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Renaissance Celebration

Renaissance Period
Renaissance Masterpieces: Ockeghem; Josquin; Morales
Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly


Rel. 27 May 1994

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Renaissance Celebration
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The music of the Renaissance (c.1420-1600) embodies the full scope of high ideals and exceptional qualities one associates with the period as a whole – that “rebirth” in human creativity, an unprecedented flowering of arts, letters, and science, a golden era of discovery, and the veritable birth of the modern era. Though less known than their contemporaries in the visual arts, the greatest composers of the day – Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin, Lassus, Palestrina, Byrd – must be considered among the giants of any age for their unrivaled mix of stunning technique and intense expression. This “Renaissance Celebration” is the next in our series of features devoted to the nine principal periods of music history, whereby we invite our visitors – regardless of experience – to explore and discover the many composers and works that exalt the era, and some of the outstanding artists that successfully bring it to our modern ears. Specifically, this Feature includes a brief written Overview of the Renaissance era, as well as a useful index of key composers, works, and artists – each of which is linked to the related page on our site. In addition, we provide a two-hour 1-Click Concert (full streams to our subscribers only), a featured “sampler” album, and a set of “Renaissance” videos. Enjoy!

“Josquin Desprez is the master of the notes. They must do as he wills; as for the other composers, they have to do as the notes will.”
– Martin Luther

Renaissance Period Overview

"Renaissance" is, of course, the French word for "re-birth", and refers most literally to the renewed interest among artists and thinkers of the 15th and 16th centuries in the philosophy and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome. More broadly it has come to signify the "re-birth" of human creativity during this period, an unprecedented flowering of arts, letters, and science, a golden era of discovery, and the veritable birth of the modern era - the age of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Erasmus, Copernicus, and Columbus. Though perhaps less well-known today, the music of the Renaissance is likewise worthy of this same high esteem, as the greatest composers of the age achieved an artistic success equal to that of their more famous contemporaries in the visual and literary arts.

Early signs of a Renaissance musical aesthetic appeared in the works of English composers of the early 15th century, such as John Dunstaple and Lionel Power, where a new emphasis on simplicity and pleasing consonance (3rds, 6ths) contrasted with the more mannered and austere style of the Late Middle Ages. Within a short time, composers on the Continent, especially France, took heed of the new style and expanded it to even greater expressive heights, most especially Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois in the 1430s-50s. In the succeeding two generations, a series of top-rank composers emerged, mostly from the region known as Flanders (Northern France, Southern Belgium): first that of Johannes Ockeghem and Antoine Busnois in the 1470s and 80s, and then that of Josquin des Prés in the "golden era" between 1490-1520 - which likewise included such giants as Heinrich Isaac, Loyset Compère, Jacob Obrecht, among others. Indeed, Josquin must be considered among the greatest composers of any age for his unrivaled mix of stunning technique and intense expression; in so doing, Josquin and his contemporaries fulfilled the promise of the new philosophy of Humanism, though always in consort with the era's deep religious conviction. The dominant genres of this Early- to High-Renaissance period - all vocal - included the religious Mass cycle and the motet, as well as the secular or "courtly love" chanson. From the 1530s, however, a new, more literary secular vocal genre took hold of composers and audiences alike, the madrigal - whose popularity was aided by the fledgling music printing industry. Outstanding madrigal composers included Jacob Arcadelt and Cypriano de Rore in its early phase and Orlando de Lassus and Adrian Willaert in its so-called "classical era". This is to not to suggest that religious genres held a diminished role in the Late Renaissance, as the top composers - Lassus, Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and William Byrd - all wrote substantial amounts of sacred vocal music. As the 16th century wore on, composers of both sacred and secular music increasingly strove for a commensurate musical rendering of the extreme, even mannered, emotional content of the texts - and thus laid the groundwork for the next era, the Baroque.

Principal Renaissance Composers

Here is a list of some of the principal composers of the Renaissance era:

John Dunstable (c.1390-1453)
Principal genres: Motets

Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Gilles de Bins dit Binchois (c.1400-1460)
Principal genres: Chansons

Johannes Ockeghem (c.1420-1496)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Antoine Busnois (c.1430-1492)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Loyset Compère (1445-1518)
Principal genres: Motets, Chansons

Alexander Agricola (1446-1506)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Josquin Des Prez (c.1450-1521)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Obrecht, Jacob (c.1450-1505)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

Antoine Brumel (1460-1515)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets

Marchetto Cara (1465-1527)
Principal genres: Frottole (proto-Madrigal)

William Cornysh (c.1468-1523)
Principal genres: Motets, English Songs

Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c.1470-c.1535)
Principal genres: Frottole, Laude

Clément Janequin (c.1475-1558)
Principal genres: Chansons

Ludwig Senfl (c.1486-c.1543)
Principal genres: Motets, Lieder

Nicolas Gombert (c.1490-1556)
Principal genres: Motets, Chansons

Taverner, Sir John (c.1490-1545)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets

Claudin de Sermisy (c.1490-1562)
Principal genres: Chansons

Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets

Tielman Susato (d c.1561)
Principal genres: Instrumental Works

Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, English Anthems, Keyboard Works

Jacob Arcadelt (c.1505-1568)
Principal genres: Madrigals, Chansons

Jacob Clemens non Papa (1510-1556)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons

John Sheppard (c.1515-1560)
Principal genres: Motets

Gabrieli, Andrea (c.1520-1586)
Principal genres: Madrigals, Keyboard Works

Claude Goudimel (c.1520-1572)
Principal genres: Psalms motets

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Magnificats, Lamentations, Madrigals

Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Chansons, Madrigals, Lamentations, Villanelle

Claudio Merulo (1533-1604)
Principal genres: Masses, Magnificats, Instrumental Works

William Byrd (1543-1623)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Anthem, Madrigals, Keyboard Works

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1549-1611)
Principal genres: Masses, Motets, Lamentations, Magnificats

Luca Marenzio (1553-1599)
Principal genres: Madrigals

Thomas Morley (1557-1602)
Principal genres: Madrigals, Keyboard Works

Key Renaissance Works

Here is a short, and quite partial, list of some of the many masterpieces of the Renaissance era. Use this list as a springboard for further musical exploration. In addition, please enjoy the 1-Click Concert above, which is in large part based upon these selections.

Dunstable, Quam pulcra es (antiphon, a3)

Dufay, Missa L'Homme armé (a4)

Dufay, Nuper rosarum flores, (isorhythmic motet, a4)

Dufay, Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys (rondeau, a3)

Ockeghem, Missa 'De plus en plus' (a4)

Ockeghem, Intemerata Dei mater (a5)

Compère, O admirabile commercium (a4)

Deprez, Missa Pange lingua (a4)

Desprez, Ave Maria ... virgo serena (a4)

Desprez, Praeter rerum seriem (a6)

Desprez, El Grillo (a4)

Isaac, Mass Proper for Easter (Choralis Constantinus No.54, a4)

Isaac, Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen (a4)

Obrecht, Missa 'Maria zart' (a4)

Brumel, Missa Et ecce terrae motus (a12)

Cornysh, Stabat mater dolorosa (a5), H.xi, 137

Tromboncino, Vale diva, vale in pace

Janequin, Réveillez vous, cueurs endormis (a5; 'Le chant des oiseaux')

Gombert, Ave regina caelorum (a5)

Taverner, Mass 'The Western Wind' (a4)

Susato, Mohrentanz 'La Mourisque' (a4)

Tallis, Mass (P.31, a4)

Tallis, Salvator mundi (i; P.216, a5)

Tallis, 9 Psalm Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter (a4)

Arcadelt, Il bianco e dolce cigno (a4)

Clemens non Papa, Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis (a5)

Gabrieli, Ricercari … composti et tabulati per ogni sorte di stromenti

Goudimel, Psaume 104: Sus, sus mon âme il te faut dire bien

Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli (a6)

Palestrina, Stabat mater (a8)

Palestrina, Lamentationum Hieremiae Prophetae (a5-6)

Lassus, Prophetiae Sibyllarum

Lassus, Salve regina mater (a8)

Lassus, O la o che bon eccho (a8)

Merulo, Canzona 23

Byrd, Mass for 4 Voices

Byrd, Ave verum corpus (a4)

Byrd, Rowland, or Lord Willoughby's Welcome home, MB7

Victoria, Missa Pro defunctis (a6)

Victoria, Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae (responsories, a3-a8)

Marenzio, Solo e pensoso i più deserti campi

Morley, Now is the month of maying (a5)

Renaissance Artists

Choirs and Vocal Ensembles

Alamire   Les Voix Humaines
Ars Nova Copenhagen   New London Consort
Capella Alamire   Newberry Consort
Chanticleer   Orlando Consort
Choir of King's College, Cambridge   Oxford Camerata
Concentus Musicus Wien   Pomerium
The Consort of Musicke   Pro Cantione Antiqua
Ensemble Daedalus   The Sixteen
Gabrieli Consort   Stile Antico
Hilliard Ensemble   The Tallis Scholars
His Majestie's Clerkes   Theatre of Voices
Huelgas Ensemble   Tonus Peregrinus

Instrumental Ensembles

American Brass Quintet   King's Noyse
Canadian Brass   Piffaro
Concerto Palatino   Pro Arte Recorder Ensemble


Harry Christophers   Anthony Rooley
Nikolaus Harnoncourt   David Skinner
Paul Hillier   Bruno Turner
Paul McCreesh   Peter Urquhart
Peter Phillips   Paul van Nevel
Philip Pickett   Sir David Willcocks

Instrumental and Vocal Soloists

Julianne Baird, soprano   Andrew Lawrence-King, harp
Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor   Ronn McFarlane, lute
Jonathan Dimmock, organ   Stefano Molardi, organ
Paul O'Dette, lute   Rachelle Taylor, harpsichord
Marco Pesci, lute   Emily Van Evera, soprano
Byron Schenkman, harpsichord   Clare Wilkinson , mezzo-soprano
Daniel Taylor, tenor    

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