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Lecture 8

the renaissance

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.


The Renaissance C.E. 1450-1600

Contrary to the previously-held feeling that life was all about the spiritual salvation in a hereafter, 
new technologies, coupled with a new focus on the real and present world, gave a new impetus to worldly individual achievements. a growing ease of travel and the invention of the movable-type printing press led to wider exchange of ideas, both technological and artistic.

Topics covered:

  • the overtone series
  • imitative polyphony
  • the renaissance mass
  • the reformation


  • Dufay
  • Ockeghem
  • Josquin
  • Palestrina


  • understand the greater attention paid to the vertical (harmony)
  • understand imitative polyphony
  • distinguish the renaissance style from that of the middle-ages
  • understand how the reformation affected musical trends


  • NOTE: in addition to discussion of counterpoint and contrapuntal devices within the body of the lecture, 
  • watch lecture 8 (in multiple parts for quicker download) 
  • review previous chapters, as necessary read textbook, Chapter 9-10 
  • As you are reading your textbook, go through the Listening Exercises in textbook sequence, 
  • listening to the examples provided.
  • regarding developing listening skills: you should be in the habit of developing your listening skills early in the game - the assignments will get more complex through the semester and you may find yourself unable to keep up. As simple as these early assignments may seem to some of you, they will help to keep you on the right track, and help you develop the skills required for a greater appreciation in listening to music, including the music that you listen to for your own enjoyment. Of course, those objectives are in total sync with the success you hope to have in this class. Remember that your ability to recognize the music on your CDs will be tested and will, of course, impact your grade. 


    Audio / Video lecture

    • click lecture segments below in sequence
    • presented in several segments to reduce download time
    • total lecture time: approx. one hour 15 minutes (all segments included)
    • can be downloaded for portable media players by right clicking each segment link and choosing save option. (note: older Macs and Mac notebooks with single-button mice: control-click) 


    Video Timeline for the Renaissance (very short) 

    some important dates and events, accompanied by music generally applicable to the period. To give you a better perspective on the period and its composers, I would like to suggest that you watch this at least twice— 

    • once before the first lecture covering the period 

    • once more after the last lecture covering the period.


    8.1 The Overtone Series


    8.2 The Early Renaissance

    8.3 Imitative Polyphony

    8.4 The Renaissance Mass

    8.5 The Reformation and Counter-Reformation


      round or canon

      The strictest example of imitative counterpoint is a round or canon. Once you set a round in motion, there is no creative freedom; it simply follows its predestined course. 

      I have chosen to set "Row, row, row your boat" in 4 different instrumental voices to maximize the contrast, so that you can best hear the individual polyphonic voices. 




        imitation at the fifth - Bach's Art of the Fugue

        This is an example of 2 part imitation, where the 2nd part imitates the first at the fifth- that is to say that the imitating voice begins a fifth higher than the first note of the original melody. 



        Contrapuntal devices

        The previous example as well as those following are from the 18th century. I've chosen to use them because they so clearly illustrate the devices which apply equally to 16th century counterpoint. 

        The melody could be subjected to a variety of treatments, the most important of which are inversion, retrograde, retrograde-inversion, diminution and augmentation.


         Contrapuntal devices - Bach: Art of the Fugue: original melody

        In non-strict imitative polyphony, we have greater freedom. Here is the original melody of Bach's Art of the Fugue before he subjects it to imitation. 



        contrapuntal devices - inversion

        Here we have the inversion of the original melody- basically turned upside-down.



        contrapuntal devices - retrograde

        The retrograde is simply the melody played backwards.



        contrapuntal devices - retrograde-inversion

        The retrograde-inversion is played backwards and upside-down. 



        contrapuntal devices - diminution

        Diminution is simply the speeding up of the music by doubling the note values - half notes become quarters, quarters become eighth notes, etc. 



         contrapuntal devices - augmentation

        Augmentation is the reverse - slowing the music down by changing to larger note values - quarters become halves, halves become whole notes.