The beginnings of the Renaissance

Humanism and Music
Imagination freed from authority
Decline in role of church — end of reliance on auctoritas
Pre-Christian civilization for models
Empiricism replaces authority — realism replaces symbolism
– new view of world — Columbus 1492, Copernicus pub. 1543
– da Vinci (1452–1519) — empirical observation leads to
increased realism
– balance supersedes elaboration
Interest in literature
• Elevation of trivium — new concept of studia
humanitatis (humanities)
• Printing from movable type — Gutenberg, 1450s,
increased literacy and thought
Political conflict
• The Hundred Years’ War — England vs.
• Fought on French soil
– mercenary soldiers lived off land when not actually
– Joan of Arc
RESULT — decline of knights and chivalry
Late fourteenth-century music on the
• Ars subtilior — mannerism
• Very complex mensuration changes
• Harmony can stretch the limits of the church modes
100 Years’ War and music
• “Contenance angloise” — Martin le Franc in Le Champion des
dames (1442)
• More empirical, less theoretical/symbolic
– equality of parts
– less dissonance, careful treatment — “panconsonant”
– acceptance of imperfect consonances (as norm, except at
cadences) from as early as twelfth century
• Techniques
– rota (rondellus if parts begin together) — voice exchange
– “English discant”
– C.f. in middle or lowest voice
– Improvisation of parts in 6/3 and 8/5 relation to c.f.
John Dunstaple (ca. 1390–1453)
• Probably mathematician and astronomer, probably in France with Regent
John Duke of Bedford
• Works (at least fifty)
– Mass Ordinary movements
– two secular pieces
– motets — two styles
• old c.f. style
– cantus firmus
– isorhythm
– harmony full of imperfect consonances
• new, freely composed style
– English harmony
– sometimes triadic melody
– short sections based on text phrases
– some cadences approached as in English discant style
The Burgundian composers
• Burgundy — now northeastern France and Low
Countries ca. 1400–1477
• Dukes related to French royal family, influenced but
were not directly involved in 100 Years’ War
• Fabulous court, center for music and other arts
Gilles Binchois (ca. 1400–1460)
• Career
– soldier
– churchman
– musician
• Composed mostly chansons — very little sacred
Guillaume Du Fay (ca. 1400–1474)
• Career
– singer and churchman
– member of Burgundian court
– well educated, traveled — Italy
• Music — mostly familiar genres but with new traits in
– harmony — imperfect consonances
– four-part texture — bass below tenor for support of
Major Burgundian genres
• Fauxbourdon hymns — based on English discant idea
– c.f. on top
– middle part improvised at parallel fourth below cantus
– bottom voice in sixths and octaves below cantus
• Motets — two types
– old style — c.f. texture, isorhythm, mensuration, proportion
– new style — freely composed nonimitative polyphony
• Masses — unity of multimovement work
– cantus firmus Mass – same c.f. (sacred or secular) for all
• Secular music — chansons in formes fixes, but with new
– ballade
– rondeau
Questions for discussion
• Why might we regard the cultural division in music
history around the beginning of the fifteenth century as
one of the most decisive ones in music history?
• How did the travels of individual musicians affect the
history of music in the fifteenth century?
• How did the aesthetic meaning and musical function of
a cantus firmus change in the fifteenth century as
compared to the preceding centuries?