Golden Sound of the European
Renaissance Polyphony
A trip to the most beautiful era for choral music
Lecture by Andrea Ang...
THE HISTORICAL
CONTEST
Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
Rediscovery of the old world…
The Renaissance (1450-1600) was a time of rebirth in
learning, science, and the arts through...
The places of the music
 During the Renaissance music flourished
in many places. Among the other:
The Flemish Countries (...
CHARACTERISTICS OF
THE RENAISSANCE
CHORAL MUSIC
Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
Some characteristics
 Music still based on modes, but gradually more accidentals
creep in.
 Richer texture in four or mo...
PROBLEMS OF
PERFORMANCE
PRACTICE
Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
A journey back…
“The longer the journey back into musical
history, the more dangerous becomes the
ground on which the inte...
Theoretical books?
Even the theoretical books become
fewer as we go back in time and the gap
between the written notes and...
In fact, the music theoretic books of the XVI
century, as, for instance,“Istituzioni
Armoniche” by Gioseffo Zarlino (1558)...
For this we have to keep example also
from other kind of arts, like sculpture,
picture, poetry……, to understand how
can be...
A very large number of medieval and
renaissance paintings and sculptures show
musicians in act of singing and these provid...
JanVan Eyck – The adoration of the Lamb (1429) – Ghent Cathedral Altarpiece
The strained expressions on the faces of the singers
are in sharp contrast with the relaxed features of the
instrumentalis...
Now, anyone of us can find out for himself
the kind of sound that is associated with
this facial expression if he stands i...
Underlay, a big problem!
Even when all the component parts of a
composition have survived intact, the
editor’s task is far from light.The words
wer...
Other difficulties
Underlay is not the only problem. Other
difficulties:
1 – accidentals (see musica ficta)
2 – the tempo
...
HOW A CHOIR WAS
SET UP?
Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
Then, how was a choir set up during the
Renaissance Age?
 CANTUS
 ALTUS
 TENOR
 BASSUS
The choir’s setting was based on the
presence of ALTUS, a voice that, as the
word says, was an high voice.The fact that,
i...
Cantus was not performed byWomen
but by “Boys” (treble), by the “Falsetto
Singers” or by the “Castrati”. For boys
and fals...
The Tenor below was an adult male
voice with a baritone timbre whereas the
Bassus was much profound than today.
 It is generally agreed that a performance
of a Renaissance Motet doesn’t need of
melodramatic louds and softs, rubatos,
...
Polyphony, despite the fact it came from
elitist origins, has a fundamentally
democratic style.The equalness of the
voice-...
A satisfying interpretation of polyphony
can only come from a reactive group of
people who are listening to what is
going ...
To sum up:
I like to end with a though of one of the
most important architect of the
Renaissance Era, Leon Battista Albert...
The End!
The Golden Sound of the European Renaissance Polyphony
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The Golden Sound of the European Renaissance Polyphony

  1. 1. Golden Sound of the European Renaissance Polyphony A trip to the most beautiful era for choral music Lecture by Andrea Angelini
  2. 2. THE HISTORICAL CONTEST Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
  3. 3. Rediscovery of the old world… The Renaissance (1450-1600) was a time of rebirth in learning, science, and the arts throughout Europe. The rediscovery of the writings of ancient Greece and Rome led to a renewed interest in learning in general.The invention of the printing press allowed the disbursement of this knowledge in an unprecedented manner.With Copernicus' discovery of the actual position of the earth in the solar system and Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church lost its grip on society and a humanist spirit was born.This spirit manifested itself in the painting and sculpture of Michelangelo, the plays of Shakespeare, and in both the sacred and secular dance and vocal music of the greatest composers of the era.
  4. 4. The places of the music  During the Renaissance music flourished in many places. Among the other: The Flemish Countries (Des Prez, Isaac, Lasso…) England (Tallis, Byrd, Dowland, Morley,Taverner…) Italy (Palestrina, Marenzio, Zarlino, Gabrieli,Vecchi) Spain (Guerrero,Victoria, Morales…) Portugal (Escobar, Cardoso, Duarte Lobo) Germany (Praetorius, Hassler)
  5. 5. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE RENAISSANCE CHORAL MUSIC Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
  6. 6. Some characteristics  Music still based on modes, but gradually more accidentals creep in.  Richer texture in four or more parts. Bass part is added below the tenor.  Harmony. Greater concern with the flow and progression of chords.  Church music. Some pieces were intended for 'a cappella' performance. Mainly contrapuntal. Lots of imitation. Some church music was accompanied by instruments - for example polychoral pieces in antiphonal style (Antiphonal - Questions and Answers, Stereo Effect).  Secular music. (not-religious music. Sacred music is to do with the church) There were lots of vocal pieces and dances, and lots of instrumental pieces (However a lot of the instrumentals were in a vocal style, but suited to instruments. Vocal music was by far the more important.)
  7. 7. PROBLEMS OF PERFORMANCE PRACTICE Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
  8. 8. A journey back… “The longer the journey back into musical history, the more dangerous becomes the ground on which the interpreter must tread.”
  9. 9. Theoretical books? Even the theoretical books become fewer as we go back in time and the gap between the written notes and their realization in terms of sounds becomes very larger and more and more ill- defined.
  10. 10. In fact, the music theoretic books of the XVI century, as, for instance,“Istituzioni Armoniche” by Gioseffo Zarlino (1558) and “L’Antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica” by NiccolòVicentino (1555), speak only about the rules of composition, the complexity of the notation, sometime the technique of playing an instrument, but nothing tell us about the exact way to perform that kind of music.
  11. 11. For this we have to keep example also from other kind of arts, like sculpture, picture, poetry……, to understand how can be performed early choir music.
  12. 12. A very large number of medieval and renaissance paintings and sculptures show musicians in act of singing and these provide clear evidence of the kind of the preferred tone-production at that time. In the next slide we will see how take hints by another art (the painting) for a philological research of executive practice.
  13. 13. JanVan Eyck – The adoration of the Lamb (1429) – Ghent Cathedral Altarpiece
  14. 14. The strained expressions on the faces of the singers are in sharp contrast with the relaxed features of the instrumentalists, andVan Eyck was so scrupulous in the details of his paintings that we must assume these expressions were characteristic of the singers of his time.
  15. 15. Now, anyone of us can find out for himself the kind of sound that is associated with this facial expression if he stands in front of a mirror and sings.The muscles of the face and throat are tight and the mouth is only slightly opened: the resultant sound is nasal and little. Moreover is very unlikely that any vibrato was used at that time.
  16. 16. Underlay, a big problem!
  17. 17. Even when all the component parts of a composition have survived intact, the editor’s task is far from light.The words were often either omitted altogether or else set out under the music in a very arbitrary and careless way.
  18. 18. Other difficulties Underlay is not the only problem. Other difficulties: 1 – accidentals (see musica ficta) 2 – the tempo 3 – dynamic markings 4 – the musical notation 5 – the pitch
  19. 19. HOW A CHOIR WAS SET UP? Golden Sounds of the European Renaissance Polyphony
  20. 20. Then, how was a choir set up during the Renaissance Age?  CANTUS  ALTUS  TENOR  BASSUS
  21. 21. The choir’s setting was based on the presence of ALTUS, a voice that, as the word says, was an high voice.The fact that, in the modern choir, this part is given to the dark “CONTRALTO” voice, give us a clear indication of how the phonic situations have been changed during the Centuries.
  22. 22. Cantus was not performed byWomen but by “Boys” (treble), by the “Falsetto Singers” or by the “Castrati”. For boys and falsetto singers the highest note was the actual “E” on the fourth space in G clef.  Recording of Alessandro Moreschi, the last castrato in the Sistine Chapel:
  23. 23. The Tenor below was an adult male voice with a baritone timbre whereas the Bassus was much profound than today.
  24. 24.  It is generally agreed that a performance of a Renaissance Motet doesn’t need of melodramatic louds and softs, rubatos, cresendos, diminuendos and the whole range of operatic expressive device,
  25. 25. Polyphony, despite the fact it came from elitist origins, has a fundamentally democratic style.The equalness of the voice-parts in Renaissance music should condition every approach to it
  26. 26. A satisfying interpretation of polyphony can only come from a reactive group of people who are listening to what is going on around them, and then, when the music calls for it, adding something of their own.
  27. 27. To sum up: I like to end with a though of one of the most important architect of the Renaissance Era, Leon Battista Alberti. His idea was that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts, but the parts should be perfect in themselves.There is no better definition of polyphony or how to present it.
  28. 28. The End!

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