Chapter 7: Secular Song, National Styles, and Instrumental Music in the Sixteenth Century (2023)

Prelude. (CHWM 125–26)

Sixteenth-century composers cultivated national genres and styles, especially in secular vocal music. As the ability to read and perform from musical notation became an expected social grace among the upper and literate middle classes, music became a commodity. Some national genres include the Spanish villancico, the Italian frottola and madrigal, a new kind of French chanson, and the English madrigal and lute song.

I. The Rise of National Styles: Italy (CHWM 126–27, NAWM 51)

  1. Frottola and lauda
    The Italian frottola (pl. frottole) and lauda (pl. laude) were strophic, four-part homophonic songs with the melody in the upper voice. Frottole were highbrow versions of popular songs written for the aristocracy, and laude were devotional songs. Music: NAWM 51
  2. Villanella
    The villanella was a light, secular, strophic, homophonic song for three voices.
  3. Balletto
    The balletto was used for dancing and singing and had a "Fa-la-la" refrain.
  4. Petrarchan movement
    The rise of the madrigal was closely connected to renewed interest in the poetry and ideals of the fourteenth-century Italian poet Petrarch, whose poems reflect their mood or imagery of the words in the sound of their language.

II. The Italian Madrigal (CHWM 127–34, NAWM 52–55 and 66)

Unlike the frottola or the fourteenth-century madrigal, the sixteenth-century madrigal was a through-composed work that sought to capture the rhythm and sense of its words through a variety of changing musical textures and images. Madrigal poetry was artful and elevated in tone and was often by a major poet.

  1. Social settings
    Madrigals were performed chiefly for the enjoyment of the singers themselves.
  2. Concerto delle donne
    The most famous of the professional madrigal ensembles was the concerto delle donne (ensemble of ladies) at Ferrara. Madrigals composed for these women were concert pieces performed for the pleasure of an audience.
  3. Arcadelt
    Jacques Arcadelt (ca. 1505–1568), a northerner skilled in composing church music, blended homophony with occasional imitation and witty effects. Music: NAWM 52
  4. Rore
    Cipriano de Rore (1516–1565), a student of Willaert’s, was the leading madrigalist of his generation. He sought to imbue every detail of his music with the sense of its poetry. Music: NAWM 53
  5. Chromaticism
    Rore and other mid-sixteenth century composers used chromaticism for expressive purposes, and most theorists approved of it, citing the ancient Greeks.
  6. Other northerners
    Among the most important madrigalists of the later sixteenth century were Orlande de Lassus (1532–1594, see Chapter 8), Philippe de Monte (1521– 1603), and Giaches de Wert (1535–1596).
  7. Marenzio
    Late in the century, the leading madrigalists were native Italians. Luca Marenzio (1553–1599) was the most prolific, renowned for depicting contrasting feelings and visual details. Striking musical images that almost literally evoke the text were later called madrigalisms. Music: NAWM 54
  8. Vicentino
    Nicola Vicentino (1511–ca. 1576) was inspired by the chromatic and enharmonic Greek tetrachords and explored chromaticism in his writings and music.
  9. Luzzaschi
    Luzzasco Luzzaschi (ca. 1545–1607) continued Vicentino’s interest in chromaticism and in turn influenced Carlo Gesualdo (ca. 1561–1613).
  10. Gesualdo
    Unlike other madrigalists, Carlo Gesualdo was an aristocrat. He intensified the antitheses in poetry through sharp contrasts in harmony, texture, and rhythm and is known for his use of chromaticism. Music: NAWM 55
  11. Monteverdi
    Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) was an important Italian composer of the madrigal in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. His madrigals show a variety of expressive techniques, including smoothly changing textures, a sensitivity to the sound and meaning of text, and a free use of chromaticism and dissonances. Music: NAWM 66

III. The Rise of National Styles: Secular Song outside Italy (CHWM 134–38, NAWM 56–57, 59–61, and 50)

  1. French chansons
    During the first half of the sixteenth century, composers in France cultivated a new chanson for amateur singers that was syllabic, mostly homophonic, usually strophic, and generally lighthearted.
  2. Attaingnant
    Pierre Attaingnant published about 1,500 of these popular chansons.
  3. Sermisy
    One of the two principal composers of this type of chanson was Claudin de Sermisy (ca. 1490–1562). Some of his chansons were popular for decades. Music: NAWM 56
  4. Janequin
    Clément Janequin (ca. 1485–ca. 1560) wrote many kinds of chansons but was known especially for his descriptive chansons.
  5. Lassus chansons
    Orlande de Lassus was always acutely attuned to the text and made sure that the music fit its rhythm, reflected its imagery, and conveyed the appropriate feelings. Music: NAWM 57
  6. England
    Italian culture became fashionable in England during the late sixteenth century, and Italian madrigals, such as those in Nicholas Yonge’s Musica transalpina (Music from across the Alps, 1588), were translated into English. Many native composers wrote new madrigals as well.
  7. Morley
    Thomas Morley (1557/8–1602) wrote English madrigals, canzonets, and balletts. Like most balletts, Morley’s My bonny lass she smileth is strophic and mostly homophonic with some imitation in the "Fa-la-la" refrain. Music: NAWM 59
  8. The Triumphes of Oriana
    Morley published a madrigal collection called The Triumphes of Oriana (1601), possibly in honor of Queen Elizabeth I.
  9. Weelkes
    Among the best known madrigals in The Triumphes of Oriana is As Vesta was by Thomas Weelkes (ca. 1573–1623), famed for its word painting. Music: NAWM 60
  10. Lute songs
    The lute song (or air), a solo song with lute accompaniment, became more prominent in the early seventeenth century. John Dowland (1563–1626) was one of the leading composers of lute songs. Singers accompanied themselves when performing lute songs. The lute part was notated in tablature.
  11. Flow, my tears
    In his lute song Flow, my tears, Dowland used the form of the pavane and matched the music to the dark mood of the poetry. Music: NAWM 61
  12. The Spanish villancico
    The villancico was the most important form of secular polyphonic song in Renaissance Spain. Cultivated by the aristocracy, villancicos were strophic, syllabic, and mostly homophonic. Juan del Encina (1468–1529) was the leading composer of villancicos. Music: NAWM 50

IV. The Rise of Instrumental Music (CHWM 138–40)

The period 1450–1550 saw an increase in distinct styles, genres, and forms of instrumental music. It was written down more often, reflecting an increase in status and musical literacy of instrumentalists. Instrumental music tended to be either (1) idiomatic to instruments and independent of vocal music or (2) adapted from vocal music or inspired by vocal genres.

In Performance: Vocal Chamber Music or Accompanied Song?
Frottole, French chansons, and madrigals from about 1520 to 1550 were intended for singing, but throughout the sixteenth century, instruments sometimes doubled or even substituted for voices. Many popular vocal works were transcribed for instruments. In the last quarter of the sixteenth century, a new style of self-accompanied singing appeared, intended for private performance. In the 1590s, when polyphonic madrigals may have been performed as solo songs with instrumental accompaniment, Giulio Caccini was writing a new kind of madrigal for solo voice and instruments (see Chapter 9).

V. Types of Instrumental Music (CHWM 140–51, NAWM 62–65)

There were five main categories of instrumental music in the Renaissance: (1) dance music, (2) arrangements of vocal music, (3) settings of existing melodies, (4) variations, and (5) abstract works.

  1. Dance Music
    Dancing was a central part of social life.

    In Context: Social Dance
    The best-known dance treatise from the Renaissance is Orchésographie by dancing master Thoinot Arbeau. Social dance was considered a pleasant and profitable activity. Not only did it help one stay physically fit, it also allowed men and women to mingle in arranged configurations and observe one another. Dancing was considered a kind of rhetoric by which people, through movement, could make themselves understood and persuade others that they had certain desirable personality traits.

    1. Functional and stylized dance music
      Published dances for ensemble performance were functional, but most dances for solo lute or keyboard were stylized. Each dance type has a characteristic rhythm, meter, tempo, and form. Instrument families consisted of instruments with a uniform timbre throughout their entire range from soprano to bass. In England, a group of instruments from a single family was called a consort. Music: NAWM 62a
    2. Dance pairs
      Renaissance dances were often grouped in contrasting pairs, such as the pavane and galliard. Music: NAWM 62b and c
  2. Arrangements of Vocal Music
    1. Sources for instrumental music
      Another major source for instrumental music was vocal music, which was often played by instrumentalists.
    2. Intabulations
      Lutenists and keyboard players made intabulations of vocal pieces, arrangements that were written in tablature and were idiomatic for an instrument. Music: NAWM 63a
  3. Settings of Existing Melodies
    Some instrumental pieces incorporated existing melodies.
    1. Chant settings and organ masses
      In Catholic churches, antiphonal chants could be performed in alternation between the choir, singing chant, and the organ, playing a cantus firmus setting or paraphrase. A compilation of the organ verses for a complete mass is an organ mass.
  4. Variations
    Variations were a sixteenth-century invention in which a given theme was followed by a series of variations on that theme.
    1. Lute music
      Many sets of variations were published for the lute, the most popular household instrument in the sixteenth century.
    2. Vihuela
      Closely related to the lute was the Spanish vihuela. Luys de Narváez (fl. 1526–1549) wrote a set of variations for vihuela on Guárdame las vacas, a standard air for singing verses. Music: NAWM 63b
    3. English virginalists
      English virginalists of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, such as William Byrd, cultivated the variation, primarily using dances and familiar songs as their themes. Music: NAWM 64
  5. Abstract Instrumental Works
    Other instrumental music was truly independent of dance rhythms and borrowed tunes.

    In Context: Venice and St. Mark’s Church
    Venice, a wealthy city of traders, was the second most important Italian city after Rome. The Venetian government used lavish spectacles, music, and art as cultural propaganda. The center of musical culture was the Church of St. Mark, and its choirmaster position was the most coveted musical post in all of Italy. A permanent instrumental ensemble was established in 1568.

    1. Introductory and improvisatory pieces
      Improvisatory pieces like the prelude, fantasia, and ricercare were used to introduce a song, fill time during church services, establish the mode of a subsequent song, test tuning, and entertain.
    2. Canzona
      The canzona or canzon originated as a work in the style of a French chanson, with a typical opening figure (long-short-short), but by the late sixteenth century, it became a light, fast-moving, and strongly rhythmic genre of instrumental music that featured several themes, most treated in imitation, resulting in a series of contrasting sections.
    3. Ensemble canzonas
      Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1555–1612) served at St. Mark’s for almost thirty years, and his compositions used all of the musical resources available to him. Gabrieli, the most celebrated composer of ensemble canzonas, applied the idea of divided choirs to his instrumental works. Music: NAWM 65
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