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Renaissance is defined as the cultural rebirth that occurred in Europe during the 14th – 17th century until the Spanish dominated the city-states. The renaissance period started in Florence, Italy then rapidly spread throughout Europe. Music was an essential part of civic, religious, and courtly life in the Renaissance. Major changes in style of composing, new genres and the development of new instruments were occurring. Renaissance music was vocal and instrumental music that was written and performed in Europe, which brought harmony to those who listened. Renaissance music is composed of eight major genres, which are Ballad, Ballade, Chanson, Madrigal, Motet, Rondeau, Villancio, and Virelai. Each has their own unique melody and purpose, where people reveled in during the Renaissance period.Ballad is the English translation of the French word Ballade and they are similar because both of their functions are for folk dancing until the fourteenth century when ballad became exclusively to folk music that is performed solo. They are songs for expressive storytelling and consists of a poetic meter of iambic or trochaic.One of the most popular genres of the 15th century to dance to was Ballade, a French medieval poetic form set to music. This genre included three stanzas, rhyme scheme of AAB, and all had the same refrain. They are often used as love songs but were created to eulogize patrons or monumentalize historic events.Chanson, French for “song,” referred to several types of vocal music and could include virtually any secular composition. Some examples are drinking songs and sophisticated songs performed at court. While the fixed forms of ballade, rondeau, and virelai gradually died out during the Renaissance period, chanson became increasingly more popular during the 16th century. The Parisian chanson, which developed between the 1530s and 1540s, gave a new elegance and simplicity to the structure of the chanson. Parisian chanson had no fixed rhyme scheme, which allowed for musical repetitions with greater freedom of expression.Madrigals were the most popular genre of European music during the second half of the sixteenth century. Madrigal began in the Italian Peninsula and spread all the way to England. There it was popularized by Elizabeth the first because it was one of her favorite genres. Later in the century madrigals were written with more chromatic and dramatic. Although most composers of madrigals were men, several women were famous during their lifetime for writing madrigals and other secular music; they usually were also talented singers who wrote much of their own music. During the Renaissance, the motet developed into a very important genre for polyphonic compositions. The structure of the medieval motet featured a tenor voice, which sustained the rhythmic base while higher voices sung at a faster speed. By the 15th century, motets of several types featured structures of various degrees of complexity, with three or more sections of tenor voices and with instruments paired with voices.The rondeau was a song with a refrain, from the idea of ronde (round) as the refrain came back around at the end of each verse. The circular structure of rondeau reflected the dances for which they were originally intended. The refrain was the focus of the song, using the complete melodic line even though its text was often quite short.The villancico was Spanish popular verse set to music. Although villancicos used traditional melodies, their poetic structure was quite flexible. Their content became more spiritual toward the end of the 16th century under the influence of the Counter-Reformation. (Today a villancico is simply a song for Christmas.)The virelai was a French medieval poetic form set to music, usually ABBAA, popular during the 15th century. Theories say that it originated from Arabic songs transmitted by Provençal troubadours during the 12th century. With virer as its root word, the virelai was closely related to dance. Families of woodwind, brass, and stringed instruments were invented to complement the human voice, in the bass to soprano range. Percussion instruments maintained the beat of music for dancing and singing and usually did not add ornamentation or flourishes. Two popular types of drums during the 16th century were side drum and the kettledrum. The side drum was played with one stick and this innovation allowed much more flexibility in the style of drumming. The kettledrum, constructed from copper or brass with an average diameter of approximately two feet. For ceremonial music, kettledrums introduced a majestic presence not heard previously at court. Other popular percussion instruments in Renaissance Europe included the tambourine, triangle, cymbals, and castanets, all of which are played today in slightly altered forms. Renaissance wind instruments consisted of brass instruments, organs, and woodwinds. The three main brass instruments of the Renaissance were the cornet, trumpet, and sackbut (trombone). Brass instruments were very important for ceremonial events; for example, 17 trumpets and six sackbuts were played during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) in 1558.  The chief woodwind instruments were the shawm, crumhorn, bagpipe, recorder, and flute. The crumhorn (“curved horn”) were especially popular for dances and madrigals. Shawms are loud and have bright sounds and are used for outdoor performances.Except for harps, Renaissance stringed instruments had frets and were played by being strummed, bowed, or plucked. The lute was considered the ideal musical instrument, with the musician’s fingers in close control of the strings creating the purest possible sound. The vihuela and guitar were quite similar, both having frets consisting of gut strings tied around the fingerboard. The guitar was used more for popular and folk music; the vihuela was a favorite instrument of aristocratic society in both Spain and southern Italy. The bowed instruments of the Renaissance included the viol and violin. The violin is played under the chin or on the shoulder. Musicians playing the viol are seated, with the instrument held on the ground or between the legs. The harpsichord, perfected during the 15th century, is played by keys that trigger the plucking of strings, unlike the modern piano, in which strings are hammered. Italy was a major center of harpsichord production during the early 16th century. Harpsichord cases were elegant pieces of furniture, often lined with velvet, with exteriors of inlaid wood or painted ornamentation.Binchois, Gilles was one of the three most significant composers of his time. He was a composer and singer for 3 decades at the court chapel of the Duke of Burgundy. His work defined and dignified Burgundian court music, and many of his melodic (tenor) lines were used in the music of other 15th-century composers. He was a master of the rondeau and his songs were well known in England.Byrd, William wrote and played Catholic Church music. The versatile English composer William Byrd was organist and choirmaster at Lincoln Cathedral from 1563 to 1570. During these years, he learned to experiment with various genres and forms to create his own individual style blending old and new. Between 1570 and 1580, he worked for the Chapel Royal (London), where he was noticed by Queen Elizabeth I. Byrd wrote the music for a piece celebrating English victory over the Spanish Armada, its words written by the queen. Desprez, Josquin of French origin, was documented as a singer at the cathedral in Milan between 1459 and 1472. During the 1480s and 1490s, he was in Rome as a member of the papal choir. By the turn of the century, Desprez was unofficially working for Louis XII of France, for whom he wrote a motet and songs while recruiting Flemish singers for the court of Ferrara. Desprez ended his career as a singer-composer in northern France at the cathedral of Notre Dame. Desprez is considered the most outstanding composer of his time.The renaissance era was full of rich music that went on for centuries. It included secular vocal music with 8 major genres, and multiple composers who achieved great success during their lifetime, a variety of musical instruments with 3 major families, which are wind, brass, and string. These were all performed in Europe during a world-changing time period, and the accomplishments will forever prosper and be remembered.

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