Friday, March 16, 2012

The Influence of Dance on Musical Styles of the 16th Century

Social dancing was widespread and highly valued in the Renaissance, and people of breeding were expected to be expert dancers. In addition to providing healthy exercise, dancing was a way to meet people, interact with them  in a formal setting, judge their fitness and social skills, and show off one's own abilities. With dancing a central part of social life, it is no surprise that musicians played and composed a great deal of dance music. In writing dance pieces, which owed little to vocal modes, sixteenth-century composers began to develop a distinctive instrumental style.

Performers frequently improvised dance music or played dance tunes from memory, as in earlier times. Several fifteenth-century manuscripts contain dances, typically in the form of bass lines over which treble instruments would improvise. But in the 16th century, many dance pieces were printed in collections issued by Petrucci, Attaingnant, and other publishers, for ensemble, lute or keyboard. These written works tell us much about improvisatory practice, showing that sixteenth-century performers often improvised by ornamenting a given melodic line or by adding one or more contrapuntal parts to a given melodic line or by adding one or more contrapuntal parts to a given melody or bass line

These published dances also show that dance music served two very different purposes in the Renaissance. Dances for ensemble were functional music, suitable for accompanying dancers, although they were also marketed to amateur performers. In these pieces, the principal melody is typically in the uppermost part, sometimes highly ornamented, but often left plain for the performer to add embellishments. The other parts are mostly homophonic, with little of no contrapuntal interplay. Most dance pieces for solo lute of keyboard, on the other hand, are stylized, intended for the enjoyment of the players or listeners rather than for dancing, and these often include more elaborate counterpoint or written-out decoration.
Each dance form has a particular meter, tempo, rhythmic pattern, and form which distinguishes each one from the others. Dance pieces feature two, or more distinct and repeated sections depending on the dance. Usually the phrase structure is clear and predictable, often in four-measure groups, so that dancers could follow it easily.

The favorite courtly dance of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was the basse danse, a stately couple dance marked by gracefully raising and lowering the body. It featured five different kinds of steps in various combinations. The music can be in triple or duple meter and is usually in six- or four- measure phrases. One example of a Basse danse is Tielman Susato's La Morisque  from his Danserye, which contains two repeated sections (binary form) in duple meter, each composed of a four measure phrase stated twice with different endings.
The Basse Danse was usually paired with a pavane, a slow dance in duple meter, and a galliard, a fast one in triple meter, on the same tune. Both had a form with three repeated strains (AABBCC). Similar pairings of dances in slow, then in fast meters was the passsamezzo and saltarello, which was popular in Italy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Counter-Reformation: The Musical

As the Protestant Reformation spread, the Catholic Church responded with a series of initiatives, called the Counter-Reformation, made ever more pressing by the impending loss of England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Poland and Hungary. Part of this counter-reformation included a purging of the abuses rampant in the Magesterium, which was initated by Pope Paul III. At the same time, St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits (The Society of Jesus), which established schools and taught doctrine among Protestants in Europe and non-Christians in Asia and the Americas. They were a major force of revitalization in Poland, France and Germany.

The Council of Trent (1545-1564), the formal response of the Church to the challenges posed to traditions and philosophies by the Protestants, did not compromises on matters of Faith and doctrine, but did pass regulations on the clergy meant to purge them of their abuses and excesses. Music, while only a small part of the discussion at Trent, had major ramifications for the liturgical practices of the Catholic world, and for all music history. The Council did state that  music should "keep away from...compositions in which there is an intermingling of the lascivious or impure, whether by instrument or by voice," but interpretation and application of this was left to the local bishops.

   Some argued strongly for the elimination of polyphony all together, deeming it unintelligible. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, according to legend, saved sacred polyphony through the composition of the Pope Marcellus Mass, a piece remarkable for its sophistication and clarity. Since Luther and Calvin called for simplified music, labeling polyphony as extravagant and papist, Palestrina is not given the title "the Savior of Music" for nothing.

In Spain, the Catholic community prospered, protected by the monarchy. The music of Spain became a major source of evangelization for the spread of Catholicism in the new world. The music of the Aztecs and Incas was a rich tradition mostly associated with dancing, and into this world the Spanish missionaries brought the masses of Morales, Victoria, Guerrero and Palestrina. While most of the works were sung in their original Spanish, may composers also wrote for local languages, such as Hanacpachap cussicuinin, a processional in the Quechua language of Peru.

The development of the motet from the late 14th century to the 15th century

Quam pulchra es ~ John Dunstable

If  Quam pulchra es had been written a century earlier, as a mostly homorhytmic setting of a Latin text, it could be classified as a cantilena, but in the fifteenth century it would be called a motet. This term, coined in the 13th century for pieces that added text to the upper part of a discant clausula, gradually broadened in meaning to include any work with texted upper voices above a cantus firmus with both sacred or secular text. By the early fifteenth century, the isorhythmic motet was an antiquated form, used for only the most formal of occasions, and by 1450 it fell out of fashion. Meanwhile, the term motet was applied to settings of liturgical texts in the newer musical styles of the time, whether or not a chant melody was used. The term came to designate almost any polyphonic composition on a Latin text, including settings of texts from the Mass Proper and the Office. It was even used for settings of Mass Ordinary texts before the mass cycle became its own genre around the mid-fifteenth century.

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