Master of Female Half-lengths  - A Concert of Three Female Figures (1530-40)


Renaissance is the artistic period that runs from the 15th century to the 16th century (from the discovery of America in 1492 to the first preserved opera in 1600).
The term Renaissance means "rebirth" and it indicates the interest to recover the ideal of beauty and proportion from the ancient Greek and Roman classic arts. Medieval theocentrism (God is the centre of the universe) was replaced by humanism or anthropocentrism (man is the centre of the universe). The invention of the printing press made the spreading of music easier.
Music was an important part of the education of cultured people. Composers began signing their works more often in the late Middle Ages, instead of being anonymous.

  • Rhythm: it was regular and smooth, except in dances.
  • Melody: it was still modal; they moved along a scale with a few large leaps.
  • Harmony: it was modal and based on the triad. The interval of the third as a consonance was very important.
  • Texture: polyphony prevailed, with balance between the voices, no one is emphasised more than another.
  • Timbre: the concept of orchestra did not yet exist, but the first ensembles of instruments appeared.
  • Dynamics: dynamic markings were not yet used on scores but there were changes in intensity, when performed, for more expressiveness.
  • Word painting: lyrics were very important and musicians tried to reflect the meaning of the text.
  • Franco-Flemish school: Orlando di Lasso, Josquin Desprez, Guillaume Dufay.
  • Italy: Pierluigi da Palestrina, Carlo Gesualdo, Andrea Gabrieli, Giovanni Gabrieli.
  • Germany: Hans Leo Hassler.
  • England: John Dowland, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd.
  • Spain:
    - Castilian school: Juan del Encina, Tomás Luis de Victoria.
    - Andalusian school: Cristóbal de Morales, Francisco Guerrero.
    - Catalan school: Mateo Flecha, Joan Pujol.


During this period the unity of the church was broken.

The Protestant Reformation (Protestant Church)
In Germany, Martin Luther broke away with Rome in 1510, establishing Protestantism. He considered music the most important thing after theology.
  • Chorale: is a homophonic choral form for 4 voices, written in German. It’s often based on popular melodies. These features made it easy for the congregation to understand the text and participate in the singing.
The English Reformation (Anglican Church)
In England, Henry VIII broke away with Rome in 1534 and proclaimed himself the head of the Anglican Church.
  • Anthem / Anglican hymn: is a polyphonic choral form for 4 voices and written in English.
The Counter-Reformation (Catholic Church)
Rome reacted at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). They kept the Gregorian chant as the official singing of the Catholic Church, but also developed polyphony. They tried to simplify the texts and the polyphony. Main composers were Palestrina, Lasso, Morales and Victoria.
  • Motet: is a polyphonic choral form written in Latin. The text is usually sacred but not specifically connected to the liturgy. The name comes from the French term "mot" meaning "word".
  • Mass: is a polyphonic choral form written in Latin. The text is sacred, a result of putting together all the pieces of the liturgy (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei).

Johann Walter -
Chorale "Wach auf, wach auf, du deutsches Land"
Palestrina - Missa Papae Marcelli


Musical forms varied depending on the country and evolved bound to the poetry of the time. These forms use the mixed quartet (SATB) as its most frequent grouping.


  • Madrigal: is a polyphonic choral form for 4 or 5 voices, written in Italian and normally the lyrics are about love. This music tries to reflect the text by using expressive elements known as "madrigalisms". Main composers were Marenzio, Gesualdo and Monteverdi.


  • Chanson: is a polyphonic choral form, written in French. It usually has instrumental accompaniment. The lyrics are about the virtues of knight gallant and chivalry. This music describes the text by using musical onomatopoeias, like the singing of birds, natural effects, etc. Main composers were Desprez and Janequin.


  • Villancico: is a homophonic choral form for 4 voices. It’s structured in choruses and "coplas", and the last verse of the "copla" acts as a "volta" repeating the melody of the chorus. The name comes from "villano" ("villa" meaning "village"). It’s not what we now call a Christmas carol. Main composers were Del Encina and Mateo Flecha.
Gesualdo - Madrigal "Sospirava il mio core"
Janequin - Chanson "Voulez ouyr les cris de Paris"


The use of instruments was prohibited in church. Instrumental music served as accompaniment for profane vocal music. But also true instrumental music appeared independent from singing. From then on, music which used to be improvised or performed by heart began to be written down. However improvisation was still important.
The concept of orchestra did not yet exist. Composers didn't specify the number or type of instruments that should play their music and it was performed with the instruments available at any given time. The first ensembles of instruments appeared. Normally, they were grouped by family or intensity.
A consort is an ensemble of instruments. Types:
- Whole consort: if all the instruments were from the same family.

- Broken consort: a mixture of different families.

Instrument groups depending on intensity:
- Haut (high): ensemble formed by loud instruments, intended for outdoor performances.

- Bas (low): ensemble formed by soft instruments, intended for indoor performances.

Most of the instrumental forms respond to three basic types of composition.

  • Pieces based on vocal works: they keep the structure and texture of the vocal form, but adapted for instruments.
    E.g. ricercare or tiento in Spain (derived from the motet), canzona (derived from the chanson).
  • Pieces based on improvisation: they can be improvised upon a given melody (cantus firmus), or the music can be freely made up.
    E.g. fantasia, toccata.
  • Pieces based on variation: they start with a simple theme that is later repeated with modifications.
    E.g. variations or diferencias in Spain.
Luis de Narvaez - Diferencias sobre guárdame las vacas

Ballroom dancing was very popular in this era. Dances used to be presented in contrasting pairs:

  • First dance: it is a dance of steps in a binary rhythm and slow tempo.
    E.g. pavane, allemande.
  • Second dance: it is a dance of spins and jumps in a ternary rhythm and fast tempo.
    E.g. galliard, courante, sarabande, gavotte, branle, canario.


- String: lute (1), guitar (2), vihuela (3), viola da braccio (4), viola da gamba (5), clavichord (6), spinet (7).
- Wind: bombard (8), crumhorn (9), cornamuse (10), shawm (11), sackbut (12), organ (13).


RELIGIOUS VOCAL MUSIC: Tomás Luis de Victoria - “Ave Maria”
  • Rhythm: the musical accents are provided by the text.
  • Texture: polyphony with counterpoint parts and homophonic parts.
  • Timbre: 4 male voices (SATB). Men sing higher notes using the technique known as falsetto. (Bee Gees)
  • Form: motet
PROFANE VOCAL MUSIC: Juan del Encina - "Ay, triste que vengo"
  • Rhythm: triple time signature (3/4).
  • Texture: homophony.
  • Timbre: male voices, female voices and instruments.
  • Form: villancico