Medieval and Renaissance: A Comparison of Musical Stylesby Rit Nosotro
Compare Medieval and Renaissance Music
The Medieval and Renaissance periods represent two distinct cultures and worldviews. Unlike the Middle-Ages, several Renaissance scientists desired to learn about the earth apart from the idea of a Divine Creator, and philosophers brought in humanistic thinking. Religion also varied greatly between these two eras. Reformation brought about turmoil during the Renaissance as opposed to the monastic life of the medieval period. One of the less obvious of these changes was that of music. In comparing Medieval and Renaissance times we can see a definite contrast in the style and content of what the music emphasized.
During the medieval era musical composition consisted of little movement in the notes themselves, and was, in a sense, plain. Used mainly in the church, music was meant to emphasize actual words that a person wanted to convey, and thus had little embellishment. One of the most well-known styles of that period was the Gregorian, or Plain Chant, which provides a perfect example of the simple, lyrical music of that time. “It indicates a single sacred melody, without accompaniment, sung by a single person or by a choir in which each member sings the same part.” (McComb, Todd M. “Medieval & Renaissance Music: A Brief Survey”) Towards the end of the Middle-Ages secular music became increasingly popular, marking a shift in trends toward the Renaissance. In general, however, music was meant for the church and its purpose was to emphasize the creator of music.
The years during the Renaissance mark a distinct change in the musical world. Musical style itself altered completely. Songs were embellished and consisted of a variety of genres. More parts were added to many types of music, the rhythm varied, and intervals between notes and chords were played often. “One of the most noticeable differences between Medieval and Renaissance styles, is that of musical texture. Whereas a Medieval composer tended to contrast the separate strands of his music, a Renaissance composer aimed to blend them together.” (Fuller, Richard, “Renaissance Music (1450-1600)) This music started predominately in the church, but as time went on spread throughout many venues. The change that occurred was not only in the style, but also in the focus of the music. Renaissance artist sought to focus on human emotions and the music itself, with little regards to lyrics.
An obvious change occurred in the style of music itself, but what outside factors affected these two styles? One answer is that it involved a psychological change in the people themselves. Medieval music focused on God, and thus had more of an emphasis on lyrics and less of an emphasis on intricate music. The Renaissance, however, focused mainly on the individual. Renaissance style reflects a focus on the composition and accomplishments of the artists instead of God. “Whereas medieval music often sought beauty & intricacy as a testament to the glory of God, Renaissance music wanted to become more directly communicative with humanity.” (McComb, Todd M. “Medieval & Renaissance Music: A Brief Survey”) Another aspect that affected the music of these two periods is the culture of those times. The Middle-ages was focused on a church and monastic based culture, and most of the music was played for churches, predominately in Latin rather than a coloquile tongue that listners could understand. As mentioned, Renaissance artists spread outward from the church. In addition, many outside historical events were involved in this differentiation of music. With the development of the printing press Renaissance artists had the ability to print music and thus could easily develop and experiment with intricate patterns that medieval artists could not. The religious reformation during that time also added to the musical reformation in that many of these new churches were encouraging and adding new music to their services. “The Reformation and Counter-Reformation directly affected the sacred polyphony of these countries. The Protestant revolutions (mainly in Northern Europe) varied in their attitudes toward sacred music, bringing such musical changes as the introduction of relatively simple German-language hymns (or chorales) sung by the congregation in Lutheran services.” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Music in the Renaissance”)
In conclusion, the Renaissance and Medieval time periods represent two different cultural, religious, and psychological views. We can see examples of this variation through music. These cultural, religious and psychological views affected where and how the music was played. We can see the same trend occurring in today’s music. Culture, historical events, and the mindset of people all influence the music of the time. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Colossians 3:17, New King James Version)
Hopefully we will try and keep our focus as that of J.S. Bach, and, in his words, “To the glory of God alone…”
1. Which of the following is not true of Medieval music?
a. It consisted of little movement and embellishment of the notes
b. It was used mainly in the church
c. The lyrics were important
d. The Gregorian Chant was not a style used
2. Which of the following is not true of Renaissance music?
a. Songs were embellished and intricate
b. It focused on human emotions
c. It remained in the church- did not spread to other venues
d. There was more variety in instruments and genres
3. Which of the following historical events contributed to the musical reformation?
a. The War of the Roses
b. The Religious Reformation
c. The Death of Ghenis Kahn
d. The Colonization of Africa
4. Which composer said, “To the glory of God alone…”
a. J.S. Bach
b. Ludwig Van Beethoven
c. Elton John
1. McComb, Todd M. “Medieval and Renaissance Music: A Brief Survey.” http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/beginlst/nocds.html. World History. February 25, 2004.
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Music In the Renaissance.” http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/renm/hd_renm.htm. World History. February 25, 2004.
3. Cyrus, Cynthia J. “Introduction To Medieval Music.” http://www.vanderbilt.edu/~cyrus/ORB/orbmusic.htm. World History. February 25, 2004.
4. Fuller, Richard. “Renaissance Music (1450-1600). http://www.rpfuller.com/gcse/music/renaissance.html. World History. February 25, 2004.
5. W.W. Norton & Company. “The Music of the Reformation In Germany.” http://www.wwnorton.com/concise/ch8_outline.htm. World History. February 25, 2004.
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