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The Renaissance in Music
with David Fallows

On this edition of Milestones of the Millennium, host Martin Goldsmith is joined by David Fallows, Professor of Music at the University of Manchester in England and author of several books on the Renaissance, including a study of French composer Josquin DesPrez.

The Renaissance saw huge shifts in our perception of the world around us. Columbus disproved the idea that the earth is flat, while Copernicus suggested that planets revolve around the sun, not the earth. The arts reflected humanity's changing perspective and growing interest in secular ideas. In Italy, artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were beginning to express the beauty of the individual while elaborating on religious subjects.

Church patronage supported many new ideas and great achievements in art and architecture. Martin takes a glimpse back to a very important day in the history of Florence, Italy. On March 25, 1436, the Pope led a parade through town to celebrate the Consecration of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. A vast and complicated dome had just been constructed over the church and the greatest composer of the day, Guillaume Dufay had written music for the occasion, his "Nuper Rosarem Flores" -- "The Rose Blossoms." Such elaborate and beautiful compositions left listeners astonished and inspired.

Despite the changing times, Renaissance music continued to embrace the past. The Cardinals of the Roman Church saw music as a way to convey holy texts. Some sought to discourage layering of vocals, which they felt obscured those holy words. But composers like Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina forged ahead with new ideas. The choirmaster and organist at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome composed beautifully layered and complex vocal parts in such a way that the words could still be heard. Out in the streets, dance music also took on greater variety along with the instruments used to play it. Precursors to modern orchestral instruments, such as stringed viols, sackbuts and crumhorns, were becoming more sophisticated. In France, secular instrumental traditions were refined, as minstrels entertained the courts of French kings.

In the early Renaissance, composers and musicians often went to Italy to ply their craft. The advent of the printing press in the 15th century made it possible for composers to greatly enhance their reputation by distributing their work throughout Europe. Along with William Byrd, English composer Thomas Tallis was awarded a patent from Queen Elizabeth for the exclusive privilege of printing music in his country. We hear moments from his beautiful motet for 40 voices or eight five-part choirs, "Spem in Alium."

Fallows and Martin also listen to the Vespers of 1610 by Claudio Monteverdi. The piece, which premiered at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice that year, foreshadowed the emerging eclectic styles that would be mastered by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Travel back to the the sounds of the Renaissance with David Fallows and Martin. This marks the eighth installment of PT's Milestones of the Millenium series. Note: music parts have been edited from the commentary because of internet rights issues. (This stereo audio segment requires the free RealPlayer 5.0 or higher. You can also listen with a 14.4 connection)

In conjunction with Performance Today's Milestones of the Millennium series, a companion CD series is available from Sony Classical™.

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