Monday, December 7, 2009

Lesson 5: Late Medieval into Renaissance.

Before I start, I'd like to mention that while these posts are separated into Medieval and Renaissance, it's important to note that through all of music history, music periods sort of bleed into each other.  While we like to say, for instance, that the Baroque period started in 1650 or so, and we like to look at Bach and say "BAROQUE", but we see Baroque tendencies for a hundred years or so previous emerging.

So anyways, we left off with the totally insane, completely out of left field style of just throwing a billion things together and just letting musicians go at it, but as always, eventually the Crack wore off, and music started to simplify.  It also started to resemble much more closely todays music in terms of phraseology.  You'll notice while listening to Isorhythmic stuff that you basically just have a constant flow of notes until everyone just sort of decides to stop.  Well, what we see happening is that this music starts to move forwards to very specific points.  Also, people finally discovered how to sing together in ways other than parallel or completely unrelated lines.

For an example, this is one of the earliest pieces that's easily definable as in the Renaissance:

Yeah, so.  You can probably hear the difference pretty well there.  There's still line independence throughout the piece, and there are those rhythms you hear a lot in the Medieval, but it's much simpler and more consonant than something like Rose, Lis, Printemps, Verdue, which is pretty much directly before this historically.

Another good example is something like Dufay

Another thing to note here is that you're probably noticing that this stuff is really full of just gorgeous flowing harmonies.

Now, something magical happened in around 1470.  For those of you who are history buffs will recognize that this is relatively close to around 1440, where something magical happened to literature.  The printing press wasn't really adapted to work with music until around 1470, and after that it meant that suddenly we have an explosion of manuscripts, knowledge of composers, and a spread of musical ideas.  We see as early as the end of the 15th century basically the precursor to the rock star.  Also, what's really interesting, is that even though at the beginning of the renaissance started to simplify, now we see a rediscovery of rhythmic complexity, but in a much different way.  Now when there were overlapping canonical structures instead of isorhythm.  So the end result was a much more controlled and consonant combined sound instead of the just mass of sound we had before.  You'll notice this a lot in stuff like Ockeghem:

So basically, the Renaissance started out saying "Holy shit what the fuck, other dudes", and went away from the batshit, but then they still liked the overlapping sounds and moving lines more than homophony, they just decided to go about it in a much different way, one that goes away from complete independence in lines and instead deal with interlocking lines.  But this is only half the story.  We missed late medieval secular music last post.

Secular music near the end of the Medieval period we had the Troubadours.  Troubadour music was essentially closer to plainchant in that it was pretty much a single line.

In the Renaissance, we have a very, very famous sort of secular music known as the Madrigal, which was really an interesting thing to look at.  First off, let's look at the early versions.  As I mentioned, after the printing press started being used with music which made the proliferation of scores much, much easier.  This meant that instead of the Church and the obscenely wealthy being able to have music, everyone could have music and sing it and maybe get like an awesome song book and have the equivalent of people gathering around the piano at a party and drunkenly singing shit.  I also mentioned the Renaissance rock star.  I was talking about Josquin.  You may notice the lack of a last name there.  Technically, he is "Josquin des prez", except no one called him that.  He was like Cher.  Or Prince.  He did not need a last name, he was Josquin.  Dude basically spent all his time doing lines of crack off ye olde peasante wenches asse(Or "ye olde peafante wenchef affe") while playing a game of whofe mouth ameth I inneth nowe?

Why was Josquin so awesome?


This may be my very favoritest piece of music ever composed.

Oh, and Josquin didn't just do secular music, no he did sacred music too.  Keep in mind that this is by the same genius mind that gave us El fucking Grillo

From the same Mass:

Now, this sort of continued to evolve into the Madrigal, which was basically what happened when the peasantry would get together and sing these songs about either sex or sex.  Or sex.  Sometimes they were really subtle about how they were singing about sex, but really it was all about sex.

Some of you may have heard this stuff before

Yeah, that one's pretty famous.  Basically it's all "Spring is coming!  Time for sex!"

Anyways, that was all happening alongside the sacred stuff going on, so back to sacred.

So the music is getting more advanced an polyphonic(again) after a brief time of simplifying a little.  This really comes to fruition with stuff like Palestrina.  I fucking love Palestrina, he's just pretty much dripping pretty with everything.

This is one of his more famous works.

Here's some more

And while this was going on, we started having a bit of a split.  While a lot of this was happening and everyone loved it, there started being another style, closer to the madrigals, of having homophony, that is to say, all voices singing the same rhythm just in chords.  What we see is that the polyphonic and antiphonal(Sung with two or more groups, often across the church isle, singing two choral parts that fit together) stuff started to be referred to as prima practica, while the homophonic stuff was seconda practica.  Seconda practica starts to sound very much closer to more modern choral work.

An example of Seconda practica can be found with some Tallis, sung by the Kings singers

It would be irresponsible of me not to also mention somewhere in here William Byrd, who's an exceptionally famous composer of this time as well.

And now we're pretty much ending the Renaissance period, but something very interesting happens.  While the medieval period got like, super advanced with isorhythm and the Renaissance started by cutting down on that shit, then sort of killed off a lot of the polyphonic stuff near the end in favor of the Seconda practica, the Renaissance period stuff then started getting really advanced with chromatics, especially the Madrigals.  Secular music just started getting weird when they started using chromatic alterations.  

I don't know if you can hear in that clearly, but there is some chromatic shit going on.  Sudden shifts into minor, modally borrowed chords... it kind of starts to stray off to crazy time.

Well, next update, we'll see that the Baroque period begins by cutting a lot of that out, basically, and focuses on its little thing, before that gets out of hand and the update after next we'll see Classical cut out the shit that Baroque runs away with.  But that's pretty much it for Renaissance.  I know it seems like just not that much happened, basically the music simplified, got really consonant and rhythmically similar, then simplified even more to homophony, but really with manuscripts being so widespread and just the huge culture change, with the incredibly push forwards in communication with the printing press, we see that now general eras last for shorter and shorter amounts of time, and less happens within a specific time.  The Medieval period could probably be separated into about 5-6(Plainchant, Organum purum, Organum duplum/Free Organum, Ars Antiqua, Ars nova) different eras based on the general characteristics, and Renaissance could basically be divided into two, maybe three(Early renaissance(?), Prima practica, Seconda practica). 

While I finish history stuff, we'll probably see more posts like this where I explain the general characteristics and just have a shitton of stuff to listen to to illustrate the point more than a super-long lecture like the Medieval. 


  1. you can't snort crack bro

  2. FYI there's lots of videos not working in these older lessons.