Music of the Renaissance

Disc 2 of 24

The word Renaissance, meaning rebirth, is applied to the era that spans the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries,  an era characterized by a cultural awakening, the world breaking free from the Dark Ages, looking brightly to the future. Originally used in the art world, “renaissance” has since been applied to all endeavours of mankind. For us, 1450 to 1600 is considered to be the Musical Renaissance; an era that witnessed the invention of movable type, Columbus’ voyage to the New World and Martin Luther presenting his 95 Theses, driving a wedge into The Church and rendering unto the good Renaissance folk a new world order.

So how did the composers of the age react to all this change? Quite creatively, as it turns out!

Vocal music was still written to glorify God, with the Mass being the formal way of doing so. The Renaissance Mass is a work written in parts, usually 3 to 5 voices, a voice referring to a part, not the actual number of people singing the piece. William Byrd (1543 – 1623), wrote his Missa tres vocum (Tracks 13 – 17) for tenor, bass and cantus, the cantus being the high voice. Byrd’s mass is also known as an Ordinarium,  Ordinary Mass; a mass written for a typical Sunday in July if you will. Masses written for specific occasions are known as Proprium, or Proper Masses; ones heard at Easter and Christmas. In both types the text was pre-set by the church; the creativeness was in the setting of those texts.

The motet is another variety of vocal music common to the Renaissance. It may be written with secular, or non-sacred, texts, but during the Renaissance the motet became a vehicle for liturgical use and though the text was not pre-set as in the mass, it was religious in content. Comparing John Dunstable’s (ca.1390 – 1453)  Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit) to Machaut’s motet on CD 1, one is struck by the rhythmic freedom of Dunstable, his music full of bounce. (Track 2 – 2:35).

Guillaume Dufay (ca. 1400 – 1474), in writing his motet Flos Florum (Flower of Flowers – Track4) uses instruments as both harmonic support and soloists. By 1495, when Josquin (ca.1440 – 1521) writes his  Déploration sur la mort d’Okeghem (Lament on the Death of Ockeghem – Track 9),the music has become more complicated and thick with interweaving vocal lines. Palestrina (ca.1525 – 1594), while being dismissed by Igor Stravinsky as an “establishment composer” has been lauded for his technical mastery, the Super flumina Babylonis (On the Rivers of Babylon – Track 11) being an example of his art.

The dances (Tracks 6 – 8) are called basse danses, and do not refer to the range of the notes played. Rather, basse refers more to class status – basse meaning low, or folk music. Imagine those Bruegel wedding paintings, contemporaneous to this music; imagine this music as the soundtrack to those festivities.

On two other instrumental pieces, the Istampita Cominciamento di gioia (The Beginning of Joy –  Track 3) and the Fantasia of John Dowland (1563 –1626 –Track 12) we are hearing the stirrings of a virtuoso style. Picture the performer of the Istampitia as the original guitar shredder! - while the Fantasia, from a simple opening becomes quite a complex work.


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Lamento di Tristano - La Rotta
Ulsamer Collegium, Josef Ulsamer
John Dowland (1562 - 1626):
Lute Music - England | A Fantasia
Konrad Ragossnig
William Byrd (1540 - 1623):
Mass for three voices | Sanctus - Benedictus
Pro Cantione Antiqua, London, Bruno Turner


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Anonymous
      2. 1.
        Lamento di Tristano - La Rotta
        Ulsamer Collegium, Josef Ulsamer
      3. John Dunstable (1390 - 1453)
        1. 2.
          Veni Sancte Spiritus
          Hamburger Bläserkreis für alte Musik, Instrumental Ensemble, Bruno Turner, Pro Cantione Antiqua, London
      4. Anonymous
      5. 3.
        Istampita Cominciamento di gioia
        Ulsamer Collegium, Josef Ulsamer
      6. Guillaume Dufay (1400 - 1474)
        1. 4.
          Flos florum
        2. 5.
          Alma redemptoris mater
          Hamburger Bläserkreis für alte Musik, Instrumental Ensemble, Bruno Turner, Pro Cantione Antiqua, London
      7. Pierre Attaingnant (1494 - 1552)
      8. 6.
        Basse danse La brosse - Tripla - Tourdion
      9. 7.
        Basse danse La gatta
      10. 8.
        Basse danse La Magdalena
        Ulsamer Collegium, Josef Ulsamer
      11. Josquin Des Pres (1450 - 1521)
      12. 9.
        Déploration sur la mort de Ockeghem
        Pro Cantione Antiqua, London, Bruno Turner
      13. Pierre Phalèse (*1568)
      14. 10.
        Passamezzo d'Italye - Reprise - Gaillarde
        Ulsamer Collegium, Josef Ulsamer
      15. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 - 1594)
        3 Motets
        1. 11.
          Super flumina Babylonis
          Pro Cantione Antiqua, London, Bruno Turner
      16. John Dowland (1562 - 1626)
        Lute Music - England
        1. 12.
          A Fantasia
          Konrad Ragossnig
      17. William Byrd (1540 - 1623)
        Mass for three voices
        1. 13.
        2. 14.
        3. 15.
        4. 16.
          Sanctus - Benedictus
        5. 17.
          Agnus Dei
          Pro Cantione Antiqua, London, Bruno Turner
    Playing Time 01:05:59