The Renaissance The literal meaning of the word Renaissance is "rebirth." This idea of rebirth definitely applies to the music of this period. The Renaissance followed the Middle Ages and spanned from 1400 to 1600. A central characteristic was the rebirth of humanism, which is a way of looking at our world, emphasizing the importance of human beings, their nature, and their place in the universe. One main purpose of the humanistic view was to educate pupils to be the "ideal gentleman" or "universal man" that was reminiscent of the Greco-Roman ideal. During the Renaissance vocal music was more important than instrumental music, and composers during that period wrote music to enhance the meaning and emotion of the text.
(Source: web) Renaissance composers often used word painting, a musical representation of specific human emotions. Word painting was used in the madrigal, which is a piece that matches the word of the song with a musical setting. For example if the text had words like "rising,"flying," or "soaring" then the music would be fast upward scales. (Source: Jeremy Yudkin "Understanding Music") The most famous composer that wrote such madrigals was Giovanni Pier luigi da Palestrina. Palestrina, according to most Renaissance scholars, was a master composer.
He started out in 1554 performing Masses and sang in the Cappella Sistine. (Source: w 3. rz-berlin. mpg) He was so famous that he was actually asked to rewrite the church's main plainchant books, but had to follow the Council of Trent's guidelines. His most famous Mass, Missa Papa e Marcella, was in fact in line with the Counter Reformation, which he always was. His conservative attitude towards making the Catholic polyphonic music helped composers down the line to create new music for the church.
Even though the polyphonic texts invaded the church, most of the Ordinary of the Mass, which is the Kyrie ellison, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and And us Dei stayed mostly in plainchant for at least some parts. The Protestant Reformation actually helped the Catholic Church come to let the Mass become more active with polyphonic hymns. The musical boundaries were expanded because the invention of printing which led to a larger circulation of text. Even though the church grew towards easier hymns music still gradually move to a secular way of creating music. The whole Protestant Reformation started because the king of England and Martin Luther, the king wanted to divorce his first wife and the pope would not recognize this break of the marriage vow. Another composer that led the way for new music was Josquin Desprez who was born in Beau revoir in 1440 and died in Conde in 1521.
(Source: web) In his early days he was a singer in the Milan Cathedral around the year 1459 and the Papal Chapel, Rome. He wrote three volumes of Masses, over 100 motets, and an English Dance. He often used point of imitation, which is a musical passage that has a tiny musical phrase imitated among many voices. Josquin also used overlapping cadences the next group of voices begin just as the last come to a cadence, allowing the motion to continue. (Source: Jeremy Yudkin "Understanding Music") The Renaissance had many artists that provided visual motivation for many composers to write great texts. One of the most influential artists was Leonardo da Vinci who is still famous 500 years later.
He helped to create three-dimensional representation and started to work with oils that showed off the lighting and shades of great art. The talent was so large that he could create a self-portrait with such detail, that many thought that he couldn't have painted it himself. Renaissance means "rebirth," and that is exactly what artists, architects, and composers did to create a lasting fame for people like Leonardo da Vinci, Josquin, and Palestrina. Music is an ever-evolving genre and the Renaissance showed that in a matter of 200 years one could create new volumes of the Mass and still come to understanding that secular songs can be a part of worshiping. From plainchant to polyphony then to homophony are very big steps in the way of just rhythm and flow.