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Renaissance Music


1430 Joan of Arc leads French against English, captured by Burgundians (1430) and turned over to the English, burned at the stake as a witch after ecclesiastical trial (1431).

1450 Florence becomes center of Renaissance arts and learning under the Medicis.

Boris Godunov becomes Russian czar. Tycho Brahe describes his astronomical experiments.

Johannes de Tinctoris born. 
John Dunstable develops counterpoint in musical composition. 
Gaspar van Weerbeke, Flemish Composer, born. 
Alexander Agricola, Flemish composer, born. 
Josquin des Prez (Desprez) born, Dutch composer. 

Johannes de Tinctoris

Johannes Tinctoris (c. 1435 – 1511) was a Renaissance composer and music theorist from the Low Countries. He is known to have studied in Orléans, and to have been master of the choir there; he also may have been director of choirboys at Chartres. Because he was paid through the office of petites vicars at Cambrai Cathedral for four months in 1460, it has been speculated that he studied with Dufay, who spent the last part of his life there; certainly Tinctoris must at least have known the elder Burgundian there. Tinctoris went to Naples about 1472 and spent most of the rest of his life in Italy.


Tinctoris published many volumes of writings on music. While they are not particularly original, borrowing heavily from ancient writers (including BoethiusIsidore of Seville, and others) they give an impressively detailed record of the technical practices and procedures used by composers of the day. He wrote the first dictionary of musical terms (the Diffinitorium musices); a book on the characteristics of the musical modes; a treatise on proportions; and three books on counterpoint, which is particularly useful in charting the development of voice-leading and harmony in the transitional period between Dufay and Josquin. The writings by Tinctoris were influential on composers and other music theorists for the remainder of the Renaissance.

Johannes Tinctoris: Missa Sine Nomine - 1. Kyrie

While not much of the music of Tinctoris has survived, that which has survived shows a love for complex, smoothly flowing polyphony, as well as a liking for unusually low tessituras, occasionally descending in the bass voice to the C two octaves below middle C (showing an interesting similarity to Ockeghem in this regard). Tinctoris wrote massesmotets and a few chansons.

Tinctoris was also known as a cleric, a poet, a mathematician, and a lawyer; there is even one reference to him as an accomplished painter.

Gaspar van Weerbeke

Gaspar van Weerbeke (c. 1445 – after 1516) was a Netherlandish composer of the Renaissance. He was of the same generation as Josquin des Prez, but unique in his blending of the contemporary Italian style with the older Burgundian style of Dufay.



He was born somewhere in the diocese of Tournai, evidently out of wedlock, and was educated at Oudenaarde. While little is known of the first two decades of his life, he probably knew or studied with Johannes Regis, and he may have studied with Ockeghem; in addition it is likely he knew Dufay at the Burgundian court of Charles the Bold, since so much of his music follows in the model of the older composer. In 1471 he went to Milan, where he joined the singers of the Sforza chapel, which included Johannes MartiniAlexander Agricola, and Loyset Compère.

In 1472 and 1473 he went back north to Burgundy to find more singers for his Italian employer. Successful in his quest, he returned to Milan, and soon the Sforza chapel had one of the largest choirs in Europe. After the murder of Duke Sforza in 1476, however, the singers mostly disbanded. Weerbeke then joined the papal choir in Rome under Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII, where he remained until 1489, at which time he returned to Milan.

For the next decade Weerbeke seems to have been associated with several courts, including Milan, the court of Philip the Fair, and possibly the Medici in Florence. After 1500 he was again in Rome singing in the papal choir. The last years of his life are obscure; he may have returned to the region of his birth, for he received appointments for posts at both Cambrai and Tournai; and in addition there is a record of his possibly holding a post at St. Maria ad Gradus in Mainz in 1517.


Weerbeke combined the styles of the Italians with some of the older techniques of the Burgundians. He was almost alone among the Franco-Flemish composers in avoiding the smooth, imitative polyphonic style which was developing at the time, best exemplified by the music of Josquin des Prez.

He composed sacred music: massesmotets, motet cycles, a Magnificat setting, and a setting of the Lamentations, as well as a few secular chansons; but the bulk of his work is sacred vocal music. Attribution of the chansons is controversial, and many scholars believe them to have been composed by composers such as Josquin, or Jean Japart.

Gaspar van Meerbeke - Credo Cardinale

In style, much of his motet writing is homophonic, incorporating some of the lightness of the contemporary Italian secular music. Most of his masses are based on chanson melodies, which are stated clearly in the tenor voice, and the other voices usually move in a simple, occasionally parallel manner, related to the manner of Dufay or the other Burgundians. Once in a while Weerbeke uses imitation but never in the paired manner of Josquin or the pervasive manner of the later Franco-Flemish composers; his style of composition of masses is almost archaic in comparison to his contemporaries.

His music was much esteemed, especially in Italy, where it represented perhaps the popular aesthetic as opposed to the contrapuntal, but foreign grandeur of most of the composers from the Low Countries.


Alexander Agricola

Alexander Agricola (/əˈɡrɪkələ/; born Alexander Ackerman; 1445 or 1446 – 15 August 1506) was a Netherlandish composer of the Renaissance writing in the Franco-Flemish style. A prominent member of the Grande chapelle, the Habsburg musical establishment, he was a renowned composer in the years around 1500, and his music was widely distributed throughout Europe. He composed music in all of the important sacred and secular styles of the time.




Very little is known of Agricola's early life. He was born in Ghent, as suggested by a recently discovered epitaph, written in 1538. Most of his life he spent in posts in Italy, France and the Low Countries, though there are gaps where his activities are not known, and he seems to have left many of his posts without permission. He was a singer for Duke Sforza of Milan from 1471 to 1474, during the period when the Milanese chapel choir grew into one of the largest and most famous ensembles in Europe; Loyset CompèreJohannes MartiniGaspar van Weerbeke, and several other composer-singers were also in Milan during those years.

In 1474 Duke Sforza wrote a letter of recommendation for him to Lorenzo de' Medici, and Agricola accordingly went to Florence. In 1476 he is known to have been in Cambrai, in the Low Countries, where he probably was employed as a singer. For the long period from 1476 to 1491 nothing definite is known except that he spent part of the time in the French royal chapel, and he must have been building his reputation as a composer during this time, for he was much in demand in the 1490s, with France and Naples competing for his services. In 1500 he took a position with Philip the Handsome, who was Duke of Burgundy and King of Castile. He apparently accompanied the Duke on his travels through his empire; by this time he was one of the most esteemed composers in Europe. He was in Valladolid, Spain, in August 1506, where he died during an outbreak of the plague on 15 August of that year.

Musical style

Related schools and composers

Agricola is one of the few transitional figures between the Burgundian School and the style of the Josquin generation of Netherlanders who actually wrote music in both styles.

Agricola's style is related to that of Johannes Ockeghem, especially early in his career, and towards the end of his life he was writing using the pervasive imitation characteristic of Josquin des Prez. While few of his works can be dated precisely, he does use many of the non-imitative, complex, rhythmically diverse contrapuntal procedures more often associated with Ockeghem. Unlike Ockeghem, however, he was willing to employ repetition, sequence, and florid imitation in the manner of the other composers who were working around 1500 when the technique became widespread.


Agricola wrote massesmotetsmotet-chansons, secular songs in the prevailing formes fixes such as (rondeaux and bergerettes, other chansons), and instrumental music. Much of his instrumental music was based on secular music by Gilles Binchois or Ockeghem. Many of these pieces had become quite popular in the late 15th century.


Alexander Agricola: Fortuna Desperata

Compositional hallmarks

Above all the variants in his general musical style over his working life, Agricola himself wrote in a highly distinctive style, taking the mysteriously sinuous lines of Ockeghem as his point of departure. His music is often very busy and highly detailed, with repeated sequence, repetition of terse rhythmic and motivic units, and a desire to usurp the underlying pulse, sometimes seeming to border on the perverse, either by prolonging cadential figures to cadence on the "wrong" beat, or by shifting the metrical beat of some parts against others. As an example, the closing Agnus Dei of his unusually extended Missa 'In myne zin' features the cantus firmus stated in equal notes of eleven quavers' duration each in first statement, followed by a statement of five quavers' duration each, or in the second Salve Regina setting, offsetting part of the statement of the cantus firmus by a quaver for its entire duration, in both cases with the other voices proceeding in a more strict quadruple meter above.

Other "games" played in the music include posing puzzles of mode and musica ficta for the performers (e.g. the Kyrie of the Missa Le serviteur plays with the expectations of the very well known plainchant cantus firmus by setting up some knotty issues of the implied possibility of modal inflection with consistent extra flats.) The music is characteristically athletic in all voice parts, with the lower parts in particular featuring much that requires very fine singers, and not representing the normal simply harmonic function of the tenor-bass combinations used by most of his contemporaries. Often a highly elaborate set of quick motifs will spring unexpected from a previous slow-moving texture (e.g. the eruption of detailed duos beginning at Glorificamus te and climaxing at Adoramus te in the Gloria of the Missa in myne zin).

His music was very highly regarded in its day, the very distinctive style leading to one contemporary commentator referring to it as "crazy", and another as "sublime".


The Siege of Compiègne (1430) was Joan of Arc's final military action.

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