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Renaissance Music



1501 First black slaves in America brought to Spanish colony of Santo Domingo.

c. 1503 Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa
1504 Michelangelo sculpts the David.

1506 St. Peter's Church started in Rome; designed and decorated by such artists and architects as Bramante, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, and Bernini before its completion in 1626.

1509 Henry VIII ascends English throne. Michelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Ottavio de Petrucci of Venice prints music with movable types. 
Ottaviano Petrucci (466 – 1539 ) was an Italian printer.

First Book of Masses by Josquin des Prez published by Ottaviano de Petrucci. 
Francesco di Bernardo Corteccia, Italian organist and composer born. 
Jakob Obrecht, Dutch composer, dies. 
Thomas Tallis, English composer, born. 
Matheus Le Maistre, Walloon composer born 

Andrea Amati, founder of the Italian family of violin makers, born.

Andrea Amati
Antonio Amati
Girolamo Amati
Nicolò Amati
Girolamo Amati (Hieronymus II)

Alexander Agricola, Flemish composer, dies. 
Balint Bakfark, Hungarian - Polish composer and lutanist, born. 
Jacob Arcadelt, Franco-Flemish composer born.

Francesco Corteccia

Francesco Corteccia (July 27, 1502 – June 7, 1571) was an Italian composer, organist, and teacher of the Renaissance. Not only was he one of the best known of the early composers of madrigals, and an important native Italian composer during a period of domination by composers from the Low Countries, but he was the most prominent musician in Florence for several decades during the reign of Cosimo I de' Medici.



He was born in Florence. By 1515 he was a choirboy and was enrolled in the cathedral school; around this time he probably studied organ with Bartolomeo degli Organi, and composition with Bernardo Pisano. On October 22, 1527, he became chaplain at the baptistry, and in 1531 entered indirectly into the employ of the Medici as both chaplain and organist at the church of San Lorenzo, the Medici family church. From 1535 to 1539 he was organist at San Lorenzo, and from 1540 until his death was maestro di cappella to the court of the Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de' Medici.

During his long tenure as maestro di cappella to the Medici, he gradually rose in position and prominence in Florence. In the chapel, he was successively chaplain, supernumerary canon, and canon; and in addition he held auxiliary positions such as chamberlain and archivist. In the 1560s he was replaced by Alessandro Striggio as the composer for most of the sumptuous musical productions of the Medici court, but he retained the position of maestro di cappella. Corteccia died in Florence in 1571, at the beginning of a period of musical decline at the Medici court.


The court of the Medici was one of the most opulent in Europe, and the Florentine family was keenly aware of their status and prestige, as shown by the artistic creations they inspired, ordered, or bought. Corteccia served the Medici for most of his life, and helped create some of the Medici's most elaborate entertainments. Later composers for the Medici, such as Alessandro Striggio, continued in the same vein, creating some of the largest and most extravagant polyphonic compositions of the entire era.

Corteccia wrote most of his music relatively early in his career; his production peaked in the early 1540s. His music is both sacred and secular, and much of it, unusually for a composer prior to the birth of opera, is specifically for the stage. He was also atypical among the first generation of madrigal composers in that he had a complete published collection of his music dedicated only to him: his First Book of Madrigals for Four Voices, published in Venice in 1544. Some of his madrigals differ from the usual vocal music of the time in having specifically indicated instrumental accompaniment, a result of being composed for theatrical occasions.

Francesco Corteccia - Ingredere for 2 Choirs

Sacred music


Corteccia's sacred music includes settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah (lost), hymns, and many motets. While he wrote most of this music early in his career, the bulk of it was not published until 1570 and 1571, in Venice, possibly due to the lack of publishing capacity in Florence prior to that time. Corteccia wrote a letter for the dedication of the several volumes of motets, and in it indicated that he had been working on them and refining them for 30 years. Many of the modifications he made were in keeping with the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent.

The hymn settings are mostly in responsory format, i.e. a verse is sung in plainchant, the next in polyphony, and then the formula repeats. Corteccia varies the texture in the polyphonic sections from strict imitation to free counterpoint, with occasional homophonic interludes, providing variety.

Intermedii and madrigals

As court composer to Cosimo de' Medici, Corteccia was required to write music, often intermedii, for various lavish court entertainments and spectacles, which often included weddings. Intermedii were sung interludes between acts of plays, with the most elaborate being those performed for state occasions. Often these interludes consisted of groups of madrigals, related to the subject matter of the play; in that they are staged, sung, and part of a dramatic production, they are seen as one of the predecessors of opera. One such intermedio by Corteccia was the set of seven madrigals he wrote for the wedding in June 1539 of Duke Cosimo to Eleonora di Toledo, descriptions of which survive in some detail. These madrigals, which were written for the play Il commodo by Antonio Landi, were sung in costume, with the singers playing nymphs, shepherds, mermaids, sea nymphs, and sea monsters (the three sea nymphs played flutes; the sea monsters, lutes). The entire performance was elaborately orchestrated, with the singers variously accompanied by harpsichord, nightingale stop on the organ, bass viol, cornett, crumhorns, flutes, violin, violone, and a quartet of trombones; during the finale, 20 bacchantes, mostly drunk and consisting of ladies and satyrs, were to come on stage singing and playing pipe, tabor, violin, harp, cornetts, crumhorns, and tambourine, and the performance closed with entrance and song by the personification of Night, accompanied by four trombones. The madrigals are also notable in that four of them, every alternate one, were the first in note nere rapid style.

The 1539 performance was one of many, but was one for which a detailed description survived. He also wrote, for example, a set of five madrigals in four voices to be performed between the acts of Francesco d'Ambra's comedy Il furto in 1544. Many of his madrigals are lost, but another surviving set, from 1565, was written in collaboration with Alessandro Striggio. In this set each composer contributed three madrigals; once again it was for a Medici wedding, and like the previous, was designed for performance between the acts of a play by d'Ambra. Many of his published madrigals, for four to six voices, give no hint in the score of the extravagance of their original premières. They are full of textural contrast, as befits their dramatic origin. His earlier work shows the influence of the frottola, and often his style mimics Arcadelt's. The madrigals he wrote for the Medici weddings are often in a note nere, i.e. "black note" style: choppy rhythms, quick note values, sudden textural contrasts; in addition, they were usually designed for instrumental accompaniment, and consequently the soprano and bass lines often stand out. In this they foreshadow the development of monody by the Florentine Camerata later in the century.




Bálint Bakfark

Bálint Bakfark (Hungarian: [ˈbaːlint ˈbɒkfɒrk]; also Valentin Bakfark, his name is variously spelled as Bacfarc, Bakfarc, Bakfarkh, Bakffark, Backuart) (1507 – 15 or 22 August 1576) was a Hungarian and Polish composer of Saxon origin,and lutenist of the Renaissance. He was enormously influential as a lutenist in his time, and renowned as a virtuoso on the instrument.


He was born in Braşov (Brassó), Transylvania (nowadays in Romania), into a family of German (Saxon) origin. An orphan, he was brought up by the Greff family and was educated in Buda at the court of John Zápolya. Bakfark remained there until 1540, though he possibly traveled to Italy once during this time.

Sometime in the 1540s he traveled to Paris, but, finding the position of lutenist to the king filled, he left for Jagiellon Poland in 1549, where he was employed as a court lutenist by Sigismund Augustus II. From then until 1566, he traveled extensively around Europe, with his renown increasing, but remained faithful to his employer in spite of numerous efforts by other monarchs to win him away; the riches bestowed on him by Sigismund may have affected his decision to remain attached to the court in Vilnius (Wilno).

What happened to him in 1566 is not precisely known, but he clearly did something to provoke the wrath of the king, and scarcely had time to flee before Polish army troops ransacked his house and destroyed his possessions. After this, he lived for a while in Vienna and then returned to Transylvania, but not for long; in 1571 he moved to Padua in Italy, where he remained until his death during the plague of 1576.

As was common practice at the time, all the possessions of plague victims were destroyed by fire, so most of his manuscript music was lost.

Bakfark Balint -Fantasia

Music and influence

While Bakfark almost certainly wrote an enormous amount of music, very little was printed: a commonly given reason was that it was simply too difficult for others to play. His surviving works include ten fantasies, seven madrigals, eight chansons, and fourteen motets—all in amazingly faithful polyphonic arrangements for lute alone. Additionally, he transcribed vocal motets by contemporary composers such as Josquin des PrezClemens non PapaNicolas Gombert, and Orlando di Lasso into arrangements for the lute.

Jacques Arcadelt

Jacques Arcadelt (also Jacob Arcadelt; c. 1507 – 14 October 1568) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in both Italy and France, and principally known as a composer of secular vocal music. Although he also wrote sacred vocal music, he was one of the most famous of the early composers of madrigals; his first book of madrigals, published within a decade of the appearance of the earliest examples of the form, was the most widely printed collection of madrigals of the entire era. In addition to his work as a madrigalist, and distinguishing him from the other prominent early composers of madrigals – Philippe Verdelot and Costanzo Festa – he was equally prolific and adept at composing chansons, particularly late in his career when he lived in Paris.

Arcadelt was the most influential member of the early phase of madrigal composition, the "classic" phase; it was through Arcadelt's publications, more than those of any other composer, that the madrigal became known outside of Italy. Later composers considered Arcadelt's style to represent an ideal; later reprints of his first madrigal book were often used for teaching, with reprints appearing more than a century after its original publication.



While little is known about his early life, a Flemish origin along with a French upbringing has been suggested from variations on the spelling of his name, and he may originally have been from the vicinity of Liège or Namur, in present-day Belgium. He moved to Italy as a young man, and was present in Florence by the late 1520s, therefore having an opportunity to meet or work with Philippe Verdelot, who wrote the earliest named madrigals. In or immediately before 1538 he moved to Rome where he obtained an appointment with the papal choir at St. Peter's Basilica; many composers from the Netherlands served as singers there throughout this era, and it is even possible that he went to Rome before coming to Florence. Still in Rome, in January 1539, he probably was made a member of the Julian Chapel (the records give his name as "Jacobus flandrus", suggesting a Flemish origin, but it cannot be known with certainty if this record referred to Arcadelt). After some months there he became a member of the Sistine Chapel, where he was appointed "magister puerorum." The same year saw the publication of no less than four books of his madrigals. The first of these collections, Il primo libro di madrigali, went through 45 editions, becoming the most widely reprinted collection of madrigals of the time.

Arcadelt remained in Rome as a singer and composer at the Sistine Chapel until 1551, except for one leave of absence to visit France in 1547. During this period, probably in early 1542, he made the acquaintance of Michelangelo, but his madrigalian settings of two of the artist's sonnets were received with indifference; indeed, from Michelangelo's letters on the topic, he probably considered himself unmusical and incapable of appreciating Arcadelt's work. Michelangelo paid Arcadelt with a piece of satin suitable for making into a doublet.

Arcadelt wrote over 200 madrigals before he left Italy in 1551 to return to France, where he spent the remainder of his life; his numerous chansons date from this and subsequent years. In 1557 he published a book of masses, dedicated to his new employer, Charles de Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine (Arcadelt was maître de chapelle, i.e. choirmaster for him). In this publication he was mentioned as a member of the royal chapel, and therefore must have served both Henry II (died 1559) and Charles IX during this late phase of his career. In Paris he employed the publishing house of Le Roy and Ballard, who printed his abundant chansons, masses and motets just as the Venetian printers had earlier printed his madrigals.

François Rabelais immortalized Arcadelt in the introduction to Book IV of Gargantua and Pantagruel, where he includes the musician between Clément Janequin and Claudin de Sermisy as part of a choir singing a ribald song, in which Priapus boasts to the gods on Mount Olympus of his method of using a mallet to deflower a new bride.


During his long and productive career, Arcadelt wrote music both sacred and secular, all of it vocal. He left a total of 24 motets, 125 French chansons, approximately 250 madrigals (about fifty of which are of uncertain attribution), three masses, as well as settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Magnificat. There may be as many as 250 more madrigals by Arcadelt which survive anonymously in manuscript sources. Influences on his music ranged from the chanson and polyphonic style of his northern homeland, the native secular music of Italy such as the frottola, and the music he heard while he served in the Sistine Chapel choir. Of all the early madrigalists, he was by far the most universal in his influences as well as his appeal; and his influence on others was enormous. Arcadelt brought the madrigal form to its early maturity.

Secular music


Arcadelt's several hundred madrigals, composed over a span of at least two decades, were usually for four voices, although he wrote a few for three, and a handful for five and six voices. Stylistically his madrigals are melodious and simple in structure, singable, and built on a clear harmonic basis, usually completely diatonic. The music is often syllablic, and while it sometimes uses repeated phrases, is almost always through-composed (as opposed to the contemporary chanson, which was often strophic). Arcadelt alternates homophonic and polyphonic textures, "in a state of delicate, labile equilibrium." His madrigals best represent the "classic" phase of development of the form, with their clear outline, four-part writing, refinement, and balance; the word painting, chromaticism, ornamentation, virtuosity, expressionistic and manneristic writing of madrigalists later in the century are nowhere to be found in Arcadelt.

His music became immensely popular in Italy and France for more than a hundred years, with his first book of madrigals being reprinted fifty-eight times by 1654, and his music appearing in innumerable intabulations for instruments such as the luteguitar, and viol. Additional hints to his popularity are the frequency with which anonymous compositions were attributed to him, and the appearance of his music in several paintings of musicians from the time. Likely his popularity was due to his gift for capturing the Italian spirit and marrying it with the technical perfection of the Franco-Flemish harmonic and polyphonic style; in addition he wrote catchy tunes which were easy to sing. Unlike later generations of madrigal composers, Arcadelt did not expect professional singers to be the only consumers of his work; anyone who could read notes could sing his madrigals.

For his texts, Arcadelt chose poets ranging from Petrarch (and his setting of a complete canzone, as a set of five interrelated madrigals, was the predecessor of the vogue for madrigal cycles), Pietro BemboSannazaro, to Florentines Lorenzino de'Medici, Benedetto Varchi, Filippo Strozzi, and Michelangelo himself, to others such as Luigi Cassola of Piacenza, a now-obscure writer who was among the most often-set poets of the early madrigalists. Much of the poetry of Arcadelt's madrigals has remained anonymous, just as some of Arcadelt's music is believed to survive anonymously. Another poet he set was the Marquis Alfonso d'Avalos, who wrote the words to his most single famous composition, and one of the most enduring of the entire 16th century: the four-voice madrigal Il bianco e dolce cigno (The white and gentle swan).

This madrigal was appealing on many levels. According to Alfred Einstein, writing in The Italian Madrigal, "… he is content with a simple, tender declamation of the text, depending upon the elementary and magical power of music, of harmony, which veils this poem in a cloak of sublime and distant sentimentality. Here is attained the ideal of what the time expected of the dolcezza [sweetness] and the suavità [suaveness] of music. Arcadelt has conferred upon this composition a quality which is very rare in sixteenth-century secular music, namely durability …" The texture is mostly homophonic, with a hint of fauxbourdon in the harmony; the subject matter is erotic, with the orgasmic "thousand deaths" portrayed by a rising fourth figure in close imitation; brief bits of word-painting occur, such as the use of a flattened seventh on "piangendo"; and the musical phrases overlap the lines of verse, blurring the formal division of the line, a technique known in music, as in poetry, as enjambment.

Jacques Arcadelt: Ave Maria


Since Arcadelt lived both in France and Italy, and wrote secular music in both places, his chansons and madrigals not unexpectedly share some features. The chanson was by nature a more stable form, often strophic and with patterned repetition; the madrigal, on the other hand, was usually through-composed. As Arcadelt borrowed some features of the chanson when he wrote his madrigals, he wrote some of his chansons with madrigalian features. Most of his chansons are syllablic and simple, with brief bursts of polyphonic writing, occasionally canonic, and with sections imitating the note nere style of the madrigal – the fast "black notes" producing the effect of a patter song. Some of his chansons were actually contrafacta of his madrigals (the same music, printed with new words French instead of Italian). Rarely in music history were the madrigal and the chanson more alike.

Sacred music

In addition to his copious output of madrigals and chansons, Arcadelt produced three masses, 24 motets, settings of the Magnificat, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and some sacred chansons – the French equivalent of the madrigale spirituale. The masses are influenced by the previous generation of Franco-Flemish composers, particularly Jean Mouton and Josquin des Prez; the motets, avoiding the dense polyphony favored by the Netherlanders, are more declamatory and clear in texture, in a manner similar to his secular music. Much of his religious music, except for the sacred chansons, he probably wrote during his years in the papal chapel in Rome. Documents from the Sistine Chapel archives indicate that the choir sang his music during his residence there.


Mattheus Le Maistre

Mattheus Le Maistre or Matthaeus Le Maistre (c. 1505–1577) was a Flemish Renaissance choirmaster and composer who is best known for his time in Dresden. His music was superior but in no way progressive, influential in both counter-reformation and Lutheran courts.


Early life and employment

Born circa 1505 in Roclenge-sur-Geer, in the Prince-Bishopric of Liège in the Low Countries, and he considered himself a "Belgian" throughout his lifetime. Musical education was little valued in his house, yet he studied music from his early childhood Nothing is known regarding the identity of his musical instructors. It is speculated that, prior to his time in Munich, he worked in Leipzig because his name appears in music directories there. In 1550 Le Maistre was employed at the Bayerische Hofkapelle in Munich as a composer, in no small part because of the importance imparted to music by the newly-ascended Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria. As such he was the first in a line of foreign musicians employed at the Bayerischer Hofkapelle. Later in Munich he became choirmaster at the court chapel of St. George, where he was a successor to Ludwig Senfl. Here he introduced Propers for the weekdays.


He left Munich in 1554 to assume choirmaster duties in the autumn at the Staatskapelle Dresden, succeeding Johann Walter. This orchestra consisted of a minimum of 40 musicians. Duties included composing and arranging music for sacred and secular functions, providing for the musical instruction of choirboys, in addition to preparing the choir and conducting its performances. His income for this position was 240 gulden, plus reimbursement for expenses incurred while educating and otherwise overseeing the well-being of the choirboys. Additional perks of the position included one new uniform each year, plus free food upon the occasions of a court banquet. He seems to have maintained his ties to his hometown district of Liège, as he imported at least one choirboy from there upon the year of his placement in Dresden. In Dresden he converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, an action which caused him to lose the patrimony of his old home.

Health issues, retirement, and death

Le Maistre requested retirement and a pension in 1565 because of developing health issues involving gout and an accident at the Torgau church. The request for retirement was not granted but he was rewarded with a life stipend in compensation for the lost patrimony suffered upon his conversion. Perhaps recognizing Le Maistre's diminished capacity, in 1566 Antonio Scandello became his assistant, and after Le Maistre left the position in 1567 it was Scandello who succeeded him in 1568. In addition to his regular appointments, Le Maistre earned additional money with compositions dedicated to authorities in Zwickau. Scandello took over his duties in the early part of 1568, and Le Maistre formally retired on June 24, 1568 in some part because of illness. At that time he was given a pension of 195 florins, and although officially retired he retained the title of Kapellmeister and remained at the Saxon court until his death. His last confirmed action is the forward he wrote to his last published work, this taking place in January 1577. This work, dedicated to his young singers, is preceded with a poem written in Latin where he proceeds to describe himself as "an old man with a white head, whose power fades." He died in Dresden in January 1577.


Among his works are masses and motets written in Latin, and part-songs, both religious and secular, which are written in either Latin or German. His pre-Dresden compositions were not published, they exist in manuscript form, and that as a single copy with the exception of the mass "Praeter rerum serieum" which is the first know mass setting for that text. More than two-dozen of these manuscripts survive in various archives, with the highest concentration in the collection of the Bavarian State Library.

Between the years 1554 and 1568, several of his compositions not included in the below listing were included in published compilations.

Andrea Amati
antonio amati
girolamo amati
nicolo amati

Andrea Amati 
Andrea Amati (c. 1505 – c. 1578) designed and created the violin, viola and cello known as the "violin family". He standardized the basic form, shape, size, materials and method of construction. Makers from nearby Brescia experimented, such as Gasparo da Salò, Micheli, Zanetto and Pellegrino but it was Andrea Amati in Cremona Italy, who gave the modern violin family their definitive profile.

The first violin was ordered by Lorenzo De Medici in 1555. His letter to Amati stated the instrument was to be "made of the highest quality materials like that of a lute, but simple to play". The first violin was intended to be used by illiterate musicians, so the design was simple and it was easy to play. What became of this first violin is not known. A number of his instruments survived for some time, dating between 1538 (Amati made the first Cello called 'The King' in 1538) and 1574. The largest number these are from 1560, a set for an entire orchestra of 38 ordered by Catherine De Medici the regent queen of France and bore hand painted royal French decorations in gold including the motto and coat of arms of her son Charles IX of France. Of these 38 instruments ordered, Amati created violins of two sizes, violas of two sizes and large sized cellos. They were in use until the French revolution of 1789 and only 14 of these instruments survived. His work is marked by selection of the finest materials, great elegance in execution, soft clear amber, soft translucent varnish, and an in depth use of acoustic and geometrical principles in design.

Antonio and Girolamo Amati

Andrea Amati was succeeded by his sons Antonio Amati (c. 1537–1607) and Girolamo Amati (c. 1551–1630). "The Brothers Amati", as they were known, implemented far-reaching innovations in design, including the perfection of the shape of the f-holes. They are also thought to have pioneered the modern alto format of viola, in contrast to older tenor violas, but the widespread belief that they were the first ones to do so is incorrect given that Gasparo da Salo made violas ranging from altos of 39 cm to tenors of 44.7 cm.

Nicolo Amati

Nicolò Amati (December 3, 1596 – April 12, 1684) was the son of Girolamo Amati. He was the most eminent of the family. He improved the model adopted by the rest of the Amatis and produced instruments capable of yielding greater power of tone. His pattern was unusually small, but he also made a wider model now known as the "Grand Amati", which have become his most sought-after violins.

Of his pupils, the most famous were Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri, the first of the Guarneri family of violin makers. (There is much controversy regarding the apprenticeship of Antonio Stradivari. While Stradivari's first known violin states that he was a pupil of Amati, the validity of his statement is questioned.)

Girolamo Amati (Hieronymus II)

The last maker of the family was Nicolo's son, Girolamo Amati, known as Hieronymus II (February 26, 1649 – February 21, 1740). Although he improved on the arching of his father's instruments, by and large they are inferior and no match for the greatest maker of his day, Antonio Stradivari.

The Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait of Lisa Gherardini by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, which has been described as "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world".

The painting is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, and is in oil on a white Lombardy poplar panel, and is believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506. Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517.

mona lisa
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