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Suspensions are vitally important to the texture of Renaissance music. The suspended note must receive slightly more emphasis than its resolution. A conductor should avoid telling a choir to accent this note. The suspended note can be stressed with a slight growth in the tone.

Although long known as a great era of a cappella singing, instruments were used frequently to augment the singers or to double the voice parts. The use of instruments was left to the discretion of the performers. Present conductors must make the same decision except that this decision is hampered by a lack of knowledge of performance practice of the period. As a general rule one can be freer in the use of instruments in secular music than in sacred. The liturgy also prohibited use of instruments at certain times during the church year.

The acoustics of the performing hall will also play a part not only in the tempo of the work, but in the manner in which the polyphonic motet, for instance, should be performed. A very live hall will necessitate a very cautious control of dynamics and of tone. The most subtle shading, already being carefully managed, will be magnified under extremely live acoustical conditions. A slightly slower tempo may often be used to avoid a blurring of the points of imitation and cadences. A very dead, or dry hall, on the other hand, will require some increases in volume to compensate for the lack of reverberation, and often a slightly faster tempo.

Tone quality

The nature of music of the Renaissance, specifically the polyphony, requires a tone quality with a minimal amount of vibrato and one that is well focused. Excessive vibrato creates a tone quality that prevents the polyphony from being clear. Again, authenticity is not completely possible and probably not completely desirable, if it were possible. We are different people in a different time with different tonal expectations. It is not necessary to completely remove the vibrato from the tone to successfully perform Renaissance music. It is necessary to be certain that the tone is well focused and that the vibrato is minimal with considerable attention to the melodic qualities and independence of each part.

We cannot be certain of the tone quality of singers during the Renaissance. We know that women did not sing the soprano and alto parts, and that the boy's voice was smaller, not as rich, and probably had less vibrato than a woman's voice. Indications from a variety of sources are that vibrato was not the tonal ideal of the period. We also know that the churches and cathedrals had an effect on the tone, and that our performing halls differ so greatly around the country that comparisons are impossible.

To create, or attempt to create, an "authentic" performance of this music is obviously impossible. Conductors will be successful by being faithful to the import of the score, by allowing the polyphony to be clear, unhampered, with attention to each independent vocal line.

Renaissance composers

John Dunstable (c. 1385-1453)

Gilles Binchois (c. 1400-1460)

Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-1474)

Johannes Okeghem (c. 1420-1495)

Jacob Obrecht (c. 1453-1505)

Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517)

Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450-1521)

Jean Mouton (c. 1470-1522)

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)

Jacob Arcadelt (c. 1510-1567)

Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1510-1586)

G. P. Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)

Richard Farrant (c. 1530-1580)

Orlando di Lasso (Roland de Lassus) (c. 1532-1594)

William Byrd (c. 1543-1623)

Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 1549-1611)

Jacobus Gallus (Jacob Handl) (c. 1550-1611)

Orazio Vecchi (c. 1550-1605)

Luca Merenzio (c. 1553-1599)

Thomas Morley (c. 1557-1603)

Carlo Gesualdo (c. 1560-1613)

John Dowland (c. 1562-1626)

Hans Leo Hassler (c. 1564-1612)

John Wilbye (c. 1574-1638)

Thomas Weelkes (c. 1575-1638)

Orlando Gibbons (c. 1583-1625)

Suggested works for study

O Vos Omnes, Esquivel (G. Schirmer 11231)

Domine Exaudi Deus Orationem, di Lasso (G. Schirmer 11422)

Magnificat in Primi Toni, Palestrina (Lawson-Gould)

O Magnum Mysterium, Victoria (G. Schirmer 7626)

O Quam Gloriosum, Victoria (G. Schirmer 13448)

Call to Remembrance, Farrant (Bourne ES 17)

Ave Maria, Mouton (Mercury Music DCS-40)

Jubilate Deo, di Lasso (Boosey and Hawkes 5490)

Tu Pauperum Refugium, Josquin (G. Schirmer 9565)

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Source:  OpenStax, Choral techniques. OpenStax CNX. Mar 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11191/1.1
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