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This module represents a discussion of the style of choral music in the Renaissance period which is generally from 1400-1600. The attention of the music to the text,, the contrapuntal choral line, the lack of meter as we know it today, the increased use of harmony are aspects of this music. The Renaissance produced both sacred and secular music with some of the most interesting music written was in the motets and secular pieces where a broader expansion of harmony occurred.

The renaissance (1400-1600)

The choral music of the Renaissance is a valuable source for amateur high school, university, and community choirs. Young voices are particularly suited to this music. The characteristics normally associated with the Renaissance are most aptly applied to the music written between 1400 and 1600, and particularly to that written between 1450 and 1550. Some of the qualities of Baroque music are found before 1600, and characteristics of the Renaissance are found much later than 1600. The dates of this period, as with all periods, must be taken as only guidelines since stylistic changes represent an evolvement, not abrupt changes. The Renaissance composers were part of an intellectual community that began to be as concerned with their life on earth as well as their life after death. Although the techniques of composing to rigid formulas or predetermined patterns such as isorhythm, formes fixes, and cantus firmi were changed and often abandoned, there is still a great body of repertoire from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that is based on a cantus firmus, for example. The techniques of writing music from such a basis were greatly relaxed, however, and marvelous examples of polyphony exist from the composers of this period. Of course, many compositions were written completely free of earlier material. The composers, reflecting the attitudes of the day, began to consider themselves as artists, and viewed their music as something more than serving a utilitarian function for the church. Continued freedom in compositional techniques produced exceptional motets and secular pieces in the sixteenth century.

Characteristics of Renaissance music include:

1. Polyphonic texture, equal voice lines

2. Use of fewer modes, and a move toward major and minor tonality

3. Melody influenced by plainsong

4. Conjunct melodic movement

5. Controlled dissonance

6. Text important to formal considerations

7. Nonmetered rhythms

8. Overlapping points of imitation

Rhythm and tempo

It is in the area of rhythmic flow that many performances of Renaissance music are deficient. Since much of the music was unmetered, the barline that appears in many modern editions can be misleading to conductors. A metrical accent must not be placed on the first beat of the measure. Ideally, the stress is determined by the text; the rhythmic flow is closely tied to the text flow.

Renaissance music is horizontal in nature, and singers must be aware of the importance of the linear qualities of the score. While one part may have textual stresses at one time, another will have an altogether different stress. It is difficult for amateurs, particularly young singers, to achieve the full linear implications of the score. Often each part can be sung separately; the stress determined and then placed with the other parts. Also effective is the technique of rebarring each part to fit the text flow.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Music appreciation. OpenStax CNX. Mar 24, 2014 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11640/1.1
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