During the Renaissance one of the main forms of entertainment was music and dance. Music became a part of everyday life as people began to play music and sing for enjoyment. They experimented with new types of instruments and combinations of voices. Music was both an art form and a form of entertainment.
Female Musicians from the Master of the Female Half-Lengths
Some of the great music of the Renaissance was sung in churches in large choirs. One new style of music was to interweave several different vocal melodies at the same time. This type of music was called polyphony and became popular in choirs.
Another popular form of vocal music was the madrigal. The madrigal usually had between three and six singers, but could have more. The madrigal also had several melodies that were sung at the same time by different voices. The songs were often romantic poems and sung with emotion.
A number of new and improved instruments were developed during the Renaissance. Perhaps the most famous is the violin which was first made in Italy in the 1500s. Other popular instruments included horns such as the early trumpet and the cornett, stringed instruments such as the lyre and the hurdy gurdy, and woodwind instruments such as the bagpipe and the recorder.
Harpsichord - This instrument looks like piano with keys, but when a key is played a string is plucked rather than hit (like with a piano).
Hurdy gurdy - A stringed instrument similar to a violin, where melodies are played on a small keyboard and a crank-turned wheel rubs against the strings to make the tone.
Lute - A stringed instrument similar to a guitar with a round back. The strings were plucked to make the notes.
There are many famous composers from the Renaissance. They were able to use the printing press for their music allowing an even wider audience. Some of the most famous composers include William Byrd, Josquin Des Prez, and Thomas Tallis. The first dramatic opera was written by Claudio Monteverdi in 1607.
There were two main types of dances during the Renaissance: court dances and country dances. Court dances were formal dances performed by trained dancers. Country dances were dances where anyone could participate. Each dance had specific steps and movements.
Here are few examples of Renaissance dance steps:
Reverence - This was a "greeting" step where the dancers would face each other. They would then slide the left foot back and bend both knees to bow to the other dancer.
Saltarello - This is a lively dance step where the dancer would take three steps forward and then hop.
Pavane - A slow "walking" dance that gave the dancers a chance to show off their fancy clothes and gowns. It was usually the first dance of the night.
Italian Double or Doppio - A step where the dancers would take two elegant steps forward and then rise up on their toes.
Interesting Facts about Renaissance Music and Dance
Most public celebrations and shows were accompanied by music and dance.
In general, instrumental music was considered less important than singing music.
Two popular types of Renaissance vocal music that preceded the madrigal were the frottola in Italy and the chanson in France.
Sometimes percussion instruments were added to the music including drums and tambourines.
The ballet was first introduced during the Italian Renaissance courts of the nobles. It moved to France and became very popular when Catherine De Medici became queen.