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The Evolution of Classical Music (The Renaissance Era), Pt. 2

The Late Renaissance started in Venice around 1534 and lasted until the end of the Renaissance period in 1600. During this period, a style called mannerism became popular, where music is embellished with ornamentation, suspension, and chromaticism. This served as a prelude to the heavily embellished music of the Baroque period.

One of the most influential composers of this era was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. He was known for his masses, and his style was so distinct that it was nicknamed the Palestrina style. His music was smooth and flowing, filled with clear lines and beautiful harmonies, and his vocal compositions were always perfectly balanced, using rich and alluring vocal sounds, but always making sure that every word was able to be heard and understood.

Listen to one of his pieces here: Palestrina - Missa Papae Marcelli (Complete Score)

In the Renaissance Era, many Medieval instruments remained popular including the lute, and shawm. However, new instruments were also introduced. Two of the most popular were the harpsichord and the viola da gamba.

The harpsichord was a keyboard instrument that made sound by plucking strings with quills. It was shaped in a similar way to a grand piano but was more slender and angular. It was used for both solo performances and accompaniment.

The viola da gamba (viol) was a string instrument similar to the cello. However, it had six strings, a fingerboard with frets made of tied strands of guts, and soundholes shaped like the letter “C” rather than the modern “F” shape. It was played with a bow, but the bow was traditionally held underhanded with the palm facing up instead of down. This instrument was deeply resonant and was often used in an ensemble with other viols for both secular and sacred music.

The Renaissance Era was a highly innovative period when composers experimented with polyphony and expressed themselves through both church and secular art music. Composers continued to compose choral works, and important musical elements such as imitation, word painting, and mannerism became popular. The invention of the printing press in 1439 also helped standardize music notation across Europe and made music more widely available. Next up is the Baroque era, when music became highly ornate and elaborate, and monophonic texture overtook polyphonic texture in popularity once again.


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