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Chapter 5: Renaissance Music


Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Et in terra pax
hominibus bonæ voluntatis.

Laudamus te; benedicimus te;
adoramus te; glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.

Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris.

Qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dextram Patris,
O miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe.
Cum Sancto Spiritu
in gloria Dei Patris.

Glory be to God in the highest.
And in earth peace
to men of good will.

We praise Thee; we bless Thee;
we worship Thee; we glorify Thee.
We give thanks to Thee
for Thy great glory.

O Lord God, Heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father.

Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy,
thou only art the Lord,
thou only art the most high, Jesus Christ.
Together with the Holy Ghost
in the glory of God the Father.



Credo in unum Deum;
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

Credo in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia secula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero,
Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines,
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de coelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine: et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis
sub Pontio Pilato,
passus et sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die
secundum Scripturas.
Et ascendit in coelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
Dominum, et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul
adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per Prophetas.

Credo in unam sanctam
catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

Confiteor unum baptisma,
in remissionem peccatorum.

Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum
et vitam venturi sæculi.

I believe in one God;
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, light of light,
true God of true God,
begotten not made;
being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made.
Who for us men
and for our salvation
descended from heaven;
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost,
of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

He was crucified also for us,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
and was buried.
And on the third day He rose again
according to the Scriptures:
and ascended into heaven.
He sitteth at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead;
and His kingdom shall have no end.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Lord and giver of life,
Who prodeedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
as it was told by the Prophets.

And I believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins.

And I await the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.



Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.


Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Osanna in excelsis.
Blessed is He that cometh
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei.
Dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God.
Grant us peace.

Back to Ancillary Readings

Tallis: Spem in Alium

Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium (Hope in Another) is a motet composed for 40-part choir. Written in approximately 1570, eight choirs of five voices each are required to perform the work. This work is often touted as one of the greatest examples of Rennaissance English music and a remarkable work of Rennaissance polyphony.
    I have never put my hope
    in any other but in You, God of Israel,
    who will be angry and yet become again gracious,
    and who forgives all the sins of man in suffering.
    Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth,
    look upon our lowliness.

"See inside" this music with Stephen Malinowski's brilliant animation that places rhythm, orchestration, dynamics, pitch, and texture in this stunning video. To learn more about Stephen Malinowski's "Music Animation Machine", visit http://www.musanim.com.

Back to Ancillary Readings
Ancillary Readings The Mass Ordinary: Translation
Thomas Tallis: Spem in Alium

When speaking of music, the Renaissance is generally understood to refer to the 15th and 16th centuries. It is a classic period in that it seeks the goals of classic art. The word ORB is a useful mnemonic aid for these characteristics. Classic art is:Objective. It deals more with ideas than ideals, more with thought than feeling, more with the cognitive than the affective creative impulse.Restrained. Classic art is never extravagant, exaggerated, or hyperbolic.Balanced. The emphasis is on form, symmetry, and structure rather than on the expression of feeling at the expense of those things.Classic studies center around classical languages and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome. The academies of the Renaissance sought the rebirth of this perspective.

Romantic art is, by contrast, subjective, extravagant, and expressive or emotive in nature. The Middle Ages represent the romantic point of view, especially the Gothic era.


Objective: Art focuses on ideas and thoughts. It rejects subjective elements such as feelings and affective creative impluses.

Restrained: Art is never extravagant, exaggerated, or hyperbolic.

Balanced: Art is form/structurally centric.

The field of Renaissance music is one that has inspired much scholarly investigation. A very famous book on the subject by Gustav ReeseInformationGustav Reese (1899-1977) was a founding member of the American Musicological Society. Musicology literally means the "study of music." In an academic sense, musicology is generally thought of as the study of music history of the Western world; however, musicologists will often incorporate a wide range of topics into their research from music aesthetics to psychoacoustics. goes on for some 700 pages, and many subsequent volumes have followed. It is during the 15th century that composers begin to achieve international status. The quantity of surviving art music from the period is staggering.

Most of this music is vocal and much of it is sacred, but there is also much secular music, and more surviving instrumental (mainly dance) music than you might imagine. Nearly every major European library contains impressive collections of part books and scores in manuscript. Another important aspect is the beginning of music printing around the year 1500,InformationJohanness Gutenberg (c. 1435-1468) created the first movable type printing press. The "Gutenburg Bible," the first majorpublication was printed around 1450. The ability to print and distribute music and books had a profound impact on the world and led to a greater standardization of liturgies. which disseminated editions of famous composers all over Europe.

The Mass

The principal sacred genres of this time were the Mass and the motet.InformationEven though motets written during Renaissance are in Latin, the word motet is actually derived from the French word mot which means "word." Musically, motet is a rather general term used to label sacred choral compositions, which are not masses, that were written during Renaissance era. Unlike many other musical labels, motet does not indicate a specific musical form or structure, but simply that the composition is a sacred work for choir. The Renaissance motet is discussed further below. As you know from the last lecture, complete settings of the Mass Ordinary started to appear in the 14th century, but the Mass really came into its prime in the 15th century. A Mass typically has six movements: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. These movements (pieces that make up a larger work) are often unified by the use of a melody borrowed from plainsong or even from a secular song, and the titles of Masses reflect this: Missa Pange Lingua or Missa l'homme arme are famous examples that come to mind. If you buy a CD of Masses by Palestrina or Josquin des Prez, you'll see such titles used to distinguish one Mass setting from the other. The polyphonic Mass really is the most important genre of the Renaissance and major composers often wrote many of them.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Palestrina (c.1525-1594)

Biographical Sketch
Palestrina ranks as one of the greatest musical figures of the second half of the Sixteenth Century. No composer is more closely identified with the Catholic Church than Palestrina. For more than forty years he served either as the Pope's composer (he worked for ten different Popes) or as the musical director of one of the principal Roman churches. He was primarily a composer of sacred, liturgical music (104 polyphonic mass settings are attributed to Palestrina) and motets, but also wrote about 140 secular madrigals.

Palestrina perfected the art of musical counterpoint and placed it in the service of the Church. He worked during a period of Catholic Church history called the Counter Reformation, when the Church struggled to justify itself against the threat of the northern European reformist churches. Catholic leaders demanded clear musical textures and purity in polyphony so that sacred texts could be understandable. Palestrina's genius lay in his ability to combine textural clarity with a sensual melodic style and an evenly flowing rhythmic pulse that fulfilled the Church's needs while making the sound of the music satisfying and beautiful. To the present day Palestrina's compositional style is considered the classic model for contrapuntal music, the perfect musical offering to God.

Although he wrote some secular music, Palestrina is primarily celebrated for the sacred music he composed which include 104 Masses, over 250 motets, and over 200 other liturgical pieces (psalms, MagnificatsInformationMeaning "My soul magnifies", a canticle frequently sung at Catholic services using the words of Mary., LamentationsInformationRenaissance composers took interest in Jeremiah's Lamentations, Jeremiah 1:1-14, and settings are presented during Holy Week in the Catholic church., hymns, etc.). These works are written for a cappella voices, and the majority contain 4 to 8 independent voice parts (a handful of motets are written for 12 voice parts).

Some of Palestrina's best known compositions include:
    Missa Papae Marcelli (Pope Marcellus Mass)
    Missa brevis
    Missa Aeterna Christi munera
    Missa Hodie Christus natus est

    Ave Maria
    Alma Redemptoris Mater
    Salve Regina
    Veni sponsa Christi
    O Magnum Mysterium
    Hodie Christus natus est
    Sicut cervus

The Motet

Like the Mass, the Renaissance Motet is a polyphonic sacred work in Latin meant to be sung by a choir of 4-8 parts, a cappella. That means, literally, the way they do it in the chapel; and chapels of this period usually had no organs, so it means unaccompanied. Although the musical style of Mass and Motet are the same, the Motet differs from the Mass in that it is a single piece rather than a set of six. Motets are used mainly for the items of the Proper, the part of the Mass that varies in text according to the liturgical occasion. For instance, the Introit for Christmas is "A child to us is born," while the one for Easter is "He is risen!" These texts are always in Latin and usually taken from Scripture or the prayer book.

This music is not easy to sing and definitely requires trained musicians and ample rehearsal time. In the Renaissance, all-male choirs were maintained by wealthy aristocrats in their private chapels and by a few cathedrals and basilicas. Often the composers were singers in the choirs or even the directors. Masses and Motets were not music that the congregation could participate in, and this is exactly what reformers like Martin Luther objected to. Oddly enough, Luther was a musician and a great admirer of the greatest composer of the 15th century, Josquin des Prez, who, incidentally, was a contemporary of Christopher Columbus (In 1492. . .). Josquin was from the area now known as the Netherlands but, like most great musicians of the period, worked in Italy for a good portion of his career.


The greatest composer of the late Renaissance is Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who flourished in Rome during the period often referred to as the Counter-reformation, the second half of the 16th century. Palestrina composed over a hundred Mass settings and as many Motets and served all four of the most important churches in Rome. His influence on succeeding generations of musicians cannot be overstated because his style later came to be a paradigm for composition of polyphonic vocal music.

By the 18th century, all composers were trained in the contrapuntal practice deduced from studying the works of Palestrina. Mozart studied it with Padre Martini, Beethoven studied it with Haydn, and so forth. It is still taught today in every college and conservatory in the Western world. This makes Palestrina one of the most influential composers in the history of music.

Secular Music

While Josquin wrote both sacred and secular music, Palestrina wrote primarily sacred polyphony. But there was a thriving culture of secular art music throughout Europe and England. The most important genres are the madrigal and the chanson. If you were in a really good choral program in high school, you probably sang some madrigals by composers like Thomas Morley. English madrigals were all the rage around 1600. They are also polyphonic but usually were sung by one singer on a part, rather than by a choir. The texts were in the vernacular and dealt mainly with love, often unrequited. Madrigals were usually copied or printed in part books and sung sitting around a table at home, mainly for the amusement of the singers.

Madrigals were very popular in Italy even before they were brought to England, and the Italian texts of these songs were sometimes the work of great poets, like Petrarch. The art of part singing was cultivated among the cultured people of cities like Florence, and men and women sang them together in contrast to the all-male ensembles of the churches. Composers like Luca Marenzio wrote some little masterpieces in this genre. A popular example of this is Scendi dal paradiso, Venere.

Secular polyphonic music was also very popular in France, where the chanson flourished. It was much like the madrigal although generally more homophonicInformationA musical texture occuring when two or more voices sing in the same rhythm on different pitches, creating chords. in style. The Spanish equivalent is the villancico.


The recording industry has done a great service to the revival of Renaissance music. Although the classical segment of the market is only about 1% and early music a small corner of that, there are now available recorded examples of all the major composers in all the genres of the period. Unless one seeks out live performances of early music in major cities or attends a university with a thriving collegium musicum, recorded performances are likely to be the only ones heard.

So where can you go to hear live Renaissance music performed? Besides the two places just mentioned, there are few. Modern churches don't use polyphonic sacred music. It requires a professional choir and lots of rehearsal; and besides, modern tastes don't call for it. In fact, the function of this music has now changed. No longer functional worship music, it has become concert music presented to a select taste by groups of specialists.

The market niche may be small, but the aesthetic value of the music remains great, and its historical importance to Western culture cannot be overestimated.

Renaissance Summary
General Characteristics
  • The Renaissance lasted from approximately 1400 to 1600.

  • Renaissance literally means "rebirth". Musically, it began in the Netherlands and spread to the rest of Europe.

  • Renaissance aesthetic included a humanist element that placed a greater emphasis on the dignity of man and the possibilities of human life in this world.

  • The Protestant Reformation,InformationThe Protestant Reformation is a major Christian schism in the Western world. It led to the creation of churches and liturgy that is independent of the Roman Catholic Church. The movement began in 1517 when one of its leaders, Martin Luther, posted on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. occurred during the Renaissance

  • O.R.B.: The art and music of this period is Objective, Restrained, and Balanced.

  • Unlike pop culture today, melodrama and showmanship were not celebrated during the Renaissance.

  • Much of the music is highly imitative.InformationImitation is a compositional device where one melodic idea appears in another part a measure or two later. All canons, or rounds (like "row row row your boat"), for example, are simply imitative on a larger scale.

  • Many composers borrowed plainchant melodies to base their music around. Often times, a work would get its name from the chant, or cantus firmus, that the piece was based upon. For example, Josquin Des Pres (sometimes just referred to as "Josquin") wrote a Pange lingua Mass which uses motivic fragments and melodies from the Gregorian Hymn, Pange lingua."

  • Most sacred music is now sunga cappella; however, during the Renaissance voices were often doubled by a few instruments.

  • Most Renaissance sacresd music is highly polyphonic.Information Polyphony is a standard texture in music where two or more voices or parts, each with an independent melody, operate harmonically as well. HomophonicInformation Homophony is also a standard texture in music, but unlike polyphony, homophony occurs when the voices or parts move together. moments are often reserved to punctuate important text.

  • HarmonicInformationMusical sonorities consisting of pitches sounded simultaneously; chords. changes are more subtle than in other periods of music. One does not have a strong sense of harmonic progression.

  • Melodic lines are very singable and rarely include large leaps up or down. The melodies are reserved and conjunct.

  • Major Composers
    Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)
    Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
    Pietro Vinci (c. 15351584)

    Josquin Des Prez (1440-1521)
    Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)
    Orlando de Lassus (1530-1594)
    Johannes Ockeghem (c. 1410-1497)
    Johannes Tinctoris (c. 1435-1511)

    Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611)
    Cristóbal de Morales (c. 15001553)
    Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599)

    Thomas Tallis (1510-1585)
    Thomas Morley (1557-1603)
    William Byrd (1543-1623)

    Heinrich Schtz (1585-1672)

    Chapter 5: Music for Listening