Project 1: Musical instruments in the Baroque and Renaissance eras

Research point: Early instruments

  • The Shawm

The shawm is a woodwind instrument with a double reed and a tapered tube. It exists in seven different sizes from double bass to sopranino. In most cases the instrument has seven pitch holes, sometimes there is a further hole for the left thumb. The sound is produced by the two reeds vibrating against each other, when placed between the lips and blown.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any historical references of performers who were known for playing the shawm, but there are several modern recordings. It was also difficult to find any pieces which are directly linked to the shawm, as it is often falsely referred to as oboe. An example for a piece featuring one can be found in my listening log.

The produced sound is very loud and sharp, in a lower pitch it becomes more nasally sounding. The shawn was a direct precursor from the in the 17th century from Martin Hotteterre created hautbois, today known as oboe. The lower pitched, bigger shawms inspired the production of the bassoon. 1

  • The viol

The viol is a type of bowed and fretted string instrument, built in several sizes. It was developed in the Renaissance period. Viols look similar to modern string instruments, they are constructed from flat wood pieces, joined at the seams, have a flat back, sloped shoulders, a wider neck than the modern string instruments and six or seven strings. Similar to the cello, it is played between the legs. The sound is produced by moving the bow over the strings or plucking them. A higher and lower pitch can be made by pressing down the strings with the fingers of the left hand, the shorter the remaining string on the side of the bow, the higher becomes the pitch.

Even though its not a direct ancestor of the violin, there is still some related connection between the instrument families. Pieces for the viol were often written from English composers such as John Taverner, Thomas Tallis and Christopher Tye. One of the most well known viol virtuosos were Marin Marais and Johann Schneck.2

  • The Crumhorn

The crumhorn is a woodwind instrument with a double reed – cylindrical tube and a wind cap. The end of the instrument is bowed upwards. The crumhorn has seven finger holes at the front an an eight one for the left thumb. The wind cap is a form of cap for a woodwind instrument, which completely encloses the reed, this allows it vibrate freely within the wind cap. The produced sound is often louder and has more dominant overtones. Even though the produced sound might sound unfamiliar to modern ears, the instrument was often used for fesivals.

It was difficult to find performers directly linked to the crum horns but several composers were mentioned, such as Francesco Corteccia (1502 – 1571), Thomas Stoltzer (1480 – 1526) and Johann Hermann Schein (1586 – 1630). I couldn’t find any direct relationships to modern instruments, but it is meant to be a cousin of the cornamuse, which is an ancestor of the bagpipe as they both have a cylindrical bore. 3

  • The sackbut

The sackbut is a direct precursor of the modern trombone. The brass instrument has a tighter pipe and a smaller bell at the end. The instrument is played with a flat and tight mouthpiece. The produced sound is much quieter and clearer than the sound from the modern trombone. The sound is produced through the vibrating column of air inside the instrument. This column is created by the player vibrating the lips while blowing air through the mouthpiece.

The sackbut was often used at ceremonies and church music but also within a wide amount of chamber music. One of the most well known performers for the sackbut was Antonio Bertali, who also wrote a few pieces for the instrument. 4

  • The dulcian

The dulcian is, similar to the shawm, a double – reed wind instrument with a conical shape, thus the sound is produced similar to that of the shawm. It was also constructed in different sizes, from soprano to double bass. The reef sits on a bocal made of brass, it nevertheless counts as a woodwind instrument, due to the reeds.

Even though there is no direct link to the modern saxophone, the instrument seems to have slightly influenced its development. A few of several composers writing reportoire for dulcians were Philip Friedrich Bödecker, Bartolomeo De Selma and Daniel Speer. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any well known performers. 5

  • The clavichord

The clavichord is a key instrument from the family of the chordophones. It is the ancestor of the piano, but only has a range of 5 octaves. It is designed with a flat corpus in which the strings are displayed horizontally and vertically. The sound is produced through the touch and release of tangents on strings. Tangents are narrow at one and two – armed metal plates. When a key is played, the tangent touches the corresponing string and lets it vibrate to create the sound. The tone can be heard as long as the key is played. The produced sound is much quiter than the ones from the pianos.

Due to the conncetion to the cembalo, several important cembalists also played the clavichord, a few of the most popular performers were Carl Francois Couperin and Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, who also composed for the instrument. 6

  • The lute

The lute is a plucked instrument with a wide corpus and a short neck and strings. During the Renaissance period, lutes were seen as one of the most important instruments. Being an ancestor of the guitar, the sound was produced by plucking or striking over the strings, which can be shortened by the left hand to get to different pitches. Furthermore the lute had the advantage, that one could easily transpose music.

The lute was often used as an accompanying instrument for singers, but several toccatas, preludes and fantasias where also written for the instrument. Some important performers, and often also composers where: John Dowland, Gabriel Bataille during the 16 century and later René Mézangeau and Francois Dufault. 7

1 Rech, A. (2018). Music in the Daily Life of Vermeer: The Shawm (2). [online]. Essential Vermeer 3.0. Avalilable at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

2 Weinfield, E. (2014). The Viol. [online]. metmuseum. The Graduate Center of the City Univeristy of New York. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

3 Pittaway, I. (2016). The crumhorn: a short history. [onine] Early Music Muse – musings on medieval, renaissance and traditional music. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.202]

4 CaseWesternReserve – University. (2020). [online]. Sackbut (Renaissance). Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

5Rech, A. Music in the Daily Life of Vermeer: The Dulcian, or Curtal (1). [online]. Essential Vermeer. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

6 Howard, G. (2017). Clavichord History. [online]. Ukpianos. Available at:,Arnold%20Dolmetsch%20revived%20clavichord%20construction. [Accessed: 16.08.2020].

7 Santa Maria Bouquet, J. (2010). The Lute. [online]. TheMet150. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

Exercise: Listen to early music

Musikalisches Opfer (musical offering) – The Bach Players

Musikalisched Opfer is a collection of mainly contrapuntal movements, written from Johann Sebastian Bach three years before his death. This particular concert was performed by The Bach players, a group of musicians specialising on music from the 17th and 18th century founded in 1996. The whole collection involves four instruments, violin (played by Nicolette Moonen), transverse flute (played by Marion Moonen), viol (played by Reiko Ichsie) and a harpsichord (played by Silas Wollston). 8

The structure of the first piece Ricecar a 3 is actually a Ricercar, a compositional form, ancestor of the later developed fugue and similar to a fantasy or toccata. 9 It is played by a harpsichord, is in minor and has a gloomy character. As I am not used to the hard, metal sound of the harpsichord, I got a slightly unsettling feeling listening to the piece. The first sound, played by the transverse flute of the following piece Canon perpetuus I was, in comparison to the previous hard sound of the clavichord exceptionally warm sounding. The sound of the transverse flute is overall very similar to that of a modern flute.

This is also the first piece involving all four instruments, creating an overall full sound, yet the character of the piece lets it still appear very shy. The following played canon has a really cheery character and often involves parts were only two of the four instruments are played together. Thus, some change in the colour of sound was created, making the piece sound more interesting.

The Canon a 2 is the first one to be started by the violin playing a chromatic ascending scale. This also seemed to be almost the only piece were the three solo instruments played canonic melody with the harpsichord piecewise accompanying with chords. This indicates, that not the whole piece was polyphonic. Even though the viol could almost never be heard on its own, it created a warm sound, helping to fulfill the sound of the other instruments.

Sonata sopr’il Soggetto Reale was the piece I enjoyed most of the whole collection, as the introduced themes seemed overall more memorable and thus the whole sonata seemed less chaotic. Furthermore, some of the harmonies were slightly but not completely foreseeable, which had a soothing effect.

I overall enjoyed listening to the concert, even though some of the harpsichord solos seemed rather long and monotonous. I found the whole produced sound slightly unsettling, simply because I am not used to it, over the progress of this concerts I got to enjoy the sound more and more. I expected the two string instruments to be more dominant than they were, but simply due to its always loud volume, the main focus seemed to often be on the harpsichord. This may not have even been caused by the instruments volume but by the layout and space of the performance room. I initially found it difficult to focus on it due to the polyphony and the similar structures of the presented themes. Nonetheless, I had the feeling that the whole piece was well performed and the instrumentalists really enjoyed playing.

8 The Bach Players. (2020) [online]. About the Bach Players. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

9 Klassikakzente. (2003). [online]. Johann Sebastian Bach. Ricercar. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

Project 2: Baroque composition forms

From the following 15 terms I picked out the six to look at into more detail, as I have not or only briefly encountered those during my previous musical education:

Partita, Sonata da chiesa, canzona, cantata, Passacaglia

  • Suite: Was an in the Baroque – era important instrumental piece with several dance – movements. The typically used structure was allemande – courante – sarabande – guige. All movements were normally written in the same key, with occasional modulations. Normally the movements were in binary form. 10
  • Concerto: A piece, often for an orchestra, in which one solo instrument is used to perform alongside or against it. 11
  • Concerto grosso: Within a concerto grosso a smaller “solo” group is musically combined with or put against a whole orchestra, similar to the normal concerto above, but with more than one solo – instrument 12
  • Partita: Is the definition of a single movement, from a suite or one variation from a set of variations (below). 13

The most well known example for a partita is Bach’s Clavierübung (keyboard practice) with six partitas. Throughout his life, Bach has published a number of works for harpsichord and organ. Some of them between 1731 and 1741 in a four – part collection called Clavierübung. Working with the forms suite, concerto, praeludium, fugue, choral accompaniment and variations, he mandaged to include most of the composition types of the Baroque era. Even though the title “practice” is associated with learning the instrument, most of these works are not easy to play at all. 14, 15

Clavierübung Part 1 involved partitas only. From 1726 to 1731 Bach published one partita for the harpsichord per year. All the partitas follow the in the French Baroque music started movement sequence: Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Guige, but often include additional movements in front of the Sarabande or Guige. I’ve listened to the Partita in Bb – major, BWV 825 – which can be found in my Listening Log. 14, 15

  • Sonata da camera: Is a Baroque type of chamber sonata with several dance – like movements and was normally played by a small ensemble 16
  • Sonata da chiesa: Is similar to the Sonata da camera (above), but has a more serious character and is written for church music. Normally the four movements are arranged as slow – fast – slow – fast 17

Distinctive for the sonata da chiesa are its four movements with the form slow – fast – slow fast. Even though this is the common framework to use, there were some exceptions as well having a fast – slow – fast – fast structure or pieces consisting of three or five movements. The slow introducing movement often has a dotted rhythm whereas the following second movement is a fugue. The slow third movement normally has a triple metre and often has the character of a sarabande and the last movement has the dance – like rhythm of a guige, a minuet or a gavotte. 18

The first important representative for the sonata da chiesa as well as the sonata da camera was Arcangelo Corelli. (1653 – 1713). His first printed opus, 12 sonata da chiesas became popular quite quickly in Europe. Corelli started to write his own compositions around 1677. Within the same year he joined the orchestra of queen Christina in Rome, he also devoted her his Opus 1. (I made an entry of his Op. 1, no 10 in my Listening Log). 18

  • Canzona: An instrumental compositions developed from lute and keyboard arrangements. 19

The canzona developed from the 13th to the 16th century. In Italy it was originally an mododic piece of poetry set to music. Since the 14th century, the form was used to describe polyphonic secular works. Later on they developed to be an instrumental musical form, in its structure similar to a ricercar, but with a more vivid and rhythmic character. Well known composers for cantonas were Giovanni Gabrieli and Girolamo Frescobaldi. (Gabrieli’s Canzone I can be found in my Listening Log). 20

  • Variations: Is a piece of music involving varied versions of a melody presented at the beginning 21
  • Oratorio: Within the oratorio the new stylistic elements from the secular opera were transferred to religious texts, but it is not performed staged. 22
  • Passion: Is a form of an oratorio, in which the life and suffering of Jesus is described.23
  • Fugue: Is a strict process of a polyphonic composition. One theme, which can be heard in various ways throughout the composition is introduced at the beginning and creates the base for the whole composition: After the first theme has finished, it appears again, often in a second voice, either a fifth higher or a fourth lower (landing on the same note). To this first theme a counter subject is developed.24
  • Mass: The term describes a religious service from the catholic church with a defined liturgy, which is in one part the proprim missae (texts changing weely) and another part the Ordinarium missae (staying text – parts). Most masses are an Ordianarium Missae and have the following structure: Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Agnus Dei. 25
  • Motet: A short unaccompanied sacred composition, often based on a pre – existing melody and words to which a counterpoint was put against 26
  • Cantata: Is a dramatic madrigal for one or more voice, with a lute or basso continuo accompaniment. 27

Cantatas are normally (but not exclusively) composed as church music. A typical cantata had the following structure: Instrumental preludium (optional), Choir part (optional), sequence of recitatives, arias, and choral parts, ending choir part. The text is normally from the bible. One form of cantata that should also be mentioned, is the solo – cantata for just one voice and accompaniment through a continuo. Important composers for the term were Dietrich Buxtehude, Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann. (I listened to a piece from Buxehude called Jesus, meines Lebens Leben (Jesus; my life’s life)28

  • Chaconne: A musical form similar to the Passacaglia (below). Originally dances with a 3/4 or 6/8 – rhythm, the music is created on top of a ground – bass. The harmonic framework stays the same, whilst variations appear in the upper voices. 29, 30
  • Passacaglia: Is basically the same as a chaconne but normally has a softer, sweeter character and is more often (but not always) in a minor key. 29, 30

Typical for a passacaglia is a four or eight – bar defined bass line, which is repeated several times and provides the harmonic outline for the piece. The form was originally a Spanish folk dance. The first important example for a passacaglia was Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Cento pertite sopra Passacagli (Listening Log), which was published in 1637. 31

10 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Suite. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 824

11 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Concerto. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 181

12 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, p. 86

13 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Partita. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 636

14 Talle, A. (2003). J. S. Bach’s Keyboard Partitas and Their Early Audience. [onine]. Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

15 Johnson, S. (2016). What is a … Partita?. [online] BBC Music Magazine. Classical music. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

16 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Sonata da camera. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 798

17 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Sonata da chiesa. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 798

18 Seifert, H. (2001). Kirchensonate. [online] Oesterreichischen Musiklexikon online. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

19 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Variations. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 143

20 Britannica. (2020). [online]Canzona. Enyclopaedia Britannica inc. Available at: [Accessed; 16.08.2020]

21 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Variations. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 881

22 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, p. 145

23 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, p. 146

24 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, p. 107

25 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, pp. 204 – 205

26 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Cantata. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 572

27 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Cantata. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 142

28 Dellal, P. (2020). What is a Cantata?. [online] Emanueal music. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

29 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Cantata. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 155

30 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, pp. 113 – 114

31 Grassi, M. (2001). Passacaglia. [online] Oesterreichischen Musiklexikon online. Available at: [Accessed: 16.08.2020]

Project 3: Composers of the Baroque era

Exercise: The Bach fugue

For this exercise I found it helpful to slowly play through the chosen piece (fugue in d – minor BWV 851) myself whilst making notes on the score. It also helped me to keep track of the three polyphonic voices used and to look at them independently.

Appearances of the main subject which appear in the original form (or transposed up or down) are marked in red. The counter subject, and a further subject linked to it are marked in purple. Inversions of the subject are blue. Looking at the two halfs of the subject, when separated by the bar line, one can find fragments of it throughout the piece as well, here the first half (also including inversions) is in dark green and the second half in light green. Overall I was surprised by how often the theme (or parts of it) was used to build almost the entire piece.

Research Point: Baroque composer

For this research point I chose to find out some more about the life and works of Antonio Vivaldi, as I was encountered with his music at a very young age and have always enjoyed listening to it, but so far, haven’t had the opportunity to learn about him in more detail.

Antonio Vivaldi was born 1678 in Venice. Even as a child he sometimes got the opportunity to play in the Orchestra of San Marco to replace his father’s role when he wasn’t able to attend a concert. At the age of 14 Vivaldi started a training to become a priest and with 25 years he was officially ordained as such. Nonetheless, he had much more interest in his occupation as a violin – teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, in which orphaned girls were brought up. Whilst teaching, Vivaldi also composed new pieces, which the girls hat to play at weekly concerts. 32

He stayed at the Ospedale della Pietà for 12 years. From there he gained more and more popularity. The concerts he conducted himself were very popular musical events. His first opera “Ottone in Villa” was performed in 1713. Shortly after, he was hired to conduct operas in most north – Italic cities. Vivaldi was furthermore a very quick writer: He managed to compose concertos within a day and operas within a week. But he quickly would spend the huge amount of money he had earned through his music. 32,33

1737, due to a campaign against a moral decline in the clergy, the archbishop of Ferrara forbade Vivaldi to ever come to the city. From there on, his popularity sank rapidly. He moved to Vienna hoping to gain some new musical commissions from the Austrian emperor, but was barely noticed. Unfortunately, most of his compositions were only discovered after his death. 33,34

His most well – known work is the in 1725 composed Le quattro stagioni (The four seasons), but he also wrote other well – known works such as Gloria and Magnificat for example. (Listening Log).

32 Obrassoconcerts. (2020). [online]. Der Komponist Antonio Vivaldi. Available at: [Accessed: 17.08.2020]

33 Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, p. 108

34 Selfridge – Field, E. (2011). Antonio Vivaldi/ Antonio Vivaldi und seine Zeit. [online]. Music Library Association: Philadelphia. Vol. 68, Iss. 2. Available at: [Accessed: 17.08.2020]

Exercise: Musical patronage

The term patronage describes the financial support through private institutions for artists. Over the history of musical patronage, composers were often financed by wealthy patrons, or the church. A big advantage of this system was that the composers quickly gained popularity and their music would be available for purchase. Nonetheless, as the patrons were often paying the composers for individual pieces, it wasn’t usually up to the composers themselves to choose the piece, thus, a piece would only be supported if the patron liked it, which limited the creative freedom of the composers.

Today, a huge advance of independent music production is probably, that the musicians can work much closer to their fans. When music is written for a wider amount of people, it might also be more likable than the music written for just one institution. One major problem on the other hand would be, that, without a wider label, musicians are much more at risk of having their music copied by someone else.  

I would wish for every artist to be able to express themselves in the way they intent to and therefore would think, that it would be easier to work independently from any institution. The main problem with that is mostly, that many artists who want to live out their creativity are often barely noticed and only a few individuals, most of which who come from a wealthy background, are known for their works.

In this century it has become relatively easy to publish music through the internet. Thus, for a composer probably has become easier to be heard, but due to the huge amount of artist uploading their music, it has become almost impossible to stand out of the crowd. This makes it obviously much more difficult to earn money by making music individually.  

Looking at arts funding in general, I personally think that it would probably be a good and relatively secure way to start into the business. I am certain, that there are a few cases, especially in this century, composers and other artists can easily live out their creativity whilst being supported by an institution. For the supporting company this would obviously have the advantage, that the artists would advertise for their institution. This on the other hand would also mean, that the artists wouldn’t be able to create their own brand and will probably find it difficult to create one even after leaving the supporting company.

Coincidentally, I happened to have met the Austrian film – composer Raimund Hepp a few days ago. He mentioned, that he definitely prefers to work individually from any institution, as he therefore is not bound to many restrictions concerning his work. Nonetheless, being a film composer, most of the music he writes is not necessarily the music he wants to express himself with.

Project 4: Ars Nova and Renaissance music

Research point: Printing and dissemination of music

Up until the second half of the 15th century, a musical score was only able to be passed on through handwriting. Which obviously could have easily led to several mistakes. The oldest known, printed score was made around 1473 with a woodblock printing, a very elaborate way of reproducing symbols. A further version of printing music was using chalcography, which used engravings on copper plates to create the signs needed. Nevertheless, both of these printing versions were really time consuming and only a small amount was printed, making it only affordable for aristocrats and a few musicians. 35, 36

Ottaviano dei Petrucci (1466 – 1539), developed a technique around 1501, which worked similar to the just developed letter printing with movable types. With this technique, it was possible for the first time to print music in a cheap and affordable way. 36, 37

Petrucci printed the music in three stages: stave, notes and finally the text, thus it was sometimes quite difficult to get everything exactly on top of each another as it should be. Pierre Attaingnant (1494 – 1551) made the process slightly simpler, by combining the stave and note types into one. Unfortunately, this resulted in visible gaps in the staves, as they were put together in rows of individual types. Nonetheless, this process was used more frequently, due the faster production. It was used up until the 20th century. During the Baroque period it became more and more difficult to display the advanced form of notation accurately, thus, the types were parted in smaller segments to make the process more flexible. This process was nonetheless very restricted in comparison to hand – written notes. The photomechanic reprodution – technique allowed publishers to use any black and white score as a template. 35, 36, 37

Around 1730 the English music publisher John Walsh (1665 – 1736) invented the note writing with steel props and thus combined the advantages of the more flexible chalcography with the ones from the efficient type printing. Instead of types, he used stamps, which could be pressed down into soft pewter with a hammer at any arbitrary space. From the inprinted plate, one was able to print through printmarking. Nonetheless, one of those plates was only able to print a confined number of copies as through the abrasion, the prints became more and more blurry. The first machine, in this case a form of piano, to transform played music directly into a score was invented in 1745 by Johann Friedrich Unger. 35, 36

Nowadays music is often written down through musical software such as Finale and Sibelius. Which is obviously, much less time consuming and, if not printed less paper is used as well. Furthermore this technique allowed the composers to correct mistakes really efficiently.

35 Lindmayr – Brandl, A; Giselbrecht, E and McDonald, G. (2018). Early Music Printing in German – Speaking Lands. [online]. Taylor & Francis. Available at: [Accessed: 18.08.2020]

36 Music Printing History (2020). [online] Music Printing History. Available at: [Accessed: 18.08.2020]

37 Parlorsongs. [2018]. Printing & Publishing of Music – A Short History & How it is Done. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 18.08.2020]

Research point: Dissonance in music

Dissonances are the sound of two or more notes, which’s sound creates a certain discomfort and/or wants to be resolved into a harmonic chord. The following chords are seen as dissonances:

  • Minor 2nd, Major 2nd
  • Augmented fourth/Diminished 5th
  • Augmented 5th/Minor 6th
  • Minor 7th, Major 7th

The perception of music varies from person to person and is also very dependent on the cultural background. Nonetheless, it is more common, especially for children to experience disharmonic intervals as completely displeasing, thus, most children’s songs have simple, often major, harmonies. 38

Interestingly, during the Renaissance and early Baroque era, thirds and sixths were seen as dissonant as well, due to the different tuning systems. Through the constant change of the tuning systems during the Baroque – period, fourths suddenly were seen as dissonant as well and had to be resolved in either a third – or a fifth. 39

Even though this effect may displease an audience when played on its own, alongside other harmonies, disharmonic intervals help to create tension. Using this, the music can be build towards a peak point before being resolved by a calm ending. At the end of the Baroque period and throughout most of the Classical period, this effect was often used, this made the music often foreseeable, yet entertaining and pleasing to listen to. 40, 41

In the harmonic development of the Romanic era the use of dissonances increased. This development lead to a concept, invented by Arnold Schönberg, in the 20th century called “emancipation of the dissonance“, in which the dissonances are played without a resolution. This also leads to a sudden a – tonality in music. 42

38 Heukäufer, N. (2014). MusikAbi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, p. 127

39 Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 208

40Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 209

41 Bharucha, J. (1984). Anchoring effects in music: The resolution of dissonance. [online]. Cognitive Psychology. Vol. 16, Iss. 4. pp. 485 – 518. Available at: [Accessed: 21.08.2020]

42 Hinton, S. (2010). The Emancipation of Dissonance: Schoenberg’s two practices of composition. [online]. Music & Letters. Vol. 91, No. 4. Available at: [Accessed: 21.08.2020]

Research point: Humanism

The term humanism describes a philosophical stance, which developed in the Renaissance period. Originally, humanism emerged from literature. Humanists tried to represent the ideal elaboration of the human ability to think and learn. Traditional forces, such as religion or reign were starting to be scrutinised for the first time. 43

Education in humanism was created to help people find the true meaning of their existence. A truthful content and a complete verbiage was striven for. The langue and literature sciences had a central role during this period. 44

The poet Francesc Petrarca (1304 – 1347) is seen as the founder of humanism. With him the “dark” Middle ages were left behind and with his works he managed to open up a new artistic movement. People representing humanism were seen as confident and artistic and interested in new technical inventions. Pictures, statues and the architecture of the Renaissance were created to represent a new beau ideal as well as positivism about life. 45

43 HumanismUK. (2020). Humanism. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 22.08.2020]

44 Delvaux de Fenffe, G. (2019). Humanismus – Das Menschenbild der Renaissance. [online]. Planetwissen. Available at: [Accessed: 22.08.2020]

45 Rowland, I. (1995). Abacus and Humanism. [online]. Renaissance Quarterly. Vol. 48. Iss. 4: The Renaissance Society of America. Available at:|A18018356&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon [Accessed: 22.08.2020]

Exercise: Renaissance composers

For this exercise I chose to find out more about the composer Tomás Luis da Victoria, as he is the only one from the other given composers (William Byrd and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina), whose name I haven’t heard before at all . 46

Thomás Luis de Victora was born in 1548 in Sanchidrián, Spain, he is known as a composer of the Renaissance. Victoria was the seventh child of Francsco Luis de Victoria and Francisca Suárez de la Concha. His father was a drapery dealer and died at a young age, after his death Tomàs was given to his uncle Juan Luis, who was a pastor near Ávila. Around 1565 Tomàs went as a student from king Philipp II to Rome, where he graduated from the Collegium Germanicum. In 1571 he took over the conduct of the local chapel as the successor of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 – 1594). Around 1585 da Victoria published a collection of musical piece in Rome, called Officiu Sanctae Hebdomadae. He went back to Spain during the same year , where he became the chaplain of empress Maria and head of the chapel musicians. There he only wrote a small amount of pieces, Officium defunctorum is one of the more well known ones. Tomás Luis de Victoria died in 161. 47, 48

His musical works are mainly linked to his profession as a priest and his deep faith in religion, as he wrote music exclusively for religious occasions. He was ordered to write music in a simple and understandable way, which he always tried to stay behind, nonetheless, he is still known as one of the most expressive composers of the Renaissance. 47, 48

Even though I wasn’t able to find any links between Victoria and his direct influence on other composers, it is stated, that his music had an impact of the development of the functional tonality and harmony as we know it today. This may be due to the well elaborated counterpoint in his pieces as well as a sense for tension which can clearly be felt in his music. 48

46 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Cantata. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 888

47 Huff, K. (2015). Demystifying the life and Madrid works of Tomás Luis de Victoria. [online]. University of Kansas, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Available at: [Accessed: 22.08.2020]

48 O’Regan, N. (2000). Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Roman Churches Revisited. [online]. Early Music. Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 403 – 418.Available at: [Accessed: 22.08.2020]

Pueri Hebraeorum

  • Composer: Tomás Luis da Victoria
  • Year of composition: 1572
  • Instruments(solo – voices): Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
  • Performed by: Schola Antiqua
  • Listened to: 22.08.2020

This short piece has creates a really warm and full atmosphere. It is really slow paced and even though the voiced move rhythmically independently, the text is clearly audible. Interestingly, there rarely seem to be any repeating patterns, but the piece nevertheless has a continuing flow and stays interesting throughout.

Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae

  • Composer: Tomás Luis da Victoria
  • Year of composition: around 1585
  • Instruments(solo – voices): Soprano I, Soprano II, Alto, Tenor, Bass
  • Performed by: Ensemlbe Plus Ultra
  • Listened to: 22.08.2020

This slow piece starts with some really slow harmonies. It is written in a polyphonic form and even though the different phrases sound very similar to one another, they all start with different voices singing the first note, which creates a welcome change. All the notes sung are held unusually long apart from a few exceptions. Nonetheless, due to the similarity of the different phrases the piece seemed really monotonous after a while.

Amicus meus osculi me

  • Composer: Tomás Luis da Victoria
  • Year of composition: 1586
  • Instruments(voices): Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
  • Performed by: The sixteen
  • Listened to: 22.08.2020

The first notes are sung by the female voices, introducing some uncertain, dramatic chords. With the entrance of the Tenor and Bass some more warmth comes to the harmonies, but the overall character still stays melancholy. Similar to the previous piece, most of the notes are rather long, although they are rhythmically less independent. Furthermore, this was the first piece, were a strong alteration of piano and forte could be noticed, supporting the tension of the piece.

Tamquam ad latronem

  • Composer: Tomás Luis da Victoria
  • Year of composition: 1586
  • Instruments(voices): Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
  • Performed by: The sixteen
  • Listened to: 22.08.2020

The piece starts with a strong chord in forte. The pace is slightly faster than it was in the previous pieces. Interestingly, between the different phrases, which don’t seem very similar to one another. Victoria put a further great focus on changes in dynamics, not only playing with the volume itself, but also with the amount of voiced involved.

Vexilla regis more hispano

  • Composer: Tomás Luis da Victoria
  • Year of composition: 1585
  • Instruments (voices): Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
  • Performed by: Schola Antiqua
  • Listened to: 22.08.2020

This piece starts with short unison cantus firmus part, introduced by just one voice, but answered by more voices. Only after that the chorus starts and the other voices can be heard as well, singing a longing, melancholic melody. After each phrase a short unison part, similar to the one at the beginning can be hear again. The ending chords always seem to be emphazised especially well, even though the rest of the piece sometimes seems slightly disorientated.