Renaissance and Medieval Music

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The Medieval and Renaissance periods represent two distinct cultures and worldviews. Unlike the Middle-Ages, several Renaissance scientists desired to learn about the earth apart from the idea of a Divine Creator, and philosophers brought in humanistic thinking. Religion also varied greatly between these two eras. Reformation brought about turmoil during the Renaissance as opposed to the monastic life of the medieval period. One of the less obvious of these changes was that of music. In comparing Medieval and Renaissance times we can see a definite contrast in the style and content of what the music emphasized.

During the medieval era musical composition consisted of little movement in the notes themselves, and was, in a sense, plain. Used mainly in the church, music was meant to emphasize actual words that a person wanted to convey, and thus had little embellishment. One of the most well-known styles of that period was the Gregorian, or Plain Chant, which provides a perfect example of the simple, lyrical music of that time. “It indicates a single sacred melody, without accompaniment, sung by a single person or by a choir in which each member sings the same part.” (McComb, Todd M. “Medieval & Renaissance Music: A Brief Survey”) Towards the end of the Middle-Ages secular music became increasingly popular, marking a shift in trends toward the Renaissance. In general, however, music was meant for the church and its purpose was to emphasize the creator of music.

The years during the Renaissance mark a distinct change in the musical world. Musical style itself altered completely. Songs were embellished and consisted of a variety of genres. More parts were added to many types of music, the rhythm varied, and intervals between notes and chords were played often. “One of the most noticeable differences between Medieval and Renaissance styles, is that of musical texture. Whereas a Medieval composer tended to contrast the separate strands of his music, a Renaissance...
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