Music M401
History and Literature of Music I:
Antiquity to 1800

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

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Renaissance Instrumental Music

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.

1. Dance music

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:

2. Vocal music played by instruments

3. Settings of existing melodies

Instrumental composers wrote hundreds of settings of existing melodies, as vocal composers had done for centuries. There are several prominent types.

4. Variation sets

Beginning in the sixteenth century, composers wrote many sets of variations for instruments. These can be divided into three basic types.

5. Abstract instrumental works for both ensembles and solo instruments

These types are abstract instrumental music, often involving imitation.

6. Introductory "free" forms for solo instruments

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:

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Last updated: 15 October 2014
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