• Naomi Leila

Middle Renaissance Composers


The Middle Renaissance period spanned from 1467–1534. In the early 1470s music started to be printed, using a printing press. Near the end of the fifteenth century music started to become more polyphonic and complex, which could be seen as mirroring the increased detail in painting at that time. For instance composers like Palestrina wrote in a free flowing style of counterpoint in a thick, rich texture within which consonance followed dissonance on a nearly beat-by-beat basis, and suspensions ruled the day. In the beginning of the 16th century there was also another trend towards simplification, composers started to add lengthy passages of homophony, to help underline important text, or points of articulation.


A few great composers from this period include Thomas Tallis, Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina and Orlande de Lassus. I have briefly outlined their histories and musical styles below.


Thomas Tallis: 1505 – 1585 (Tudor Period) - One of England's greatest composers


Brief History: Thomas Tallis was an English composer who occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music and is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship. He was a Catholic throughout his entire life, even though this was not allowed by Henry VIII. For the last ten years of his life, he and his student William Byrd were the only people allowed to print music in England.


Musical Style: He composed a lot of sacred choral music, in an older Latin motet style and in an English anthem style. His writing was often canonic and he used polyphony in a primarily chordal, homophonic way.


Fun Facts:

  • He composed music for all the Tudor kings and queens, except Henry VII.

  • Vaughan Williams was an admirer of Thomas Tallis's work and composed, 'Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis' based on Tallis's third Psalter Tune.

  • His music is featured in the shady film, '50 shades of Grey'

Music recommendation: Spem in alium (written for 40 voices)


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: - 1525-1594 Italian Renaissance composer from Palestrina (near Rome)


Brief History: He was engaged as organist and singer in the cathedral of his native town. In 1578 he was given the title, 'master of music' at the Vatican Basillica for being the Most celebrated Roman musician of that time.


Musical Style: He composed more than 105 masses & 250 motets, which were mostly polyphonic pieces, with harmonious melodies that flowed in more stepwise movements. He payed particular attention to the clarity of the musical texture to help people understand the text. Many of his works were based on plainsongs and chant melodies.


Fun Facts:

  • Palestrina had an influence with the Roman hierarchy. For instance, in 1577 he was given a papal order . He and a colleague, Annibale Zoilo, were told to revise the Graduale Romanum by ridding it of barbarisms and superfluousness. Palestrina never completed the arduous job (the Medicean Gradual) and in fact gave the work to other musicians.

Music Recommendation: Salve Regina


Orlande de Lassus: 1532-1594 Flemmish Renaissance composer from Mons (Belgium)


Brief History: Lassus spent a lot of the 1540s in Milan where he often used an Italian form of his name, Orlando di Lasso. By the 1560's Orlando di Lasso had become quite famous, and composers began to go to Munich to study with him including possibly Andrea and Giovanni Gabrielli. His works were so popular that his music accounted for three fifths of all music printed at that time. Due to that he was made a Knight of the Golden Spur, by Pope Gregory XIII, in 1574. Many of the royal courts around Europe wanted him to live there for more money, but he was more interested in the stability of his position in Munich and in the wonderful performance opportunities of Albrecht's court. He intermittently travelled throughout his last years but his home and where he died was in Munich.


Musical Style: Orlande composed much sacred music but it was his secular material: motets, madrigals, French chansons & German Lieder that people admired more. He wrote over 2000 works in every vocal genre of that time in Latin, French, Italian and German. It is unclear if he ever wrote any strictly instrumental music as no pieces ever survived, or were known to be written (a strange fact in those times). Some of his masses show influence from the Venetian School, particular in use of polychoral techniques. He wrote in a style known as Musica Reservata which involved intensely expressive setting of text and chromaticisms.


Fun Facts:

  • Some stories tell of Lassus being kidnapped three times because of his beautiful singing voices.

  • He also wrote drinking songs in German and songs about the unfortunate aspects of overindulgence.

  • His output varies from the sublime to the ridiculous, and he showed a sense of humour not often associated with sacred music. For example, one of his motets satirises poor singers (super flumina Babylonis) which includes stuttering, stopping and starting, and general confusion.

Music Recommendation: Al dolce soun


I hope that this helped you get to grips with the music from the Middle Renaissance Period and that you enjoyed some of the recommended pieces.


Much Love

Naomi Leila Xx


P.s. Watch out for my next blog instalment on Late Renaissance Composers


P.p.s This work is mainly from a lot of research I've done on the internet. If anything is inaccurate please let me know and I will update it


P.p.p.s If you liked this please press the heart button :)


#Musiceducation #Renaissance #ThomasTallis #OrlandedeLassus

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