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Meaning ‘re-birth’, this term is used to describe music written between c1430 and c1600. The concept is borrowed from other strands of history and stands for the rise of individualism and freedom in society; the birth of the modern age as the 19th century saw it. At its root is a fundamental shift of power from the church to the secular world that culminates in the religious crisis of the 16th century. In music this leads to an explosion of creativity, freed from the confines of strict religious practice. 

This new musical language started in the north, in France and the Low Countries and spread to Italy. Composers such as Guillaume Dufay, Jacob Obrecht and Josquin Des Prez flourished from Italian patronage and ensured that a common musical language soon unified the whole of Western Europe. Changes in musical style and structure such as the adoption of four-voiced texture as the norm and the increase of imitation between voices led to increasingly complex vocal music. The Council of Trent, a force for Counter-Reformation that met between 1545 and 1563, attempted to restrict this complexity so that the words of the liturgy could be more easily understood.  Also of importance in this period was the rise of printing, though the cost of paper restricted the ownership of printed music to the super rich.

In terms of musical works, the period is dominated by the Cyclic Mass. Rather than using plainsong as the basis for the Mass setting, these used more secular sources such as Chansons. A patron would often commission a Cyclic Mass based on his favourite tune. Other important forms include the Motet, a setting of a sacred Latin text using many voices, and the Madrigal. The Madrigal could set various kinds of verse and could be complex, or more like the canzonetta with its dance rhythms and simpler harmony. In summary, the importance of the Renaissance for the centuries that followed cannot be underestimated: all the roots of Baroque music can be found in its musical language.


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