The Renaissance Era

Historical Events 1500 – 1600:


African Slaves are taken across the Atlantic to work on sugar plantations – 1510.

ED :

University of Valencia founded – 1500

RP :

Ahmed ad Mansur leads Moroccans into a battle against the Songhai – 1500

VA :

Nuts and Bolts are first used in Europe – 1550’s.

M :

William Shakespeare is born – 1564.

PH :

Elizabeth I begins her reign as Queen of England – 1588.

ST :

The First toilet is invented – 1589.


Sir Walter Raleigh born - 1552

PH : Politics and History

M : Music

VA : Visual Arts

ST : Science and Technology

RP : Religion and Philosophy

ED : Education

DL : Daily Life

LT : Literature and Theatre

The Musical Style:

The Renaissance era was a period of history between 1500 and 1600 A.D. The word Renaissance means ‘rebirth’ and in this period there were massive discoveries in medicine, music, literature and many other fields, hence the name given to this period. As many discoveries were made, in all fields, composers were inspired and took a more keen interest in music and writing. Mostly they turned their attention onto the church and its music so many of the pieces composed in this era was written as church music or for mass choirs. Another name for this music is ‘Choral polyphony’ – choral meaning voice and polyphony meaning layers e.g. polyphonic ring tones. This is what made the music in the renaissance era noticeably different from previous periods. Music was written in layers that ‘overlapped’ or ‘layered’ each other. This new technique of ‘overlapping’ had never been used before so was unique to the church and its choirs. Originally Choral Polyphony was meant to be sung without instruments but Sackbuts (early Trombones) and valve less Trumpets began to be used and other instruments of the same type began to be used with mass choirs. There were several characteristics of the Renaissance music period that makes it unique from the other periods. These characteristics are that music was still based on modes, but gradually more accidentals creep in. Another is that the composers paid more attention to the flow and progression of chords and harmonies. A third characteristic is that in secular music (non-religious music) more instruments were used with vocals than sacred music (religious music). The bass line began to feature in music, in this period, below the tenor. Finally most of the instruments in the Renaissance period were divided up into families like they are today.

Thomas Tallis (1505 – 1585):

Thomas Tallis was born in England during the year of 1505 and became a composer and organist. He composed and played for five decades under four monarchs and wrote music for both Catholic and Protestant churches, although he himself was a Catholic.

He began to write pieces of music for humble church choral societies and was recognised as a composer so rose to the leading member of ‘England’s Chapel Royal’.

In recognition of his work people now refer to him as ‘The Father of English Church Music’. He wrote many pieces of church music in his life but his most famous is the 40-part Monet; Spem in alium.

Tallis studied with William Byrd, another famous English composer, and in 1575 they were granted exclusive permission from Elizabeth I to print music. Together they printed/published Cantiones Sacrae; this is a collection of 38 Latin motets.

Ten years after this piece was published Thomas Tallis sadly died at the age of 80.


The Renaissance period bought with it many famous pieces of music written in the era.

Such as:

o ‘Spem in Alium’ – by Thomas Tallis in ?
o ‘Mass for Three Voices’ – by William Byrd in 1594.
o ‘Mass for Four Voices’ – by William Byrd in 1592.
o ‘Mass for Four Voices’ – by William Byrd in 1592.
o ‘Kyrie’ – by William Byrd in ?
o ‘Gloria’ – by William Byrd in ?


Music composed by


William Byrd

Thomas Tallis

Historical Events (1600 – 1750):

DL :

Dutch establish trading settlements in Brazil export sugar and silver - 1630

ED :

Harvard College founded - 1636

RP :

English Baptist Church established in Amsterdam - 1609

VA :

Rubens appointed court painter to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, Antwerp - 1609

M :

William Byrd, Gradualia - 1605–1607

PH :

James I