Monday, November 7, 2016

History of Music and Art: Part Three: Renaissance

The Renaissance Period is a luscious period for the arts. Renaissance means “rebirth” and it was exactly that. It was a cultural rebirth from around 1400-1600’s. Some notable people in this period include William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth and Bloody Mary, Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Martin Luther, and many more influential people.  There are so many people that you could spend years just reading biographies on all the different people that influenced the western world.


There are many very important composers that changed music during the Renaissance period. Here are my two favorite picks.

William Byrd was an English composer who wrote in almost every style possible at that time. He experimented with complexity and texts from other places besides the Bible. He wrote vocal music, instrumental music, sacred and secular music. Check out the viols being used in this video! Viols are the predecessors to our modern string family of violins, violas, cellos, and basses.

An Italian composer named Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina wrote my absolute favorite song from the Renaissance period. He had a huge influence on sacred music of the church. He developed counterpoint, which is a style of polyphonic (multiple voices) composition where the voices are very different and move independently from each other but sound beautiful together.  “O Magnum Mysterium” is a terrific example of Palestrina’s ingenious counterpoint. 

Music Activities

1. Listen to music!  There are so many different Renaissance composers and so many styles, you could spend a ton of time listening to music. I recommend listening to William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, Josquin Des Prez, Claudio Monteverdi, Palestrina, and look up “Renaissance instrumental music” to here some great arrangements you can dance to.

2. Word painting was a technique composers would use by illustrating words through music. For instance, they would change pitch or speed, melodic lines would change, etc. to show the lyrics in the music.  Try reading a poem and on some words change how you read the words. For example, If you were to read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” you could change how you say certain words.
The free bird leaps (make your voice go up on “leaps”)
on the back of the wind (make your voice whisper on “wind”)
and floats downstream (slow down so it sounds like you are floating)
till the current ends

3. Do you have a Renaissance Faire in your area?  We have one that just closed for the season, but going to it is a great opportunity to get immersed in Renaissance music and culture. Sometimes it can be a bit raunchy, so be careful of some of the shows, but our faire makes sure it is a family-friendly event, and will tell you if the show might be inappropriate. The food may not be 100% authentic, but they do try to have a balance of authentic and pleasing the modern patron.


Art exploded during the Renaissance period. Artists were now being hired and were able to have a living on their art. There were no cameras, so portraits were incredibly popular. Another way artists made money was to paint on the walls of patrons, whether that be churches or affluent members of the communities. There were two ways to paint on the walls: buon fresco and secco fresco. Buon fresco is when you paint on fresh, wet plaster.  Secco fresco is when you paint on the walls after it dried and you moisten it before painting. Buon fresco paintings have had better durability because the secco fresco paintings tend to chip and the painting literally falls off the walls, however, because the buon fresco paintings have to be done when the plaster is fresh, it means the artist has to work quickly and not make any mistakes. To learn more about Renaissance art, and there is so much to learn, start at Wikipedia  and move out from there. There are many things to learn and discover!

Art Activities

1. Go to a fine art museum near where you live and check out the Renaissance section. There is so much artwork in this era that you will have plenty to look at. Before you go, check out their website and you might be able to do some research on the artists or even the specific pieces before you go.  If you have an art-minded student, have him or her bring a sketchpad and let him or her sit in front of one of the pieces and try a hand at sketching it at the museum.

2. Make stained glass! This was my kids’ favorite project in a long time. I took a piece of clear contact paper and put it on the table, sticky side up.  I cut up different colored tissue paper and put it in a bowl next to them.  They told me what shape they wanted and I cut a thick border out of construction paper and stuck it on the contact paper. They took the tissue paper and filled in the shape. When they were done I took another piece of clear contact paper and sealed in their artwork.  I then cut around the outside and taped it on the window. It was easy and kept them busy while I finished up lunch. If you made a large one, it could become beautiful table mats for dinner, or a present for grandparents. I like making school projects turn into gifts or have another functionality.

I hope you have enjoyed our stop at the Renaissance. Next stop is Baroque music!

Previous stops: 

No comments: