Musical Focus: Renaissance Music/Music of the Age of Discovery

Historical Context: 1450-1600
Music from this period is generally referred to as Renaissance Music. This was a period of creative experimentation with instruments and arrangements that developed between the Middle Ages and the Baroque period. These musical forms developed after the Medieval Chants and evolved into the Baroque period of Vivaldi, Bach, etc. The word "renaissance” is derived from the French word for "rebirth” or "flowering.”

Between 1450 and 1600 Europe recovered from the "dark ages.” This recovery was stimulated by commerce, exploration, colonization, exploitation of "discovered lands,” and science. During the Renaissance Europe began to emerge as a powerful force in the world. Columbus and Magellan restructured the European view of the world. Copernicus restructured man’s understanding of the Universe. Leonardo da Vinci’s curiosity and creativity ushered in a celebration of man’s intelligence and power, and the art of Michelangelo celebrated man’s emotional dimension. Musical forms multiplied and began to play a role in all aspects of society.

World History
1455: Gutenberg Bible was made with movable print.
1488: Dias sailed around Africa, opens up direct trade with India
1492: Columbus discovered the "New World”
1500: Pinzon "discovered” Brazil
1513: Balboa sailed into the Pacific
1519: Magellan began first circumnavigation. Cortez begins conquest of Mexico
1543: Copernicus argued that Earth and planets orbit the Sun
1558: Elizabeth I became queen of England
1564: Shakespeare was born
1588: England defeated the Spanish Armada
1609: Galileo confirmed Copernicus’s theory of the solar system

United States History
1507: Waldseemuller (the map maker) named the western hemisphere "America”
1524: French explored North America
1539: De Soto explored "New Spain” from Florida to the Mississippi
1540: Coronado explored North America as far as present day Kansas City
1542: Cabrillo explored Upper California
1577: Drake explored Northern California
1585: Raleigh sent colonists to Virginia, Roanoke Island
1607: Jamestown was established

Renaissance Music
1450: The organ, clavichord, viol, oboe, trombone, beak flute, trumpet, and crumhorn are popular instruments
1475: Lute is the most popular instrument
1500: Modern violin family is developed
1524: German Protestant Church encourages new types of sacred music
1530: Madrigal singing develops
1558: Queen Elizabeth I encourages new forms of music, sacred and secular
1600: Opera develops, as the Baroque Period

The development of the printing press ushered in an intense period of musical culture. Music could be shared throughout Europe. Music moved from the court and church to the pub, the village square and the home. Music became a popular form of family entertainment and became a viable profession.

Polyphonic (music voiced in parts) developed. Later, song and ballad styles developed with the melody sung and instruments providing accompaniment. This style formed the basis of modern folk, rock, and country music.

Experimentation in harmony developed in order to add complexity to the melody. "How to [play the lute, recorder, etc.]” books multiplied. Love songs, ballads or story songs, drinking songs, and dance music became increasingly popular. New and more technically capable instruments were also developed, e.g. the recorder, harpsichord, bagpipe, and the Spanish guitar. Music became part of everyone’s life, whether rich or poor.

Six Recommended CDs
1. A Renaissance Tour of Europe, The New York Kammermusiker, Dorian Recordings.
2. Armada by Fretwork.
3. Praetorius: Dances from Tersichore by New London Consort.
4. Psallite by Chanticleer.
5. The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Eliabeth I directed by Philip Cave.
6. …Per Flauto by Ganassi-Consort, Koln.

Renaissance Music is still very popular today. There are many choices regarding recordings; they are readily available on or iTunes.

Lesson Opportunities
1. Music Appreciation: Renaissance music is very easy to listen to and enjoy. It has enchanting melodies and a generally soft nature. While the music is playing students can be guided to produce written notes about historical information and their comments about the music.

2. Music and Art: An exploration of Renaissance art, architecture, clothing, money, technology (ships, weapons, maps, etc.) can be enhanced by playing Renaissance period music.

3. Music and film: There are generally many audio-visual (AV) resources available because of the importance of this historical period.

4. Music and Geography: The Age of Discovery and Exploration is a rich source of information for charting the explorers, the colonies, their industries (i.e. the Columbian Exchange), and competitions/struggles of the early explorers.