top of page

Renaissance Music


1492 Moors conquered in Spain by troops of Ferdinand and Isabella. Columbus becomes first European to encounter Caribbean islands, returns to Spain (1493). Second voyage to Dominica, Jamaica, Puerto Rico (1493–1496). Third voyage to Orinoco (1498). Fourth voyage to Honduras and Panama (1502–1504).

1497 Vasco da Gama sails around Africa and discovers sea route to India (1498). Establishes Portuguese colony in India (1502). John Cabot, employed by England, reaches and explores Canadian coast. 
Michelangelo's Bacchus  sculpture.

Johannes de Tinctoris: “De inventione et usu musicase”.
Clement Janequin, French composer, is born. 
c. 1486 
Ludwig Senfl born, Swiss German ccomposer. 
c. 1490
Adrian Willaert born, Netherlandish ccomposer. 
Ballet begins at Italian courts. 
“Opera,” treatise on theory of music by Roman philosopher Boethius published in Venice. 
Antoine Busnois, French-Flemish composer dies ( birthdate unknown) 
Maximilian I makes Paul Hofhaimer court organist and Heinrich Isaak court composer. 
Jean Mauburnus: ”Rosetum exercitarium spiritualium” the first systematic study of musical instruments. 

Jan Mombaer also known as Johannes Mauburnus (1460, Brussels – 1501 Paris) was a Christian monk who composed hymns and was part of the devotio moderna movement. Mombaer is best known for his Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium et sacrarum meditationum (Rose-garden of spiritual exercises and sacred meditations).
Johannes Ockeghem, Flemish composer dies. 
Lupus Hellinck, Flemish composer, born
Josquin des Prez, appointed arganist and choirmaster at Cambrai Cathedral. 
John Taverne is born, English composer. 
Franchinus Gaffurius, "Practica Musica" treatise on composition. 
Johann Walter is born. 
University of Oxford institutes degress in music.


Clement Janequin

Clément Janequin (c. 1485 – 1558) was a French composer of the Renaissance. He was one of the most famous composers of popular chansons of the entire  Renaissance, and along with Claudin de Sermisy, was hugely influential in the development of the Parisian chanson, especially the programmatic type. The wide spread of his fame was made possible by the concurrent development of music printing.



Janequin was born in ChâtelleraultVienne, near Poitiers, though no documents survive which establish any details of his early life or training. His career was highly unusual for his time, in that he never had a regular position with a cathedral or an aristocratic court. Instead he held a series of minor positions, often with important patronage. In 1505 he was employed as a clerk in Bordeaux, to Lancelot du Fau, who eventually became Bishop of Luçon; he retained this position until du Fau's death in 1523, at which time he took a position with the Bishop of Bordeaux. Around this time he became a priest, though his appointments were rarely lucrative; indeed he always complained about money.

After 1530 Janequin held a succession of posts in Anjou, beginning as a singing teacher to the choirboys at the cathedral at Auch, and progressing to maître de chapelle at the singing school at Angers Cathedral. Around this time he attracted the attention of Jean de Guise, the patron of ErasmusClément Marot, and Rabelais; it was a welcome career boost, and, in 1548, with the additional assistance of Charles de Ronsard (the brother of poet Pierre de Ronsard), he became curate at Unverre, not far from Chartres. During this time he lived in Paris. By 1555 he was listed as a "singer ordinary" of the king's chapel, and shortly thereafter became "composer ordinary" to the king: only one composer (Sandrin, also known as Pierre Regnault) had previously had this title. In his will, dated January 1558, he left a small estate to charity, and he complained again of age and poverty in a dedication to a work published posthumously in 1559. He died in Paris.

Music and influence

Few composers of the Renaissance were more popular in their lifetimes than Janequin. His chansons were well-loved and widely sung. The Paris printer Pierre Attaingnant printed five volumes with his chansons. La bataille, which vividly depicts the sounds and activity of a battle, is a perennial favorite of a cappella singing groups even in the present day.

Janequin wrote very little liturgical music: only two masses and a single motet are attributed to him, though more may have been lost. His 250 secular chansons and his (over 80) psalm settings and chansons spirituelles — the French equivalent of the Italian madrigale spirituale — were his primary legacy.


The programmatic chansons for which Janequin is famous were long, sectional pieces, and usually cleverly imitated natural or man-made sounds. Le chant des oiseaux imitates bird-calls; La chasse the sounds of a hunt; and La bataille (Escoutez tous gentilz), probably the most famous, and almost certainly written to celebrate the French victory over the Swiss Confederates at the Battle of Marignano in 1515, imitates battle noises, including trumpet calls, cannon fire and the cries of the wounded Onomatopoeic effects such as these became a commonplace in later 16th century music, and carried over into the Baroque era; indeed "battle music" was to become a cliché, but it first came into prominence with Janequin.

In addition to the programmatic chansons for which he is most famous, he also wrote short and refined compositions more in the style of Claudin de Sermisy. For these he set texts by some of the prominent poets of the time, including Clément Marot. Late in his life he wrote the Psalm settings based on Genevan tunes. Since there is no documentary evidence, the question of whether he sympathized with the Protestants remains unanswered.

John Taverner






(b. South Lincolnshire, ca. 1490; d. Boston, October 18, 1545)

English composer.
He is first mentioned in 1524 in the archives of the collegiate church at Tattershall, Lincolnshire, as a member of the choir. In 1526 he moved to Oxford to serve as first instructor of the choristers at Cardinal College, founded by Henry VIITs chief adviser, Cardinal Wolsey. In 1530, following Wolsey’s fall from power, Taverner returned to
Lincolnshire to work as a singer at the church of St. Botolph in Boston, which supported a choir of substantial size and probably paid him handsomely. Indeed, Taverner was well enough off that when spending on the church’s choir was curtailed in the mid-1530s, he was able to retire and live comfortably. Toward the end of his life he served as one of Boston’s 12 town aldermen.

It is likely that most of Taverner’s church music—mainly settings of the Mass and the Magnificat, large-scale votive antiphons, and shorter liturgical pieces—was composed during 1520-30, when elaborate polyphonic settings of the liturgy still had a prominent place in the English church. Taverner wrote masses in six, five, and four voices; of these the most splendid are the six-voice Missa Corona spinea and Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, and the four-voice The Western Wind, based on a secular tune.

"Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas"

Ludwig Senfl

Ludwig Senfl (born around 1486, died between December 2, 1542 and August 10, 1543) was a Swiss composer of the Renaissance, active in Germany. He was the most famous pupil of Heinrich Isaac, was music director to the court of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and was an influential figure in the development of the Franco-Flemish polyphonic style in Germany.




Senfl was probably born in Basel around 1486, and lived in Zürich from 1488 until 1496, when he joined the choir of the Hofkapelle of Emperor Maximilian I in Augsburg. Apart from one brief visit in 1504 he appears never again to have lived in Switzerland.

In 1497 he followed the Hofkapelle to Vienna, and between 1500 and 1504 he probably studied in Vienna for three years, the standard practice for choirboys whose voices had broken, as part of the normal training for the priesthood. During this period he studied with Heinrich Isaac, serving as his copyist by 1509; he is known to have copied much of the older composer's Choralis Constantinus, an enormous work which he was later to complete after Isaac's death.

After a trip to Italy sometime between 1508 and 1510, Senfl returned to the Hofkapelle; the Emperor appointed him to fill Isaac's position as court composer when Isaac died in 1517. In 1518 Senfl lost a toe in a hunting accident; evidently the injury disabled him for up to a year. When the Emperor died in 1519, Senfl was out of a job, and his circumstances altered for the worse: Charles V dismissed most of Maximilian's musicians, and even refused to pay Senfl the annual stipend which had been promised to him in the event of the emperor's death. During the next few years he traveled widely, mainly job-seeking, but he was also active as a composer. He is known to have attended the Diet of Worms in 1521, and, while he never officially became a Protestant, his sympathies evidently were with Luther, and he was later examined by the Inquisition and voluntarily gave up his priesthood. Senfl carried on an extensive correspondence both with Lutheran Duke Albrecht of Prussia and with Martin Luther himself, beginning in 1530.

Eventually Senfl acquired a post in Munich, a place which had high musical standards, a strong need for new music, and which was relatively tolerant of those with Protestant sympathies; he was to remain there for the rest of his life. By 1540 he was ill, judging from his correspondence with Duke Albrecht, and he probably died in early 1543.

Music and influence

Senfl was an eclectic composer, at home both in the worlds of sacred and secular music, and he modeled his style carefully on models provided by the Franco-Flemish composers of the previous generation, especially Josquin. In particular, he was a gifted melodist, and his lines are warmly lyrical; his music remained popular and influential in Germany through the 17th century.

Ludwig Senfl: Ave Maria​

His sacred music includes massesmotetsvespers settings, and a Magnificat. Technically his music has many archaic features, such as the use of cantus firmus technique, which was more in vogue in the 15th century; he even occasionally employs isorhythm. However he also has a typically Germanic liking for singable melodic passages in parallel imperfect intervals (3rds and 6ths).

Senfl also wrote numerous German lieder, most of them secular (the handful on sacred texts were written for Duke Albrecht of Prussia). They vary widely in character, from extremely simple settings of a cantus firmus to contrapuntal tours-de-force such as elaborate canons and quodlibets.

Johann Walter

Johann Walter, also known as Johann Walther or Johannes Walter (original name: Johann Blankenmüller) (1496 – 25 March 1570) was a Lutheran composer and poet during the Reformation period.



Walter was born in Kahla, in present-day Thuringia in 1496. According to a document filed with his will, he was born with the surname of Blanckenmüller, but adopted out of poverty by a citizen of Kahla, and given an education at Kahla and Rochlitz under his new name, Johann Walter. He began his career as a composer and bass cantor in the chapel of Frederick the Wise at the age of 21. It was a position he would hold until Frederick’s death in 1525. By this time, he was the director of the chapel and had become an outspoken musical spokesman for Lutherans. Walter edited the first Protestant hymnal for choir, Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, in Wittenberg in 1524, with a foreword by Martin Luther himself; and for the German-language Deutsche Messe produced in 1527.

Following the conclusion of his appointment to Frederick’s chapel, Walter became cantor for the Torgau town choir in 1525, a post he would hold until 1548 when he was named court composer for Moritz, Duke of Saxony in Dresden.

While in Dresden, Walter composed a responsorial Passion in German. In earlier musical versions of the Passion story the entire narrative was a succession of polyphonic motets, but Walter used a monophonic reciting tone for the Evangelist and dramatis personae, reserving for the people and disciples simple falsobordone (chordal) polyphony.

Walter did not remain in Dresden very long, and by 1554 he had accepted a pension from the duke and returned to Torgau, where he remained for the rest of his life. He died on 25 March 1570. The asteroid 120481 Johannwalter is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as a musician on April 24.

Musical works

Walter wrote his motets and lieder, often of high quality, in two distinct styles. For the first style he employed a polyphonic manner derived from the Franco-Flemish school, in particular showing the influence of Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac. In the tenor voice of these compositions was a cantus firmus sounding as an unbroken succession of sustained notes or as a melody fragmented into short sections separated by rests. Above and below the cantus firmus were counterpoints that sometimes imitated the tenor but more often moved independently of it. In either case the melodic flow of four or more voices avoided simultaneous rests.

For the second style Walter rejected imitative or independent voice-leading for chorale writing in which each fragment of the cantus firmus rested simultaneously with the other parts. In a few such cases he placed the borrowed tune in the top voice, thereby inaugurating the favorite manner of chorale setting of the succeeding two centuries.


Adrian Willaert




(h. Bruges, ca. 1490; d. Venice, D ecember 17, 1562)

Netherlandish composer, active mainly in Italy. He probably studied with Jean Mouton in Paris, and he may have been present in Rome ca. 1514-15. His first known post was in Ferrara, as a singer in the retinue of Cardinal Ippolito I d’Este. When Ippolito was assigned to a new see in Hungary, Willaert went with him; he spent a couple of years in Esztergom before returning to Ferrara. Following the cardinal’s death in 1520, Willaert joined the staff of Duke Alfonso d’Este, the cardinal’s brother. In 1527 he was appointed maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s in Venice, a post he retained to the end of his life.

Willaert was an important composer of motets and madrigals, and his works in these genres exerted an influence on numerous composers, including Cipriano de Rore (ca. 1515-65; his student), Lassus, and Monteverdi. At present, about 175 motets and 56 madrigals can be securely attributed to him. Most of the motets were published in Venice during Willaert’s lifetime, appearing in two books of four-voice settings (1539), one book of five-voice settings (1539), one of six-voice settings (1542), and in a final collection, Musica nova (1559), which contains some of Willaert’s lengthier motet settings as well his finest madrigals. Nearly all of the 25 madrigals included in Musica nova (written around 1540, thus not really “new”) are settings of complete sonnets of Petrarch. The works adhere closely to the sonnets’ verse structure and show great virtuosity both in their treatment of word groupings and their projection of the poetic imagery— though their most striking feature is their continuous, densely woven contrapuntal texture. In addition to these works, about a dozen masses survive, along with several dozen psalm settings, numerous chansons, and a few instrumental pieces.

Willaert enjoyed a posthumous reputation second to none in his generation. Even 40 years after his death, Monteverdi, pushing musical style in an entirely new direction, acknowledged him as a paragon of what he called the prima prattica.

Lupus Hellinck

Lupus Hellinck (also Wulfaert) (1493 or 1494 – c. 14 January 1541) was a Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was a prominent composer of masses, as well as German chorales and motets. Although he was a Roman Catholic all of his life, his music shows evidence of sympathy for the Protestant Reformation, and three of his motets—including a famous setting of In te domine speravi—were probably inspired by the prison writings of the martyred reformer Girolamo Savonarola.


Hellinck was probably born in Axel. Little else is known about him until he appears as a choirboy in Bruges at St. Donatian on 24 March 1506. He left in 1511 to go to school, returning to St. Donatian in 1513 as a cleric, where he stayed until 1515.

Until recently, nothing was known of his activities for the next four years, but in 1989 some records from the Vatican archives were published that showed that he spent this time in Rome. One of these documents, dated April 1518, gave his age as 24, which gives a birth date of 1493 or 1494. During this time he was a member of the household of Pope Leo X, and around 1518 he was ordained as a priest. A further confusion, not definitively solved, is that music theorist and writer Vincenzo Galilei, father of the astronomer, included a "Lupus" from northern Europe in a list of distinguished musicians in the 1513 court of Leo X; however, Vincenzo was writing several decades later.

By June 1518 Hellinck was probably in Ferrara, in the employ of Sigismondo d'Este (that this was the same "Lupus" has been disputed, but scholarly consensus is emerging that both composers named Lupus were the same); about a year later he returned to the Low Countries, and by October 1519 was back in Bruges, where he was again employed at St. Donatian. In 1521 he became a succentor at the nearby Church of Our Lady, and he returned again to St. Donatian in 1523 to serve in the same position there.

Hellinck seems to have remained in Bruges for the rest of his life. One event which is recorded gives an indication of his attitude towards the Protestant Reformation: his participation, in 1539, in a dramatic competition at Ghent, in a production of a play which was later placed by the Catholic Church on the Index of banned books. Along with his widely distributed setting of In te domine speravi, and his two settings of the Miserere (Psalm 6 and Psalm 50, respectively), all of which have been seen as tributes to the executed reformer Savonarola, this indicates his sympathy, if not his active participation in the movement for ecclesiastical reform.

Music and influence

Hellinck wrote massesmotets, German chorales, French chansons, and songs in Dutch. All of his masses use the parody technique, and many are derived from his own motets. Stylistically they are contrapuntal and highly unified, with many passages repeated in whole or part. Contrasting homophonic sections appear: for example, the passage et incarnatus est is usually set in slow-moving chords, a dramatically effective procedure also used by Josquin des Prez, as in his Missa Pange Lingua. Hellinck's closing "Agnus Dei" sections are usually made up of material heard earlier in the mass, unifying the entire composition thematically in a way which foreshadowed compositional procedures hundreds of years later.

Hellinck's motets have attracted scholarly attention in modern times because of their possible relation to the writings of Savonarola. Hellinck spent time in Ferrara, the birthplace of the reformer, in the Este court where Savonarola was still highly regarded, and where criticism of the papal establishment was possible, at least in guarded ways. While in prison, after being tortured on the rack, and within several days of his execution, Savonarola wrote two impassioned meditations on the psalms, Infelix ego and Tristitia obsedit me (on psalm 50 and 30, respectively); these texts became favorites of composers for motets during the 16th century, especially in regions distant from Rome or actively involved in the Reformation. However, prior to these texts actually being used in compositions verbatim, composers alluded to them in hidden ways: such is the case in Hellinck's motets based on psalms 30 and 50, as it was in Josquin's own famous setting of the Miserere.

Lupus Hellinck - Christ lag in Todesbanden


The three of Hellinck's motets which were Savonarola-inspired were all likely written in Ferrara. In te domine speravi most likely dates from 1518 or 1519, although it may have been written shortly after his return to Bruges. The first of two settings of the Miserere, Miserere mei deus, based on a collection of diverse psalm verses and stylistically reminiscent of Josquin's Miserere setting, exists in an Italian source copied around 1520, and thus was probably composed in Ferrara. The other, Miserere mei domine, is based on Psalm 6, and again is reminiscent of Josquin's setting, which itself was composed in Ferrara two decades earlier.

Later in his life Hellinck wrote 11 German chorale settings in a motet style. The chorale tune is in the tenor, but differs little from the other voices rhythmically. The existence of these pieces also testifies to his support for the Protestant Reformation



A possible likeness of John Taverner in an ornamental capital E from the Forrest-Heyther partbooks, c. 1520, shown with speech scroll inscribed in Latin: 
Joh(ann)es Tavern(er)

Adrian Willaert - 'O magnum mysterium'. 

Janequin - Le Chant Des Oyseaux


Bacchus (1496–1497) is a marble sculpture by the Italian High Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo.

bottom of page