music, but does tolerate occasional use of chant-based cantus firmus with permission – providing that the melodies remain intact in the integrity of their original form.
Although the significance of this document by Pope John XXII is evident, it is difficult to evaluate the complete effect of the bull. Certainly, the bull took effect in particular localities; but undoubtedly, many of the musical abuses continued. This could be due to the fact that the bull was not well promulgated because of the religious and political events of the time. It would take the Council of Trent to clearly outline the usage and reform of music in the Church, and to bring about greater success in implementation.
Trent was chiefly concerned, “not with the exact details of musical and stylistic problems, but rather the fundamental attitudes on its use in the liturgy.” Although the council had the added difficulty of addressing the use of protestant hymns, this extends beyond the scope of this paper. Attention will be given, therefore, to the councils dealings with the ever-lingering results of Renaissance music. The council ousts all “intermingling of the lascivious or impure, whether by instrument or voice.” Sentimental music is outlawed, and the use of grave music which adheres to...

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