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3.4: Secular Music - Entertainment Music of the Renaissance

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    Royalty sought the finest of the composers to employ for entertainment. A single court, or royal family, may employ as many as ten to sixty musicians, singers, and instrumentalists. In Italy, talented women vocalists began to serve as soloists in the courts. Secular pieces for the entertainment of nobility and sacred pieces for the chapel were composed by the court music directors. Musicians were often transported from one castle to another to entertain the court’s patron, traveling in their patron’s entourage.

    The Renaissance town musicians performed for civic functions, weddings, socials, and religious ceremonies/services. Due to market, that is, the supply and demand of the expanding Renaissance society, musicians experience higher status and pay unlike ever before. The Flanders, Low Countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France became a source of musicians who filled many important music positions in Italy. As in the previous era, vocal music maintained its important status over instrumental music.

    Germany, England, and Spain also experienced an energetic musical expansion. Secular vocal music became increasingly popular during the Renaissance. In Europe, music was set to poems from several languages, including English, French, Dutch, German, and Spanish. The invention of the printing press led to the publication of thousands of collections of songs that were never before available. One instrument or small groups of instruments were used to accompany solo voices or groups of solo voices.

    3.4.1 Thomas Weelkes

    Thomas Weelkes, a church organist and composer, became one of the finest English madrigal composers. Thomas Weelkes’ “As Vesta Was Descending” serves as a good example of word painting with the melodic line following the meaning of the text in performance.


    For audio, go to:

    Composer: Thomas Weelkes

    Composition: “As Vesta Was From Latmos Hill Descending”
    Date: 1601
    Genre: Madrigal
    Form: Through-composed
    Performing Forces: Choral ensemble

    One thing to remember about this composition:

    This composition is a great example of “word painting” where the text and melodic line work together. When the text refers to descending down a hill, the melody descends also.

    figure 3.4.1

    Screen Shot 2020-06-12 at 3.15.16 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\):Examples of “word painting” in Weelkes’s “As Vest Was From Latmos Hill Descending” by Diana Thompson. Source: ChoralWiki

    license | CPDL


    Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture

    Text and Form


    Descending melodic/scales on “descending”

    As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending,


    Ascending melodic/scales on “ascending”

    she spied a maiden queen the same ascending,


    Melody gently undulates, neither ascending nor descending.

    attended on by all the shepherds swain,

    0:45 Rapid imitative descending figures on running down to whom Diana’s darlings came running down amain.

    Two voices, three voices, and then all voices

    First two by two, then three by three together,


    solo voice or unison

    leaving their goddess all alone, hasted thither,

    1:24 All voices in delicate polyphony

    and mingling with the shepherds of her train with mirthful tunes her presence entertain.


    All voices unite to introduce the final proclamation

    Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana,
    1:52 Brief, joyful phrase imitated among voices is repeated over and over Long live fair Oriana!

    3.6.2 Renaissance Dance Music

    With the rebirth of the Renaissance, came a resurgence of the populari- ty of dance. This resurgence led to instrumental dance music becoming the most wide-spread genre for instrumental music. Detailed instruction books for dance also included step orders and sequences that followed the music accompaniment.

    The first dances started, similar to today’s square dances, soon evolved into more elaborate and unique forms of expression. Examples of three types of Renaissance dances include the pavanne, galliard, and jig.

    The pavanne is a more solemn stately dance in a duple meter (in twos). Its participants dance and move around with prearranged stopping and starting places with the music. Pavannes are more formal and used in such settings.

    The galliard is usually paired with a pavanne. The galliard is in triple meter (in threes) and provides an alternative to the rhythms of the pavanne. The jig is a folk dance or its tune in an animated meter. It was originally developed in the 1500s in England. The instrumental jig was a popular dance number. Jigs were regularly performed in Elizabethan theatres after the main play. William Kemp actor, song and dance performer, and a comedian, is immortalized for having created comic roles in Shakespeare. He accompanied his jig performances with pipe and tabor and snare drum. Kemp’s jig started a unique phrasing/cadence system that carried well past the Renaissance period.


    For audio, go to:

    Composer: Composer unknown but was performed by William Kemp. The piece became known as Kemp’s Jig

    Composition: “Kemp’s Jig”

    Date: late 1500

    Genre: Jig (Dance Piece instrumental)

    Performing Forces: Lute solo instrumental piece

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    A jig is a light folk dance. It is a dance piece of music that can stand alone when played as an instrumental player. This new shift in instrumental music from strictly accompaniment to stand alone music performances begins a major ad- vance for instrumental music.

    Will Kemp was a dancer and actor. He won a bet that he could dance from London to Norwich (80 miles). “Kemps Jig” was written to celebrate the event.

    One thing to remember about this composition:

    This piece of dance music is evolving from just a predictable dance accompani- ment to a central piece of instrumental music. Such alterations of dance music for the sake of the music itself are referred to as the stylization of dance music that has carried on through the centuries.

    To view an informative Renaissance Music Timeline, go to:

    This page titled 3.4: Secular Music - Entertainment Music of the Renaissance is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.