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Renaissance Music


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

1453 Turks conquer Constantinople, end of the Byzantine empire, beginning of the Ottoman empire.

1455 The Wars of the Roses, civil wars between rival noble factions, begin in England (to 1485). Having invented printing with movable type at Mainz, Germany, Johann Gutenberg completes first Bible.

1462 Ivan the Great rules Russia until 1505 as first czar; ends payment of tribute to Mongols.

Heinrich Isaac born; German Dutch composer. 
Franchinus Gaffurius born, Italian theorist and composer.
John Dunstable, English Composer, dies. 
Conrad Paumann, German blind organist publishes his “Fundamentum organisandi,” a collection of organ pieces, songs and dances. 
Arnolt SchlickGerman organist, lutenist and composer, born. ​
Jakob Obrecht born.
Paul Hofhaimer, Austrian composer and organist, is born. 
Gilles Binchois dies.
First printed music. 
Conrad Paumann dies. 
Guillaume Dufay dies. 

Heinrich Isaac







(b. Flanders, ca. 1450 - d. Florence, March 26, 1517)

Flemish composer.
Though he received his earliest musical training in the 
Netherlands, Isaac, like many of his contemporaries, traveled widely, absorbing the influences of different European countries and writing sacred and secular music in all forms, including masses, motets, and songs.

One of many Flemish musicians recruited by the Medici, he served from 1485 to 1493 as a singer at the baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence, and became a valued member of the circle of artists and musicians assembled by Lorenzo the Magnificent. In 1496, shortly after the Medici were banished from Florence, Isaac found a new patron in Emperor Maximilian I, and in 1497 he was installed as court composer at Maximilian’s newly established chapel in Vienna. In 1515, he returned to Florence, where he
spent the remaining years of his life, continuing to draw his imperial salary and to enjoy the favor of the Medici.


Isaac’s oeuvre is remarkably large and varied and includes many stunningly inventive mass settings, for four, five, and six voices. He wrote 36 mass cycles that have survived. In 1508, he was contracted by the cathedral of Konstanz to compose a cycle of polyphonic Mass Propers for the year. This project, which occupied him for much of the rest of his life, eventually resulted in a collection of 99 settings, most of them for four voices, published between 1550 and 1555 in Nuremberg as the Choralis Constan-tinus. Isaac is also remembered for his many songs, in a variety of languages, including “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen,” which was later given a sacred text and became “O welt, ich muss dich lassen.”

Jacob Obrecht

Jacob Obrecht (also Hobrecht; 1457/8 – late July 1505) was a Low Countries (greater Netherlands) composer of Low Countries Renaissance music. He was the most famous composer of masses in Europe in the late 15th century, being eclipsed by only Josquin des Prez after his death.



What little is known of Obrecht's origins and early childhood comes mostly from his motet Mille quingentis. He was the only son of Ghent city trumpeter Willem Obrecht and Lijsbette Gheeraerts. His mother died in 1460 at the age of 20, and his father in 1488 in Ghent.

Details of his early education are sparse, but he probably learned to play the trumpet, like his father, and in so doing learned counterpoint and how to improvise over a cantus firmus. He is likely to have known Antoine Busnois at the Burgundian court, and certainly knew his music, since Obrecht's earliest mass shows close stylistic parallels with the elder composer.

Scholar, composer and clergyman, Obrecht seems to have had a succession of short appointments, two of which ended in less than ideal circumstances. There is a record of his compensating for a shortfall in his accounts by donating choirbooks he had copied. Throughout the period he was held in the highest esteem both by his patrons and by his fellow composers. Tinctoris, writing in Naples, singles him out in a shortlist of contemporary master composers—all the more significant because he was only 25 when Tinctoris created his list, and on the other side of Europe. Erasmus served as one of Obrecht's choirboys around 1476.

While most of Obrecht's appointments were in Flanders in the Low Countries, he made at least two trips to Italy, once in 1487 at the invitation of Duke Ercole d'Este I of Ferrara, and again in 1504. Ercole had heard Obrecht's music, which is known to have circulated in Italy between 1484 and 1487, and said that he appreciated it above the music of all other contemporary composers; consequently he invited Obrecht to Ferrara for six months in 1487. In 1504 Obrecht returned to Ferrara, but on the death of the Duke at the beginning of the next year he became unemployed. In what capacity he stayed in Ferrara is unknown, but he died in the outbreak of plague there just before 1 August 1505.


Obrecht wrote mainly sacred music—masses and motets[26]—and he also wrote some chansons.

Combining modern and archaic elements, Obrecht's style is multi-dimensional. Perhaps more than those of the mature Josquin, the masses of Obrecht display a profound debt to the music of Johannes Ockeghem in the wide-arching melodies and long musical phrases that typify the latter's music. Obrecht's style is an example of the contrapuntal extravagance of the late 15th century. He often used a cantus firmus technique for his masses: sometimes he divided his source material up into short phrases; at other times he used retrograde versions of complete melodies or melodic fragments. He once even extracted the component notes and ordered them by note value, long to short, constructing new melodic material from the reordered sequences of notes. Clearly to Obrecht there could not be too much variety, particularly during the musically exploratory period of his early twenties. He began to break free from conformity to formes fixes, especially in his chansons. Of the formes fixes, the rondeau retained its popularity longest. However, he much preferred composing Masses, where he found greater freedom. Furthermore, his motets reveal a wide variety of moods and techniques.

In his Missa Sub tuum presidium, the number of voice parts in the five movements increases from three in the Kyrie, to four in the Gloria, and so on up to seven in the Agnus Dei. The title chant is clearly heard in the top voice throughout the work, and five additional Marian chants are found in movements other than the Kyrie. His late four-voice mass, Missa Maria zart (tender Maria), tentatively dated to around 1504, is based on a devotional song popular in the Tyrol, which he probably heard as he went through the region around 1503 to 1504. Requiring more than an hour to perform, it is one of the longest polyphonic settings of the Mass Ordinary ever written.


Despite working at the same period, Obrecht and Ockeghem (Obrecht's senior by some 30 years) differ significantly in musical style. Obrecht does not share Ockeghem's fanciful treatment of the cantus firmus but chooses to quote it verbatim. Whereas the phrases in Ockeghem's music are ambiguously defined, those of Obrecht's music can easily be distinguished, though both composers favor wide-arching melodic structure. Furthermore, Obrecht splices the cantus firmus melody with the intent of audibly reorganizing the motives; Ockeghem, on the other hand, does this far less.

Obrecht's procedures contrast sharply with the works of the next generation, who favored an increasing simplicity of approach (prefigured by some works of his contemporary Josquin). Although he was renowned in his time, Obrecht appears to have had little influence on subsequent composers; most probably, he simply went out of fashion along with the other contrapuntal masters of his generation.


Paul Hofhaimer

Paul Hofhaimer (January 25, 1459 – 1537) was an Austrian organist and composer. He was particularly gifted at improvisation, and was regarded as the finest organist of his age by many writers, including Vadian and Paracelsus; in addition he was one of only two German-speaking composers of the time (Heinrich Isaac was the other) who had a reputation in Europe outside of German-speaking countries. He is grouped among the composers known as the Colorists.





He was born in Radstadt, near Salzburg. Sources are somewhat contradictory on his early life, with Vadian asserting that he was self-taught, and the Nuremberg humanist Konrad Celtis saying that he acquired his technique at the court of Emperor Frederick III. Hofhaimer went to Innsbruck in 1478, and so impressed Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol that he was given a lifetime appointment as court organist in 1480. He almost certainly knew Heinrich Isaac well while he was in Innsbruck, since Isaac became court composer there later that decade.

In 1489 he began serving Maximilian I as organist, but he did this in addition to his Innsbruck service. In 1498, after several years of travel, during which time he visited the Saxon court of Elector Frederick the Wise, he moved to Passau, and in 1507 he moved to Augsburg, where he could be closer to Maximilian. Maximilian and the king of Poland made him a knight and nobleman in 1515, conferring on him the title of "First Organist to the Emperor". Hofhaimer's last move was to Salzburg, where he remained as organist at Salzburg Cathedral until his death.

          Paul Hofhaimer on a wagon with 
positive organ


Music and influence

Hofhaimer was a spectacularly gifted improviser, and witnesses attested to his unequaled gift; he could play for hours, never repeating himself: "one would wonder not so much how the ocean gets all the water with which to feed the rivers, but how this man gets the ideas for all his melodies." Not only was he a performing musician, though, he was the teacher of an entire generation of German organists: and the famous school of German organists of the Baroque era can trace much of its lineage to Hofhaimer. In addition, some of the organists he trained went on to Italy, for example Dionisio Memno, who became organist at St. Mark's in Venice, and there passed on technique learned from Hofhaimer to the organists who were part of the early Venetian school.


Salve Regina

While he was most prolific as a composer for organ, little of that music has survived in its original form. Most of the surviving works are either German songs in three or four voices, or arrangements (intabulations) of them for either keyboard or lute. The large quantity of surviving copies of his songs from different locations in Europe, usually in arrangements, attests to their popularity. The handful of pieces for organ which have survived show Hofhaimer's gift for composing polyphonic lines around a cantus firmus.


His German lieder are typical of the time, and usually in bar form, with one section being polyphonic and the other being more chordal. He rarely used the smooth polyphonic texture then being cultivated by the Franco-Flemish composers such as Josquin or Gombert, a style he probably first encountered in Innsbruck with the music of Isaac.

Hofhaimer was also well known as an organ consultant, and frequently advised on the building and maintenance of organs.


Franchinus Gaffurius 

Franchinus Gaffurius (Franchino Gaffurio; 14 January 1451 – 25 June 1522) was an Italian music theorist and composer of the Renaissance. He was an almost exact contemporary of Josquin des Prez and Leonardo da Vinci, both of whom were his personal friends.[citation needed] He was one of the most famous musicians in Italy in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.




He was born in Lodi to an aristocratic family. Early in life he entered a Benedictine monastery, where he acquired his early musical training; later he became a priest. Later he lived in Mantua and Verona before settling in Milan as the maestro di cappella at the cathedral there, a position which he accepted in January 1484.

During the previous decade the Sforza family, using the composer Gaspar van Weerbeke as a recruiter, had built the choir at their chapel in Milan into one of the largest and most distinguished musical ensembles in Europe: composer-singers such as Alexander AgricolaLoyset Compère and Johannes Martini had all been employed there. While the membership of the choir at the Milan cathedral was mostly Italian, the cross-influence between his choir and the group at the Sforza chapel was significant. Gaffurius retained the post at the cathedral for the rest of his life, and it was in Milan that he knew both Josquin des Prez and Leonardo da Vinci.


Gaffurius was widely read, and showed a strong humanist bent. In addition to having a thorough understanding of contemporary musical practice, he met composers from all over Europe, since he had the good fortune to be living and working at one of the centers of activity for the incoming Netherlanders. His books have a pedagogical intent, and provide a young composer with all the techniques necessary to learn his art.

The major treatises of his years in Milan are three: Theorica musicae (1492), Practica musicae (1496), and De harmonia musicorum instrumentorum opus (1518). The second of these, the Practica musicae, is the most thorough, proceeding through subjects as diverse as ancient Greek notation, plainchantmensurationcounterpoint, and tempo. One of his most famous comments is that the tactus, the tempo of a semibreve, is equal to the pulse of a man who is breathing quietly—presumably about 72 beats per minute.


Gaffurius wrote massesmotets, settings of the Magnificat, and hymns, mainly during his Milan years. Some of the motets were written for ceremonial occasions for his ducal employer; many of the masses show the influence of Josquin, and all are in flowing Netherlandish polyphony, though with an admixture of Italian lightness and melody. His music was collected in four codices under his own direction.



Heinrich Isaac - Un dì lieto giammai (Lorenzo de' Medici)

Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo da Vinci, possibly Franchinus Gaffurius.

Franchino Gaffurio: Kyrie 

Missa Maria Zart - Kyrie

Beata es, Maria

Arnolt Schlick

Arnolt Schlick (July 18?, c. 1455–1460 – after 1521) was a German organist, lutenist and composer of the Renaissance. He is grouped among the composers known as the Colorists. He was most probably born in Heidelberg and by 1482 established himself as court organist for the Electorate of the Palatinate. Highly regarded by his superiors and colleagues alike, Schlick played at important historical events, such as the election of Maximilian I as King of the Romans, and was widely sought after as organ consultant throughout his career. The last known references to him are from 1521; the circumstances of his death are unknown.

Schlick was blind for much of his life, possibly from birth. However, that did not stop him from publishing his work. He is best known for Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten (1511), the first German treatise on building and playing organs. This work, highly influential during the 16th century, was republished in 1869 and is regarded today as one of the most important books of its kind. Schlick's surviving compositions include Tabulaturen etlicher lobgesang (1512), a collection of organ and lute music, and a few pieces in manuscript. The lute pieces—mostly settings of popular songs—are among the earliest published; but Schlick's organ music is even more historically important. It features sophisticated cantus firmus techniques, multiple truly independent lines (up to five—and, in one case, ten—voices), and extensive use of imitation. Thus, it predates the advances of Baroque music by about a hundred years, making Schlick one of the most important composers in the history of keyboard music.


Arnolt Schlick - Maria zart (Organ Tabulature)

Ivan III tearing the khan's letter to pieces

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