Music in the English Renaissance.

Thomas More in his work Utopia points the contrast between his ideal type of church music and that of the present time, insisting on the fact that the beauty as a concept should be put on the first place . As we all know, in the Renaissance the main interest was to regain the origins and to restore the Roman and Greek heritage. Generally speaking, in the art this was a complex phenomenon and mainly was concentrated on different disciplines. For example, if a painter would have the ancient models right before his eyes (or we can presume that he could have seen the statue or the painting), the writer would have the ancient legend, myths and texts and the philosopher access to the main works, for a musician the situation would be far more complicated. We can observe that in the Renaissance field, going back to “fontes purissimi” meant more to create works of art which would be developed on a mythical theme, than using ancient musical structures.
In the England of 16th and 17th century an interesting phenomenon is happening: the music develops differently from the Continental mainstream figure and takes new forms.

We must ask ourselves what determined the transfer from sacre to a more secular music. What were the main causes that determined the transformation of the traveling minstrel to the resident of the Royal court? Is only Renaissance the keyword in this equation or we must take into account other aspects? The effects are not negligible as well. Who were the patrons and the protectors of the Renaissance music?

In this study, I will try to explain what were the mutations in the 16th century that determined the reorientation of the music in the English area. First of all, I will focus on the musical problem from a philosophical perspective. Later, I will present the instruments of the period and their evolution. After that, I will try to explain the differences between the Catholic mass and what brought new the Reformation (and the currents inside this large religious movement). Briefly, the two tendencies are the polyphonic mass versus the more simplified Anglican melodies. I will show that the musicians were encouraged by many noble families in England, as well as the monarchy itself. I will also focus on some examples of secular music, starting from William Byrd’s compositions and other. Moreover, it is clear that the protectors and the patrons had a huge influence on this kind on music.

1.Musical Philosophy and procedures.
The medieval heritage considered that the music was split in two parts: musica speculativa (the act of thinking and philosophizing music) and musica practica (the theory of music and composition and performance). Many still considered that music can induce poetic furor (like Marsilio Ficino), whereas others took intoconsideration the Pythagorian theory of harmony. We must consider that the essential compositional technique was that of counterpoint, the combining of independent melodic lines in a harmonic and consonant manner . The main voice was the tenor, often forming with the top line (“cantus” or “superius”), while the two other voices in the structure (“altus” and “bassus”) provided other counterpoint. Many genres employed a cantus firmus. Dufay seems to have championed one of the major forms, the polyphonic setting of the Ordinary of the Mass in the works in 1420s. The major problem about revivalism was that about historic ancient sources. Some musicologists deny that a rebirth was possible because no ancient music could have served as a model for imitation. On the other hand, we must agree that the musical writing was inspired by Greek or Roman ideals.
Theorizing about music split into two categories: musica theorica, which dealt with the foundations of music, such as the nature of sound, interval, consonance and dissonance, scales, modes, tunings, durations and other matters defining the medium of musical sound and on the other hand musica practica, comprising instruction in singing, playing instruments and composition of melody, rhythm and counterpoint. It is important to say that the most important treatise of the late Middle Ages is Speculum musicae written by Jacques de Liege in 1330. He is responsible for this binary division between practice and theory. Another important theoretician is Ugolino of Orvieto, who wrote Declaratio musicae disciplinae. The first three books are dedicated to musica practica and the last two follow the Boethius’ pattern. In other words, he explains the musical intervals with the help of arithmetic order.
Another important theoretician is Bartolome Ramos de Pareja (c.1440-1491), a Spanish mathematician who settled and lectured in Bologna around 1470. He was particularly interested with the practical part. He proposed a new way of dividing the single string of the monochord an instrument used since antiquity for tuning the musical intervals by measuring string lengths.He said that the perfect consonances were the octave, fouth and fifth. The Greek chromatic and enharmonic genres of melody also beckoned to be revived. Nicola Vicentino dedicated most of his treatise L’antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (Ancient music adapted to modern practice) in 1555 to a practical method of adapting the genres to modern compositions.

The transmission of music in the Renaissance was through different forms. The development of printing meant that the music could be transmitted in written forms as a series of signs, live performance or orally. The technology of printing press became more and more accessible, making the transmission more easy and generating interesting phenomena . In other words, we have:
• Oral transmission.
• Written transmission.
• Manuscripts.
• Printed music.

2.Instruments. Polyphony- a new word. Violin – a new family name.

Until the 15th century we must take into account the fact that very little music was written expressly for instruments, except for keyboard. In every city, groups of large trumpets with drums and cymbals were present in every town and court and represented the majesty of king. On the other hand, the “soft ensembles” used contrasting sounds (for example, fiddle,lute and recorder). The polyphonic music in religion had a profound effect on instrument setting. New instruments were invented: the violin family was seen at the end of the fifteenth century. Until the early decades of the sixteenth century the usual custom was that instruments and voices performed separately. Also, the large church organ usually performed alone, until the late Renaissance. In the sixteenth century, performance practices moved to the direction of an integration of voices and instruments on one or more of the lines in a vocal performance. The improvisation was an important part of both vocal and instrumental performance. For example, instrumentalists routinely improvised music for dancing. When they were accompanying “generic” dances- those that were made up of a repetition of a single step pattern- all that was necessary was to know the rhythms and phrase lengths of the dance.
In what concerns the instruments, many of them continued the tradition already existing. Some lost their status (like hurdy-gurdy or the bagpipe, which could not suit very well the polyphonic system) and became emblematic for peasant music in whole Europe. Different families of instruments appeared:
1. bowed strings- the viol (six-string instrument, curved bridge, held by the legs), viola da braccio (seven strings including drones, held on the shoulder), vielle (four strings with a flat bridge), rebec (three strings, flat bridge). Originally violin was used only for dancing music, but professional musicians observed its large adaptability.
2. plucked strings- in this family, only the lute and the harp were modified and adjusted to meet the new repertory. The four-string guitar developed from a variety of a series of instruments that survived from the Middle Ages.
3. woodwinds. In the cities, an ensemble of two or three shawms became the favorite instrumental music employed by civic governments and courts. This phenomenon was constant throughout Europe, as we can see it from the linguistic proofs: “town pipers”(England), “pifferi” in Italy, “pyperen” in the Netherlands and Pfeipfer in Germany.
4. Brass. Some instruments were used to announce daily programs and news. Also, the trumpets were used for heraldic purposes during ceremonial occasions. The trombone had a more versatile function than the trumpet because had access to the whole scale. The cornet became an emblematic Renaissance instrument.
5. Keyboards. The organ met an enormous expansion and development during the 15th century in whole Europe. All were built with many ranks of pipes and various pipes, keyboards and foot pedals. The harpsichord and clavichord are first noted in the late 14th century and became increasingly popular during the next several centuries.

3.Religious music and religious problems.

During the 14th century, the musical setting was taken from the Ordinary of the Mass. Complete settings can be found in this period with examples as Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut. On the next century, Masses were based on cantus firmus - they usually took Gregorian chants and put in the tenor voice. The cantus firmus appeared simultaneously in other voices too- the composer using a series of contrapunctal methods and techniques. The main debate about this kind of music appeared after the Reformation movement. The biggest problem in this kind of interpretation was the fact that the message, the words were put on the second plan. In other words, this would be a weak point which was very attacked by Calvin, Luther or Zwingli. In 1562, during the Council of Trent’s discussions, the main delegates were humanists who were very concerned about this polyphony in church. Furthermore, many prelates also disapproved the use of this way of singing. After this moment, the practice was prohibited. This event stirred controversy as we may expect. Alexander J.Fisher insists on the fact that Giovanni Palestrina’s legend of performing Pope Marcellus Mass was discredited by scholars and in fact there was little to save from this kind of music. In England, the Catholic music had very high standards. We can see how Thomas More’s affirmation is viable in this present context. The tradition of vernacular music was present here too. Simon Tunsted, an English Franciscan friar is supposed to have written Quatour Principalia Musicae, where he develops the principles used a century later in England, Italy and Germany: the polyphony. At the English court, a current practice was to Latinize the names, which is another sign for the affinity towards this kind of music. On the other hand we must observe that this style was recurrent only in the cathedrals and highly educational establishments. In the countryside, the peasants would hear the same Gregorian plain chants. Before the Council of Trent debate, another event influenced the evolution of the English religious music. The Act of Supremacy of 1534 made official the split of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. The problems which have generated this huge event are complex and the aim of this subject is not to discuss them. On the other hand, this generated a new form of music two decades before the problem to be discussed in the Roman Church.

The Reformation brought new ideas not only on the dogmatic field, but also on the social, political and artistic one. Like in the theology, the opinion regarding music was not a single one. For instance, Martin Luther considered that music is very important and a gift from God. Seeking to breach the artificial barriers between the clergy and laity that characterized the Catholic church (the Latin mass inaccessible for many of the participants), Luther himself or his friend Johann Walter (1496-1570) composed two dozen songs for congregational singing . He was called the “Nightingale of Wittenberg” by the Meistersinger Hans Sachs and played the lute and flute and a decent understanding of music theory. The Latin mass became a German one. On the other hand, Ulrich Zwingli found no justification for music in the Scriptures and even banned the music. Jean Calvin had a middle position between the two: the melody has to be sung by the entire congregation. Sometimes, the religious hymns had a specific religious propaganda purpose. For example, in Lyon in 1551 the families would sing vernacular psalms in defiance of the local Catholic authorities .

In England, after the moment of 1534, in the Reformed church was applied the principle debated in the previous paragraph: one-syllable per one-note. We must consider Henry the 8th as a major figure considering the artistic and religious movement both. First of all, by his self-proclaiming as the head of the Anglican Church, he would have needed a new liturgical structure, where the music played an enormous part. Also, he needed an English sung liturgy in order to give more coherence and a sort of national pride. For instance, Queen’s Elisabeth fine of 12 pence for refusing to go to church was another way to convince the population to attend the mass.

4.Musicians and their patrons.

Henry VIII was very interested about music and it was commonly known that he could play various instruments. He inherited this passion from his father, Henry VII who, according to the court documents, had four sackbuts, a Welsh harper, string minstrels, a dozen trumpeters and the established children for the Chapel Royal. His son’s musician tastes were far bigger, having seven sackbuts, three lutenists, four flautists. A part of these musicians were invited from the Continent in order to sing in London. We must observe that we have in this period an idolarisation of ‘courtly literature’. In other words, the example of the Royal Court is taken as a social behaviour or as an example throughout the country. For example, like the Renaissance king, any gentlemen would be expected to know how to fight, wrestle but also to read, count, sing and play instruments, as David C.Price observes . Also, we must take into consideration the fact that in this period the cultural changes were large-many nobles used to travel throughout Europe. Many educational institutions appeared. Among the main protectors, we must observe that universities had a crucial role. The music was taught at different degrees at Cambridge or Trinity College. The first title of Doctor in Music was recorded in 1463/1464. Before 1540s we have little evidence of people servants who could read music.

We must also focus on the noble families, who played an important part in protection of the artists and musicians. Who were those who protected the musicians in order to imitate the court rites? From family papers, letters and accounts comprise some historians have observed how important was this artistic movement throughout the 16th century. If the Church’s encouragement in music was little, the compensation came from this part. In the eastern England, we have for instance families like The Kytsons of Hengrave, the Petres of Ingatestone, the Bacons and Cornwallises of Suffolk. Many members of these families studied at Oxford in the musical field and brought minstrels to their court. For example, William Byrd was twice at the court of Petres. In the North of England, the Talbots of Welback, the Cavendishes of Chatswath and Hardwich were knew both for their richness and for their protection of artists. In the West of England the same situation is present with the Seymours, Earls of Hertford, the Thynnes of Longleat. In the Midlands, we have the Manners of Belvoir, the Berties of Eresby, the Willoughbys of Wollaton from Nottingham. We can see that the interest was very large in the country. These families were not necessarily involved in politics. Without any fear we can name them the major patrons of secular music compositions. We must observe that after the Reform, many nobles remained Catholics and encouraged music composition and creation at their private chapels, especially after “The Act of Settlement”.

On the other side, the Puritans were definitely against the musicality encouraged by these families. They followed the Genevan school of thought, where it is clearly specified that music is a pleasure that conduces to vice and not to virtue. The conflict was a clear one between Catholics and Protestants. The Puritans encouraged domestic music-making, the playing of organs, but outside the hours of church service.

5.Compositions.Works and directions.

In this period, there are five main branches of composition: sacred music, for liturgical use, madrigals, some of which have sacred words but are sung at home, solo songs with instrumental accompaniament (lute) , keyboard works and instrumental chamber music. We must observe that music printing was adopted from continental practice during this period. Elisabeth I granted the right to publish to Tallis and his student William Byrd. This is one of the cause why his works survived in various editions. Another effect was that somehow limited the potential for other musicians to publish in England. From 1588 to 1627 a new school appeared, named The English Madrigal School. The main determinance for writing madrigals came through the influence of Alfonso Ferrabosco, who was present at Queen’s court. Until the publication of Musica Transalpina by Nicholas Yonge we can not talk about a true school of madrigals. This work published in 1588 was a collection of Italian madrigals fitted with English words. The popularity of them was very big and was followed by other anthologies soon after. William Byrd also experimented this musical form, but never called it like this. The Triumphs of Oriana is a collection of madrigals compiled by Thomas Morley, which contained 25 different madrigals by 23 different composers. Oriana is another name used for the Queen.
We must consider that William Byrd (1543- 1623) is the central figure of the Renaissance music in England. His circle of friends and employers included Catholic activists such as the earls of Oxford, Northumberland and Worcester. He benefited from the patent granted by the queen for the printing and marketing of music. He managed both to have the royal regard and the Jesuits, beside the tumultuous context. He was sworn in as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572 and he is described as ‘the Father of Music’. He was mainly influenced by Alfonso Ferrabosco and became an exponent of imitative polyphony. We can suppose this because of his later move to Essex at the Petres, where he wrote three masses and the two books of Gradualia. In the long term, his music has scarcely been out of the English cathedral repertoire since his death.

Another important figure of English Church Rennaissance music is Thomas Morley , who was a composer and organist. Mainly, his workplace was at Norwich Cathedral and St.Paul’s Cathedral. In 1588 he graduated Oxford in music and even managed to become a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1592. He was the author of Triumph of Oriana in 1603. He was taught by William Byrd and he wrote a work where he specifies his opinions regarding the rules of composition: Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music. He also is known for sacred music, but he is remembered mostly for secular music , especially the madrigals written in the ballet style. The Triumph of Oriana was a collection of 29 madrigals written not only by Morley, but also by Weelkes, Gibbons. It is dedicated to Queen Elisabeth, who is eulogized in the refrain that appears in 26 of the madrigals: `Long live Fair Oriana”.
Thomas Tallis is a English composer and organist in Dover, London, and Waltham Abbey. Following the dissolution of the Abbey in 1540 he sang at Canterbury and was a member of the Chapel Royal, under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elisabeth I who granted him and William Byrd an exclusive licence allowing them to print music. His style was a combination of continental music and the politically influenced liturgy.
A Welsh composer who studied with William Byrd and Thomas Tallis was Thomas Tomkins. He was an organist at Worchester Cathedral and a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, providing music for both. He wrote services, anthems, verse anthems, keyboard works and consort music.
An English composer whose career started at King’s College is Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). He became a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1605 and was later one of the organists. He worked in the household of Prince Charles. His sacred music includes anthems, verse anthems and service settings. He also wrote fantasias for viols and for keyboards. John Bull studied with William Byrd and was an organ builder, composer and organist at Hereford and the Chapel Royal. He was known for his keyboard writing, which consisted of decorated patterns against a plain cantus firmus.

To conclude, we must observe that the context was very interesting and followed a tradition in this field. Still, it is very difficult to talk about a Renaissance in the musical field as if in the literary or other cultural areas. We must understand that many instruments appeared and the musicians had their own patrons.
A. Matus
Paris IV,nov.2011

1. Grendler, Paul (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, vol.4, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1999.
2. More, Thomas, Utopia, London, 1516, trans.Robinson and edited by Simpson.
3. Pirrotta, Nino and Elena Povoleda, Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi.Translated by Karen Eales. Cambridge, U.K., 1982.
4. Price, David, Patrons and Musicians of the English Renaissance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981.
5. R.Po-Chia Hsia (ed.), The Cambridge History of Christianity- Reform and Expansion, 1500-1600, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2007.
6. The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance, Oxford University Press, 2003, London.
7. Zermon Davis, Natalie, Society and culture in early modern France, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1975.

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