Instrumental music in the Renaissance can be divided into several general types. Naturally, many of these types overlap or can be further subdivided. Listed below are several of the most common.
Click on the links to listen to the pieces mentioned below.
Be sure to visit the Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Instruments on the website of Iowa State University's Musica Antiqua for descriptions, pictures, and sound examples of Medieval and Renaissance instruments.
The immense popularity of social dancing in the sixteenth century is reflected in the large amount of music for the popular dance forms of the day. Dance pieces served varying purposes:
Dances were often paired: one in a relatively slow duple meter with another in a faster triple meter, as in the pavane and galliard described below.
Among the prominent types of dances are these:
An example of the basse danse is NAWM 66a, Basse danse La morisque from Tielman Susato's collection Danserye (published 1551). It is duple time and in two sections, each repeated. On the recording here, the performers repeat the first section at the end to create an ABA form, reminding us that performers had license to alter the music as they wished.
The 5th edition of NAWM included a Basse danse and a Branle gay, Que je chatoulle ta fossette, from Pierre Attaingnant (editor and printer), Danseries a 4 Parties, Second Livre (published 1547). The basse danse is in triple time and in two sections, each repeated. The branle gay is also in triple time and unfolds in a series of four-measure phrases, ending with a reprise of the opening material, for an overall ABA' pattern. In both the basse danse and branle gay, the long-short rhythmic pattern in most measures is sometimes reversed in a short-long pattern, giving the music an extra bounce.
An example of a pavane and galliard pair from Susato's Danserye is NAWM 66b, Pavane La dona, and NAWM 66c, Galliard La dona. As is typical of such paired dances in the sixteenth century, both dances follow the same general musical contour in terms of melody and harmony, but the pavane is in a slow duple time and the galliard is in a fast triple time. Both are in three repeated sections, in the form AABBCC.
A much more elaborate galliard is NAWM 67b, Anthony Holborne's The Fairie-round, from his collection of consort dances titled Pavans, Galliards, Almains (published 1599). Holborne creates metrical complexity by layering duple and triple divisions of the 6/4 meter, creating an effect of two against three. Short melodic figures are tossed among instruments, keeping the counterpoint lively.
Holborne's The Night Watch, NAWM 67a, is an almain (allemande), with the characteristic pickup. Melodic figures introduced at the outset suffuse and energize the music, recurring throughout in varying forms and combinations.
Instrumental ensembles often played chansons, Lieder, madrigals, and even motets and mass movements. These served purposes similar to stylized dances: for the entertainment of listeners or of the players themselves. Sometimes vocal pieces appear without their texts in manuscript or in publications, suggesting instrumental performance. There are also pieces that resemble vocal music but do not have a text in any manuscript, suggesting that they were conceived for instruments.
The 2nd edition of NAWM had an example of a chanson by Jean de Ockeghem that was performed by instruments: D'ung aultre amer.
The 2nd edition of NAWM also had a chanson by Robert Morton (1440-1475) that appeared in manuscript without a text and was presumably written for instruments. It is called L'homme armé and is a setting of a tune that is also used in several well known masses.
Arrangements of vocal music (sacred or secular) for solo instrument (usually lute, vihuela, or keyboard) were typically notated in tablature, and therefore known as intabulations. These were often highly ornamented with added figuration.
Instrumental composers wrote hundreds of settings of existing melodies, as vocal composers had done for centuries. There are several prominent types.
Often all the pieces for organ necessary for performance during Mass were gathered together in an organ mass. The Kyrie of Girolamo Cavazzoni's organ mass Missa Apostolorum, based on the plainchant Kyrie Cunctipotens Genitor (see NAWM 3b), offers an example, alternating between segments of the plainchant set for organ and segments performed in plainchant by the choir.
The 2nd edition of NAWM had an example of an In nomine by Christopher Tye (ca. 1500-ca. 1572), In nomine "Crye."
Beginning in the sixteenth century, composers wrote many sets of variations for instruments. These can be divided into three basic types.
The Spanish tune Guárdame las vacas has the same bass pattern as the romanesca, a very common source for Italian composers in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. One of the first to compose variations on repeating bass patterns was Luiz de Narváez, such as his Cuatro diferencias sobre "Guárdame las vacas" [Four Variations on "Guárdame las vacas"] (ca. 1538), NAWM 63b.
This type of variation set was especially important among the English virginalists, composers for harpsichord (known as virginal in England). William Byrd's John come kiss me now (ca. 1600) presents a series of sixteen variations on a popular song melody, keeping the melody audible throughout while creating many different figurations to accompany it.
A related genre is the English manner of writing out the repetitions of pavanes and galliards (which were both in AABBCC form) as variations. An example appeared in the 6th edition of NAWM, William Byrd's Pavana Lachrymae (ca. 1600), variations on John Dowland's pavane that was the instrumental version of Dowland's lute song Flow, my tears (NAWM 65).
These types are abstract instrumental music, often involving imitation.
The 2nd edition of NAWM had an example of an early fantasia, Luis Milán's Fantasia XI for vihuela.
The 2nd edition of NAWM had an example of a fantasia from the early seventeenth century, based on a partly chromatic subject, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's Fantasia a 4.
Among the best known ensemble canzonas are those of Giovanni Gabrieli. NAWM 70 is Gabrieli's Canzon septimi toni a 8 from Sacrae symphoniae (ca. 1597).
Soloists used introductory pieces to test the tuning of an instrument, to introduce a song or other vocal piece, or to demonstrate their skill. Among the most common types are these:
Last updated: 15 October 2014
Copyright © 1997-2014 by J. Peter Burkholder