The literal meaning of the word Renaissance is "rebirth." This idea of rebirth definitely applies to the music of this period. The Renaissance followed the Middle Ages and spanned from 1400 to 1600. A central characteristic was the rebirth of humanism, which is a way of looking at our world, emphasizing the importance of human beings, their nature, and their place in the universe. One main purpose of the humanistic view was to educate pupils to be the "ideal gentleman" or "universal man" that was reminiscent of the Greco-Roman ideal.
During the Renaissance vocal music was more important than instrumental music, and composers during that period wrote music to enhance the meaning and emotion of the text. (Source: www.thinkquest.org) Renaissance composers often used word painting, a musical representation of specific human emotions. Word painting was used in the madrigal, which is a piece that matches the word of the song with a musical setting. For example if the text had words like "rising," "flying," or "soaring" then the music would be fast upward scales. (Source: Jeremy Yudkin "Understanding Music") The most famous composer that wrote such madrigals was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
Palestrina, according to most Renaissance scholars, was a master composer. He started out in 1554 performing Masses and sang in the Cappella Sistina. (Source: w3.rz-berlin.mpg) He was so famous that he was actually asked to rewrite the church's main plainchant books, but had to follow the Council of Trent's guidelines. His most famous Mass, Missa Papae Marcelli, was in fact in line with the Counter Reformation, which he always was. His conservative attitude towards making the Catholic polyphonic music helped composers down the line to create new music for the church. Even though the polyphonic texts invaded the church, most of the Ordinary of the Mass, which is the Kyrie eleison, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Andus Dei stayed mostly in plainchant... [continues]
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