The Evolution of Music: Middle Ages – Baroque
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The evolution of music during the Middle Ages through the Renaissance into the Baroque period played an essential role in the music of the modern era. Each time period was unique in the style of music that is attributed to it, attesting to the political, historical and cultural developments of the eras.
The Middle Ages was a very important period of time for music. In essence, music of the Middle Ages came in two forms: music of the church and music on the battlefield. Classified as the time period of 450 A.D. – 1450 A.D., the Middle Ages saw the development of many changes where music was concerned. Music of the middle ages was characterized as a result of the spread of Christianity, the development of European culture as well as the influence of Islamic culture.
During the first half of the Middle Ages, music was found in the courts and churches all throughout Europe. The Christian and Muslim crusades changed that. Impressed by the Saracens’ use of military bands as both a means of instantly transmitting orders to distant formations the Christian knights began to copy them. The instruments utilized to accomplish this were the anafil, a straight, valveless trumpet; the tabor, a small drum, sometimes snared; and the naker, a small, round kettledrum, usually deployed in pairs (Trotter 68).
When the soldiers had completed their service time in battle and returned to Europe, they brought their instruments with them. The instruments were then absorbed into feudal armies as different soldiers adapted the music to fit their own needs. At the same time, bands were organized to accompany armies and played aboard ships or added entertainment to their tournaments, festivals and other functions (Trotter 69).
Songs and lyrics of the Middle Ages focused mainly on the rise of courtly culture and the birth of polyphony. At the same time, music of the church was of central importance to the development of music.
There is much continuity to be found in music of the Middle Ages, though the music was still very unique from that of other ages. The music is easily classified into both monophonic and polyphonic styles.
The evolution of music easily flowed into the Renaissance period. The Renaissance Period is classified as the time period from 1450 A.D. – 1600 A.D. As was the case during the Middle Ages, the historical and political setting during the Renaissance is consistent with the type of music that emerged from this time period.
Historically speaking, the Renaissance Period saw the rebirth of classical learning. There became a new emphasis on intelligence, education and the arts. As a result of this, there was a new change in the view of the world.
Politically, nations began to develop from the feudal system to the modern state. The breakaway started in Italy, which was, during the Middle Ages, the most hierarchical state. Democracy was introduced in many nations. Government began to take greater roles in influencing the people, as territories were expanded and neighborhoods developed. The ever-feuding Middle Age lower versus upper class system began to fade away, as an emerging middle class began to take interest in new developments of society (Sony Entertainment).
Musicians of the Renaissance period capsized on the growing interest in humanist learning. An appreciation and understanding of aesthetics and the arts, including music, were of priority to people and were often attributed with wealth. Musicians began to draw focus away from simply composing music for the church. The ability of large groups of people to travel worldwide was introduced, and so musical exchanges that arose from the travel led to a more international music style.
Two extremely popular instruments of the Renaissance Period were the organ and harpsichord. During the Renaissance, instrumental music was written for dances. The piano was yet to be invented (Capistrano School).
Also during the Renaissance Period, arrangements of music became more complex. Additionally, the rise and rapid spread of music printing increased as authors and composers were able to reach out to masses of people. Books about music were introduced. New instruments were developed and improved. At the same time, as territories expanded, so did the types and styles of music that emerged from this time period.
Music during the Renaissance can easily be classified into three categories: sacred music, secular music and instrumental music. Sacred music composers worked mainly with the older forms of music. However, it is in the sacred music that the focus shifted to more of international style. Composers continued to work with the older forms such as the motet and Mass. It is in this music that we find the clearest international style. Composers of secular music focused more on national trends, as was seen in the Italian madrigal and the French chanson (Sony Entertainment). Instrumental music is attributed to the rise of music printing, and strongly encouraged many amateurs to learn to perform
Of the periods of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque, the Baroque Period of 1600-1750 had the greatest overall influence on the evolution of music. The world “Baroque” by definition means highly decorated. This word was borrowed from architecture to describe the elaborate music of the day, consisting of several instrumentalists performing together.
Historically, there was an increasing importance placed on scientific investigation. Additionally, rising out of the feudal system of the Middle Ages and the introduction of state in the Renaissance was a culmination on royal deposition in the world, as a small group of leader held large amounts of power over society. At the same time, the New World was being formed and development, so musical themes began to focus on the negative ideologies of royalty and emphasized new hopes of success as colonists began to associate more strongly with their new home.
Around the world, the Baroque period became a time for dreamers. Due to this, artificiality and marvelous effect were of value to arts and music. The Baroque period was a time for experimentation. New roles for music were introduced. At the same time, culture began to take shape, as there became a growing awareness to different national styles of music, particularly in Italy, France and Germany. Not affected by the cultural developments in music, there became a full equality of instrumental music, as musicians sought to move the listener in the real way.
During this time period, there is a main focus on operatic music and music for the stage. Concert forms such as the concerto and sonata developed. There was also a strong emergency of the use of the harpsichord. As a supplement to style, Baroque music used a lot of ornamentation to draw in the listener (Capistrano School).
When compared to one another, the music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque period are very unique in their styles and themes. However, when considered as a unit, the music of these ages are merely stepping-stones to the wonderful and diverse music of modern day.
Capistrano School. “Baroque Period.” N.d.
Sony Music Enterntainment. “Eras Online”. 2001. http://www.essentialsofmusic.com.
Trotter, William. “The Music War”. Military History. June 2005. Vol. 22 Issue 3.