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UNDERSTANDING RENAISSANCE MUSIC

INTRODUCTION

The history of music more often shows how the art of music is passed on from period to another- from traditions, teachers, society, institution, etc. It becomes apparent to the musicians of a generation with the gradual change of taste in music. The history of music, however, requires a certain organisation if the contrasting phenomena of changing phases are to made intelligible. It is only looking back from a distance in history that the contrasts become clear, enabling us to characterise in their light the phenomena that belong together or those that differ from one another. Only in this process can the eras and their boundaries be determined.

Music has always been a subjective experience. To remark that one form of music is superior or inferior, listenable or not cannot be judged in intellectual terms. It is no exception for Renaissance Music that challenged the rigid, one track-minded compositions of structured musical forms. There is certainly an inclination for some people to like a particular style of music and for others to like another form of music, so and so forth. However, placing a tag on the worth of music is a result of preconceived ideas or intake of force-fed information by an elite society. The following statement by Johannes Tinctoris in the dedication of his Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477) would sum this whole topic on the danger of studying works of great composers in order to gain a balanced understanding of music in the Renaissance:

Further, although it seems beyond belief, there does not exist a single piece of music, not composed within the last forty years, that is regarded by the learned as worth learning. Yet at this present time… there flourish… countless composers, among them Jean Okeghem, Jean Regis, Antoine Busnoys, Firmin Caron, and Guillaume Fauges, who glory in having studied under John Dunstable, Gilles Binchoys, and Guillaume Dufay, recently deceased. Nearly all the works of these men exhale such sweetness that… I never hear them, I never examine them, without coming away happier and more enlightened.

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