The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
The Middle Ages covers the years from approximately 476 (the fall of the Roman Empire) to 1450. This period is further divided into two parts: the early Middle Ages (c. 476-1000) and the late Middle Ages (1000-1450). Though the early Middle Ages were politically shaped by the clash between the Catholic Church and monarchies, it is primarily due to the strength of the Church that documents (including music) from the period have survived. In the late Middle Ages, cathedrals were built, universities were founded, a strong merchant class emerged, literary life flourished, and the Crusades established contact between European and Eastern cultures.
Due to the Church’s importance, in terms of power and education, in the Middle Ages, much of the surviving music from this time period is sacred. More than 3000 Gregorian melodies survive. These monophonic, nonmetric, modal melodies by anonymous composers are classified by the melody’s relationship to the text: syllabic, neumatic, or melismatic. The chants were used in the Catholic liturgy (the Mass and the Office). Hildegard von Bingen is an important composer of chant melodies, and one of the few whose name is actually known.
Her music often features her own texts. Her Alleluia, O virga mediatrix is for the Mass Proper (the part of the Mass that changes according to the religious context of the particular day) and features both neumatic and melismatic text settings. Later in the period (around 1000), polyphony developed, and with polyphony came meter (so that the different voices could sing together). Composers of polyphonic music like Leonin and Perotin most often took credit for their compositions.
Early polyphonic music was based on pre-existing chant melodies to which a new melody (often text-less) was added. At the end of the thirteenth century, composers began to add words to the upper voices of organum. This type of composition is known as a motet. An example of a late thirteenth century ars antiqua motet is the anonymous Mout me fu grief / Robin m’aime / Portare. Though much of the surviving music from the Middles Ages is sacred, some secular examples (monophonic and polyphonic, vocal and instrumental) survive.
Polyphonic secular music flourished during the Ars nova, a period in the 14th century when writers, painters, and musicians turned their attention away from religious life to focus on human concerns. An example of this type of composition is Machaut’s rondeau for three voices, Puis qu’en oubli. The Renaissance (1450-1600) saw the continuation and intensification of the ars nova focus on human concerns. In the Renaissance, this idea, inspired by the renewed interest in Greek and Roman cultures, is referred to as humanism.
The Renaissance also continued the trend towards secularization that began towards the end of the Middle Ages. Unique events and characteristics of the Renaissance include the exploration of distant lands, the development of printing, the distinct style of the Italian Renaissance painters who painted realistic portraits of their subjects, and the growing realization that people could solve their own problems through logical thinking and scientific inquiry (as opposed to faith in God). The Church was one of the primary employers of musicians during the Renaissance, and as such, much sacred music was composed.
Early Renaissance (1450-1520) composers wrote polyphonic, a capella settings of the Ordinary of the Mass based on either fragments of Gregorian chants or popular songs. An example of this type of composition is Dufay’s L’Homme arme Mass, a cantus firmus Mass based on the popular song “L’Homme arme. ” Another important genre of the Renaissance was the motet, here a sacred genre intended for performance during church services. Josquin’s four-voiced motet Ave maria…virgo serena features alternations between imitative polyphony and homophony and between triple and duple meter that highlight the emotional impact of the words.
These characteristics mark this motet as being typical of the era in which it was composed. Late Renaissance (1520-1600) sacred music was strongly influenced by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. In addressing musical issues in the Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent objected to the alteration of traditional chant melodies, the use of instruments in church services, the use of secular melodies as cantus firmus, and the use of elaborate polyphonic textures that made the text incomprehensible. Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass conforms to the demands of the Council of Trent.
In addition to the Church, the courts were important institutions that supported music making in the Renaissance. Josquin’s chanson Mille regretz, perhaps written for Charles V, is typical of pieces composed for the courts as it is for four voices and the text deals with courtly love. In the late Renaissance, Italian courts were large supporters of madrigal composers. Because of their word painting, Monteverdi’s madrigals, such as Ecco mormorar l’onde, are representatives of the late madrigal style (1580-1620). Summary of Chapters 19-27: The Baroque The Baroque Era (1600-1750) saw many important changes in politics, sciences, and the arts.
Political life of the Baroque era was dominated by the absolute monarchs, but the growing middle class challenged them for power and money. The actions of governments were strongly motivated by religious beliefs, a correlation that can be seen in the number of religiously motivated disputes in Europe and the New World. The discoveries of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton revolutionized scientific thinking. Artists, including musicians, generally received financial support from a patron (usually royal or aristocratic), the Church, or the administration of a City.
Arguably the most important new musical genre of the Baroque era was opera, a genre which developed in the early 17th century from the Florentine Camerata’s interest in monody. Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea (1642), an example of Baroque opera, was written for the first public opera house in Venice (earlier opera had been written for the courts and was typically based on mythology). In England, Purcell composed Dido and Aeneas, based on an episode from the Aeneid, for a boarding school for young women.
This opera, like Baroque operas in general, contains recitatives for a solo voice (accompanied by the basso continuo) declaiming text in a speech-like manner and arias for solo voice (accompanied by the orchestra and basso continuo) with a clearly defined melody and meter. Another important genre of vocal music in the Baroque era was the cantata. J. S. Bach wrote over 200 cantatas for performance at Lutheran church services. These works contain arias, recitatives, and choruses with orchestral accompaniment (similar to operas) but have religious texts and are based on pre-existing Lutheran chorale tunes.
Instrumental music rose in importance in the Baroque era due to advances in instrument construction, training of performers, and printing of music. Important multi-movement genres of instrumental music during the Baroque include trio sonatas (such as those by Corelli), solo sonatas (such as those by Domenico Scarlatti), concertos (such as those by Vivaldi), concerto grossos (such as those by Bach), and orchestral suites (such as those by Handel). Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is typical of its genre and of Baroque style.
This concerto grosso, like all examples of this genre, contrasts a concertino (here consisting of trumpet, recorder, oboe, and violin) and a ripieno (strings plus basso continuo). Most concerto grossos, including this particular one, contain three movements: the first movement being fast and in ritornello form; the second, slow; and the third, fast. As with most Baroque music, this work is tonal (in the key of F major). The variety and coherence that Baroque composers sought is apparent in the contrasting instrumental groups, the alternating fast / slow tempos of the three movements, and the movement away from and back to F major.
Works for solo keyboard instruments also grew in popularity during the Baroque. These works were typically written in pairs, with the first part being improvisatory in nature (as with a prelude or toccata) and the second part being based on strict imitative polyphony (fugue). Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, two books of preludes and fugues for solo keyboard, is an example of this type of composition. Summary of Chapters 30-39: The Classical Era In the Classical Era (1750-1825), more emphasis was placed on reason (logic) than passion. Indeed, this era is often referred to as the Age of Reason.
Countries were most often ruled by monarchs; however, principles of the Enlightenment motivated the American and French Revolutions (1775-1783 and 1789-1799 respectively). The Industrial Revolution brought about the principle of mass production, changing economies from being agriculturally-based to industrial. Many people moved from rural areas to the cities in search of employment. In the arts, Reason manifested itself with a concern for order, objectivity, and proportion (qualities that were revered in Greek and Roman architecture).
Composers during the Classical era continued to be supported primarily by the patronage system. Though musicians held essentially the same status as servants, they enjoyed a sense of economic security as aristocratic patrons appreciated music and needed music for their numerous social events. Throughout the Classical period, there was a generalized shift of performances from palaces to newly built public concert halls. In these new venues, composers had the opportunity to expose a larger public to their works. Mozart was not successful under the patronage system.
In fact, he was fired by his patron, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Haydn, however, had a close working relationship with his patron, the prince of Esterhaza. Towards the end of his life, he also composed works for public concerts in London. In terms of the style of Classical music exemplified by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, melodies were lyrical and singable. These melodies were often set in a simple homophonic texture. As in the Baroque, the harmonic language was still tonal, but harmonies in the Classical era were primarily diatonic.
Rhythms were regular, and meters were simple and easily identifiable. One of the most important genres in the Classical era was chamber music. String quartets are four-movement chamber works for two violins, viola, and cello and are intended for performance in salons. The first movement is fast and in sonata-allegro form. The second movement is slow, often a theme and variations or an A-B-A form. The third movement is a minuet and trio (though Beethoven often replaced the minuet with a scherzo), and the fourth movement is fast and in either a sonata-allegro or rondo form.
The symphony was another important instrumental genre of the Classical era. These works were composed for the typical Classical orchestra of 30-40 musicians (strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion). They typically contained four movements, constructed similarly to the string quartet. One of the most prolific symphonic composers was Haydn: he wrote over 100 symphonies, some for performance at the court of Esterhaza and some, like his Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise”), for a public concert series in London. Beethoven’s fifth symphony was also intended for a public venue.
His symphonies are generally longer and more complex than those of Haydn and Mozart, and some are examples of cyclical form (in the fifth symphony, the S-S-S-L motive appears in all four movements, thereby tying them together). Other multi-movement instrumental genres of the Classical era include the concerto and the sonata. Concertos during this time were three-movement work for composed for a single solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment. Sonatas, like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, were three-movement works for solo keyboard.
Other sonatas featured two instruments, another solo instrument and piano. In terms of vocal music, many of the genres continued from the Baroque era (for example, the Mass, oratorio, and opera). Two main types of opera were particularly popular in the Classical era: opera seria (virtuosic, popular in the early 18th century amongst the aristocracy) and opera buffo (comic opera, popular with middle class audiences). Both types of classical opera retained the distinction between recitative and aria that was employed during the Baroque era.
An example of a typical opera buffo is Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Summary of Chapters 40-62: Romanticism The French Revolution and its principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity were the driving forces behind Romanticism (19th century). This revolutionary spirit pervaded all of the art forms in the nineteenth century. Writers emphasized emotion and individualism in their disregard for Classical conventions. Composers were interested in developments in literature and painting, and many musical compositions were inspired by other art works.
Other instances of political unrest prompted feelings of nationalism. Nationalist composers would make use of national folklore in their compositions or would write pieces to celebrate national events or heroes. The Industrial Revolution affected music on many different levels. Methods of instrument production improved, and new instruments were created. Music education reached a larger number of people, contributing to the growing virtuosic capabilities of performers and to more widespread domestic music making.
Performances took place more often in public concert halls, and more orchestral works were written fill the demand for these concerts. The upper middle class, which grew considerably after the French Revolution, became primary consumers of art works. A new genre of the 19th century was the Lied. These works for solo voice and piano combined poetry and music in compositions often suitable for amateurs and professions alike. Some Lieder, like Schubert’s Erlkonig, are through-composed, while others like Schumann’s “In the Merry Month of May” are strophic.
The Schumann Lied is actually part of a collection of songs (a song cycle) entitled Dichterliebe. As the piano had become a popular instrument in people’s homes and as the training of performers had improved considerably, many works were composed for piano solo, for amateurs and professionals. Chopin is associated almost exclusively with this instrument, and he composed both small-scale (such as nocturnes, etudes, and polonaises) and large-scale (such as ballades and sonatas) works for it. Liszt also wrote many works for piano.
His works are often designed to appeal to the public, which at this time favored incredibly virtuosic feats. Program music illustrates the link between music and literature in the nineteenth century. Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, a five-movement program symphony, tells the autobiographical story of his infatuation with Harriet Smithson. Each movement has a descriptive title and a text that describes what happens in that particular movement. The character of Harriet Smithson is depicted by a musical theme, the idee fixe, that appears in various forms in all of the movements.
Traditional symphonies, with no extra-musical references, continued to be composed in the 19th century. Though composers of absolute music often relied on Classical models (four movement format, with the first movement in sonata-allegro form), these symphonies were often longer and more expressive than their Classical predecessors. An example of this type of symphony is Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, though the third movement is a waltz instead of the more traditional minuet or scherzo. Concertos also continued to be written in the Romantic era.
These works retained the three-movement structure of the Classical era but tended, like the symphony, to be longer and more expressive. Often Romantic composers would write concertos to display the talents of a particular soloist. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor displays these traits as it is a three-movement work written specifically for the violinist Ferdinand David. In terms of vocal music, choral music grew in popularity in the nineteenth century, with Brahms’ German Requiem being a good example of a religious choral composition.
Other genres, such as part songs, were suitable for amateur performances. Opera continued to be frequently composed. In the nineteenth century, opera became increasingly associated with national style. French audiences heard Grand opera (such as Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable) or opera comique (such as Bizet’s Carmen). In Germany, composers wrote Singspiel (such as Weber’s Der Freischutz), and Wagner composed his music dramas. Italian composers, such as Rossini and Verdi, wrote both opera seria and opera buffa. Summary of Chapters 63-80: Post-Romanticism, the 20th Century, and Popular Styles
Reactions to Wagner’s theories about music and his intense chromaticism abounded at the turn of the century. The impressionist movement in painting and its corresponding movement in literature, symbolism, grew out of a reaction to Wagner and influenced works by Debussy and Ravel. In music such as Debussy’s Prelude a “L’apres-midi d’un faune,” impressionism can be seen in the departure from Classical harmonies, the use of exotic scales (influenced by the music heard at the Paris World Exhibition of 1889), the emphasis on the tone color of various instruments, and the blurring of the rhythmic pulse.
Reactions to Romanticism continued in the period just before World War I (1914-197). In seeking to escape the excessive refinement of Romanticism, artists sought inspiration from non-Western sources such as African sculpture and music from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. This movement, referred to as primitivism, can be seen in the complex rhythms, percussive quality of sound, and extreme dissonance of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring. In Germany, the reaction to Romanticism and Impressionism emerged as Expressionism.
This movement, as seen the visual artworks of Kandinsky and Munch and the literary works of Kafka, is psychological in nature as it explored the depths of the subconscious. These artists influenced the work of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, a group of composers who abandoned tonality in favor of atonal compositions. Examples of Expressionist compositions include Schoenberg’s song cycle Pierrot lunaire, from his second compositional period, and Berg’s opera Wozzeck (based on an Expressionist play). Nationalist movements in the twentieth-century were quite different from their nineteenth-century predecessors.
In the 20th century, nationalist composers such as Bartok approached folk music more scientifically, collecting it from authentic sources. For Bartok, the scales that the folk tunes were based on offered an alternative to traditional tonality. Nationalism also came to be an important movement in the United States, where nationalist composers (Ives, Still, and Copland) often based their compositions on folk and popular songs of the U. S. In the United States, the early twentieth century also saw the development of jazz, and with it, more opportunities for African-American musicians.
Louis Armstrong was influential in the development of this style, in terms of his improvisational abilities and his use of many different types of mutes. In the 1930s and 1940s, jazz became associated with Big Bands, and with the increased number of performers, some of the emphasis on improvisation was lost, it being replaced by the increased sound possibilities of the larger number of instruments. Eventually, jazz came to influence classical music composition in the United States, as seen in the works of Gershwin.