Renaissance (1400 – 1600)

Renaissance music developed about 100 years after the movement had sprung up in other disciplines and it is difficult to ascertain when the medieval period ended and the Renaissance began. The music was significantly influenced by developments in philosophy, politics and the emergence of what we now refer to as Modern history. With the rise of the bourgeois class, music as an activity for educated amateurs as well as professionals became more widespread, not to mention that the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press strengthened the distribution of music’s availability.

Music became increasingly freed from its medieval constraints, in terms of range, rhythm, harmony, form, and notation, and became a means for new personal expression. Composers found ways to make music expressive of the texts they were setting. 

During the Renaissance, sacred music was the principal type of formally notated music across Europe. Hundreds of motets, masses by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, William Byrd and Josquin des Prez make up a huge part of the magnificent Renaissance vocal repertoire. Madrigals were more light-hearted, secular songs, consisting of musical settings of unrequited love poetry and songs about the seasons, eating and drinking, very popular in Renaissance Italy and England.

In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization's hardest winters.

Many familiar modern instruments, including the violin, guitar, lute and keyboard instruments, developed into new forms during the Renaissance as a direct result of the evolution of musical ideas, providing further possibilities for composers and musicians to explore. Modern woodwind and brass instruments like the bassoon and trombone also started to appear, extending the range of sonic colour and power. During the 15th century the sound of full triads became common, and towards the end of the 16th century, the system of church modes began to break down entirely, giving way to the functional tonality which was to dominate western art music for the next three centuries.

Important Renaissance composers include Josquin des Préz, Palestrina, Gesualdo, William Byrd, and Gabrielli. The Renaissance, as its name suggests, was a period of rebirth in creativity, instrument-making, styles, in sounds and ideas.

The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was, in many things, great rather by what it designed then by what it achieved.