12 Renaissance Music: Art, Science, Poetics

musical examples

How did music relate to other fields in the Renaissance?
How did that change?

   how did it relate to the humanist movement?
   in what ways did they copy ancient models?
   our textual example:    Brandolini

“Music” as a subject in the later fifteenth century.
  Renaissance classification of field: academic discipline
    What is the historical artifact?
      paintings, literature versus musical performance
  ca. 1500: when Europeans heard music, what did they hear? where?
    religious services
      “Gregorian” chant. Ex: Hermannus Contractus [text]

  Andrea Rogava Recording: Hermannus Contractus, Salve Regina
   From the mass ordinary: Agnus Dei

Another version: Agnus Dei

holidays: new settings of mass with choirs, instruments
        Ex: “Worcester Fragments,” Bodleian Library

    other church music: organs, choirs
    confraternities: simple hymns, unison at meetings

  court celebrations, festive dinners
     singers and instrumental music, often with dancing

  performers at other festivities

  individual leisure-time amateur performance

  Pitch system: variations on “diatonic” do-re-mi scales
4 or 5-line staff
symbols mark notes by pitch, indicate rhythm

          names of scales/modes based on church practice
         notation developed in 11th c.
 Right after 1500: first printed musical compositions
NO examples of ancient music compositions  known  before 1550
Writings about music
   music criticism: 17th-18th c NOT Renaissance
   most writing: technical, “theory” or “practice”
      “practical” texts: rules for composition
   university subject: theory
  basic theory textbook: Boethius Music, Arithmetic
     mathematical proportions
     Platonic or Pythagorean:    Timaeus
 Creator (God): unity
    Creation: order imposed on formless matter  1 2 3 4

     Pythagoras and the blacksmith shop  12:9:8:6
   2:1 octave
   12:9 or 4:3 perfect fourth
   12:8 or 3:2 perfect fifth

Intervals: sound files.


  World soul; “celestial music” or music of the spheres


   Human  soul
   Sounding music
Related texts: ex Vitruvius
 Quadrivium: cathedral schools, universities


How do humanists fit in?  

At first: separate field.

Burgundians and polyphony

Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-74).

Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517)

  • Flemish in Florence in 1480s-90s;
  • music teacher (?) to Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici)
  • Ex: Tota pulchra es     


What begins to change circa 1500?   

“Music” as a field ca. 1600:

  • “Music” refers to  performance
  • Science of sound: a separate field

Raffaele Brandolini   (ca. 1465-1517)
younger brother of noted humanist Aurelio (1454-1497)
Florentine family: Naples ca  1466
court  of Ferrante I

Aurelio: Rome ca. 1480

  • Hungarian court of Matthias Corvinus   1489-90
  • Florence:  died at Rome of plague in 1497

1494 Naples
1495   Rome
1503  tutor to Giovanni Maria  del  Monte,  future  Julius III
Julius II: benefice, resident at Vatican

Leo X : household (also resident at Vatican); professor of rhetoric


  • single singer with accompaniment (often self-accompanied)
  • lira da braccio

Florentine Latin poet: Angelo Poliziano (Orfeo)

Vernacular improviser in Rome:

  • Bidon
  • Serafino Aquilano