Chapter 12. The Rise of Instrumental music

Chapter Outline



Our story so far has focused on vocal music, since the great majority of pieces that survive from before the sixteenth century are for voices, alone or with instruments. Dances, fanfares, and other instrumental pieces were of course played throughout the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. But since performers played from memory or improvised, little of this music survived in notation. Instrumental music was functional: people welcomed it to accompany dancing or dining, but seldom listened to or played it for its own sake, and thus it was valued less highly than vocal music. 

This limitation began to lift after 1450 and especially during the sixteenth century, when churches, patrons, and musical amateurs increasingly cultivated instrumental music. The growth in music for instruments is partly an illusion: it simply means more was being written down. But that change in itself shows that music without voices was now more often deemed worthy of preservation and dissemination in writing. It also suggests that instrumental performers were more often musically literate than in earlier eras. 

The rise of instrumental music during the Renaissance is evident in the cultivation of new instruments, new roles for instrumental music, new genres, and new styles, as well as in the growing supply of written music for instruments alone, including many published collections. As in earlier times, musicians performed, improvised, and composed dance music, instrumental versions of vocal works, and settings of existing melodies. Yet they also developed important new genres that were not dependent on dancing or singing, including variations, prelude, fantasia, toccata, ricercare, canzona, and sonata. For the first time, composers were creating instrumental music that was as interesting and challenging as vocal music. This development set the stage for later periods, when instrumental music became increasingly important. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. Introduction
    1. After 1450, more instrumental music was written down.
      1. Indicates that music without voices was considered worthy of preserving
      2. Indicates musical literacy of instrumentalists
    2. New instruments and genres developed.
      1. Dance music and instrumental versions of vocal music continued to be composed.
      2. New genres were not dependent on dance or vocal models.
      3. For the first time, instrumental music was as interesting and challenging as vocal music.
  2. Instruments
    1. Trends of Renaissance instruments
      1. Books in the vernacular described instruments and offered instruction.
        1. Musica getutscht und ausgezogen (Music Explained) by Sebastian Virdung, Germany, 1511, was the first.
        2. Michael Praetorius’s (ca. 1571-1621) Syntagma musicum (A Systematic Treatise of Music, 1618) includes woodcut illustrations of instruments of the time (HWM Figure 12.1).
      2. Haut and bas (high and low) continue as designations for loud and soft.
      3. Consorts
        1. Instrument families were built in sets of different sizes, covering a wide range.
        2. Mixed consorts were also used.
        3. Most musicians played several instruments.
    2. Wind and percussion instruments
      1. Instruments from the Middle Ages: recorders, transverse flutes, shawms, cornetts, trumpets
      2. New instruments: the sackbut (early form of trombone) and crumhorn, an instrument with an enclosed double reed (see HWM Figures 12.1 and 12.2)
      3. Percussion instruments were more refined and diverse than in the past, but parts were never written out for them.
    3. String instruments
      1. Plucked
        1. The lute was the most popular household instrument (see HWM Figures 12.3, 11.2, 11.4).
        2. Lutes have six courses of strings and a round back.
        3. Vihuela was a guitar-like Spanish instrument with a flat back.
      2. Bowed
        1. The viol (viola da gamba or leg-viol) had frets and was played in consorts.
        2. The violin descended from the medieval fiddle and was developed in Italy for dance music.
    4. Keyboard instruments
      1. Organ
        1. Large church organs, similar to today’s, were installed by 1500.
        2. Pedal keyboards were used only in Germany.
        3. Builders added more stops (ranks of pipes).
        4. The portative organ was still popular (see HWM Figure 12.2).
      2. Clavichord
        1. Soft-sounding solo instrument for small rooms
        2. Tone is sustained until player releases the key.
        3. Player can control volume and can create vibrato.
      3. Harpsichord family
        1. Includes harpsichord, virginal (England), clavecin (France), clavicembalo (Italy)
        2. Louder than clavichord but without the nuances of dynamics or vibrato
        3. A second keyboard attached to two sets of strings produced a louder sound for contrast.
        4. Strings are plucked, so the pitch isn’t sustained.
  3. Types of Instrumental Music
    1. Dance music
      1. Social dancing was important for people of “breeding” (see HWM Music in Context: Social Dance, page 271).
      2. Instruments at first used vocal models for music.
      3. Musicians improvised, as in the Middle Ages, but music in improvisational style was printed in books.
        1. Composed for ensemble, lute, or keyboard
        2. Embellishment of melodic line was a common technique.
        3. Adding one or more contrapuntal lines to a bass line
      4. Works for lute or keyboard became stylized, not meant for actual dancing.
      5. Each dance has a unique character, defined by meter, tempo, rhythmic pattern, and form.
      6. Form usually consisted of repeated sections of four-measure phrases.
      7. Basse danse and branle were favorite dances of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. (NAWM 59a-b)
        1. Basse danse (low dance): stately couples dance, gradually raising and lowering the body in five kinds of steps
        2. Branle: one of the basse dance steps, eventually becoming its own genre
        3. NAWM 59a-b, published by Attaignant (1547), use hemiola, reflecting the dancers’ steps.
      8. Dance pairs
        1. Pairs were usually on the same theme but with contrasting tempo and meter.
        2. Pavane and galliard (HWM Example 12.1) were a favorite pairing.
        3. Pavane: stately dance in three repeated strains (HWM Figure 12.6)
        4. Galliard: livelier dance using the same form and melody (HWM Figure 12.5)
        5. Passamezzo and saltarello were popularly paired in Italy.
    2. Arrangements of vocal music
      1. Some music was labeled “for singing and playing.”
      2. When performed on instruments, players embellished vocal music.
      3. Intabulations: arrangements of music notated in tablature
        1. Used for plucked and keyboard instruments
        2. Because plucked instruments could not sustain pitches, arrangers adapted pieces to compensate.
        3. Luys de Narváez (fl. 1526-1549) published a version of Josquin’s Mille regretz (NAWM 60, based on NAWM 41) using figures such as runs and turns to fill in long notes.
    3. Settings of existing melodies
      1. Chant settings for organ (organ verses or versets) to alternate with choir (HWM Example 12.2, based on NAWM 36 Kyrie) as part of an “organ mass”
      2. Organ chorales
        1. Published after the 1570s but likely improvised earlier
        2. Use various techniques
      3. In nomine settings
        1. A popular cantus-firmus theme, derived from the Sanctus of John Tavener’s Missa Gloria tibi trinitas
        2. Tavener transcribed his mass for instruments.
        3. Hundreds were published, especially for viol consort.
    4. Variations
      1. Presenting a theme and then continuing with an uninterrupted series of variants on that theme demonstrates the imagination and skill of composers and performers (when improvised).
      2. Variations on dance themes
        1. Petrucci published collections as early as 1508.
        2. Forms that used repeating sections would be varied in the repetition.
        3. Variations on repeating basslines (ostinatos), e.g., passamezzo
      3. Sets of variations on standard airs
        1. In Italy, the Romanesca and Ruggiero were popular.
        2. In Spain, Guárdame las vacas was popular (e.g., NAWM 60b; HWM Example 12.3 shows the melody and bass plus the opening of each variation).
          • Called differencias in Spanish
          • NAWM 60a is the standard air, used for singing poetry.
          • Narváez states the bass clearly but varies the melody from the start.
          • Each variation uses its own unique figure throughout.
    5. English virginalists (harpsichord composers)
      1. Parthenia (1613), the first published book for virginal (HWM Figure 12.7), contains variations, dances, preludes, and fantasias.
        1. Variations were often based on dances or familiar songs.
        2. The melody can vary.
        3. Each variation uses one type of figuration.
      2. Byrd’s Pavana Lachrymae (NAWM 61) from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
        1. Based on Dowland’s Flow my tears (NAWM 58)
        2. The second of each pair of phrases is more active than the first.
          • Called differencias in Spanish
          • NAWM 60a is the standard air, used for singing poetry.
          • Narváez states the bass clearly but varies the melody from the start.
          • Each variation uses its own unique figure throughout.
    6. Abstract instrumental music
      1. Improvisation and vocal models inspired new, purely instrumental genres.
      2. Performers and composers used expressive effects (see HWM Source Reading, page 278).
      3. Introductory and improvisatory pieces
        1. Keyboard and lute players often improvised the introduction to a song.
        2. In the early sixteenth century, collections of freely composed compositions in improvisatory style began to appear in Spain and Italy.
        3. Titles varied: prelude, fantasia, ricercare
        4. Pieces often established the tonality of the following song (e.g., Luis Milán’s (ca. 1500-1561) El Maestro collection of vihuela music).
      4. Toccata was the chief keyboard genre.
        1. Name derives from the Italian tocare (“to touch”)
        2. Claudio Merulo (1533-1604) composed organ toccatas (e.g., HWM Example 12.4, from his Toccata IV in the Sixth Mode, 1604).
          • Exploits the organ’s ability to sustain tones, especially in suspensions
          • Uses a variety of textures, figurations, and embellishments
          • A contrasting middle section (HWM Example 12.4b) uses imitation.
          • The third and final section slows the harmonic progression while increasing the liveliness of the figuration, leading to a dramatic climax.
      5. Ricercare
        1. Evolved into a motetlike succession of imitative sections
        2. Successive themes, each developed imitatively and overlapping
        3. The earliest are for lute, possibly the origin of the name (to “seek out” the tuning of the instrument).
        4. By 1540, the genre could be composed for keyboard or ensemble as well.
      6. Canzona
        1. The earliest were intabulations of imitative French chansons (canzona in Italian).
        2. By the midcentury the songs were reworked, much as the sources for imitation masses were.
        3. By 1580 original compositions in this style appeared.
        4. They were light, fast-moving, strongly rhythmic pieces.
        5. The typical opening rhythmic figure was a half-note followed by two quarter notes.
  4. Music in Venice
    1. The city of Venice
      1. An independent state run by several important families, with an elected leader called the doge (“duke”)
      2. One of the chief ports of Europe
      3. Controlled territories in surrounding areas
    2. Patronage of the arts
      1. The government spent lavishly on public music and art.
      2. Through the arts, the city could maintain the illusion of greatness despite wars and misfortunes that diminished its position in the sixteenth century.
    3. Church of St. Mark
      1. The private chapel of the doge
      2. The location of great civic and religious ceremonies (see HWM Figure 12.8)
      3. The position of choirmaster was the most coveted musical post in Italy.
        1. Willaert, Rore, and Zarlino held the post in the sixteenth century.
        2. Monteverdi held the post in the seventeenth century.
      4. A permanent ensemble was instituted in 1568.
        1. Cornetts and sackbuts were the core.
        2. Violin and bassoon were also included.
        3. For major feast days as many as twenty-four instrumentalists might be added.
      5. Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1555-1612)
        1. Worked for St. Mark’s from 1585 until his death (see HWM biography, page 283 and HWM Figure 12.9)
        2. Composed for multiple choirs
        3. Composed the earliest substantial collections for large instrumental ensemble
        4. Works include about one hundred motets, over thirty madrigals, and almost eighty instrumental works.
      6. Polychoral motets
        1. Works for two or more choirs (up to five in Gabrieli’s music)
        2. Divided choirs, cori spezzati, had been common
        3. Forces could be placed in the two organ lofts of St. Marks, one on each side of the altar, and another on the floor.
      7. Ensemble canzonas (NAWM 62)
        1. Instrumental version of divided choirs
        2. Gabrieli’s Sacrae symphoniae (Sacred Symphonies, 1597) uses two groups of four instruments, with organ accompaniment.
        3. The form is AB CB DB E, with B as a refrain.
        4. The groups alternate stanzas and join together for the final stanza.
        5. Instruments are not specified, but they would probably have been cornetts and sackbuts.
        6. The organ doubles the lowest note in the ensemble (basso seguente).
  5. Instrumental Music Gains Independence
    1. In the sixteenth century, instrumental music began to be cultivated for its own sake, not for dancing or related to vocal music.
    2. Abstract forms developed in the sixteenth century continued to be used in the Baroque period and even into the nineteenth century.
    3. Although some sixteenth-century music continued to be played in the seventeenth century, it was not until the late nineteenth century that scholars revived it.

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