MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

“Most Strange Effects”: Sacred Choral Music from the Renaissance

josquin-des-prez

From a recent essay I wrote for the Los Angeles Master Chorale:

There’s a touch of irony in the concept of the Renaissance as a specific historical period. An inspired reawakening of respect for an age long past — classical antiquity — is considered one key aspect of the Renaissance attitude, yet that attitude itself was singled out via a backward glance. Not until the nineteenth century did historians construct what we’ve come to think of as The Renaissance, as a period clearly marked off from the “Middle Ages.”

And it’s taken even longer for the vast store of musical treasures created during the Renaissance to be recovered from the oblivion of intervening centuries — a recovery we can credit to the revolution of “early music” awareness.

So what period are we talking about? For convenience, but recognizing the arbitrariness of the dates, let’s say the standard 1400-1600, give or take. Just as with quite a few of the composers from this era, there’s no clear-cut date that unambiguously marks the “birth” of the Renaissance: proto-Renaissance traits pop up at various points throughout the preceding centuries.

Still, overall, a major shift in thinking about the art of music, its purpose, and its creators did start manifesting itself around the fifteenth century, paving the way for composers like Josquin des Prez and the others we hear on this evening’s program.

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Filed under: choral music, essay, Renaissance music

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