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Top 8 Renaissance Composers

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The Renaissance Period was a vibrant time when knowledge and fine arts flourished. Generally classified between 1400 and 1600, these two-hundred years mark an incredible transformation and advancement in music notation and composition. If it weren't for these Top 8 Renaissance composers, whose ground-shaking, mold-breaking musical ideas opened a flood gate of musical curiosity, the world of classical music we know today could be drastically different.

1. Thomas Tallis (1510-1585)

British musician Thomas Tallis (1510 - 1585), known as 'the father of English cathedral music', holding a music manuscript and quill, circa 1539
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Thomas Tallis, an English composer, flourished as a church musician, and is considered one of the church's best early composers. Tallis served under four English Monarchs and was treated very well. Queen Elisabeth granted him and his pupil, William Boyd, exclusive rights to use England's printing press to publish music; a first of its time. Although Tallis composed many styles of music, the majority of it is arranged for choir as Latin motets and English anthems.

2. Josquin Des Prez (1440-1521)

Widely recognized by just his first name, Josquin Des Prez was Europe's most sought after musician during his lifetime. His popularity, no doubt, was a result of combining many contemporary styles of music, his originality, and his ability to unveil the meaning and emotions of a text through music. Much of Josquin's music survives today, with his masses and chansons being the most popular.

3. Pierre de La Rue (1460-1518)

Pierre de La Rue wrote many styles of music, almost as much as Josquin. La Rue's repertoire consists entirely of vocal music. His style of voicing shows that he preferred low voices, often composing C's and B flats below the bass clef. His most popular work, the Requiem, and one of the earliest surviving Requiem masses, emphasizes the lower voices. As well as low voicing, various rhythmic patterns and long, flowing melodies are main characteristics of La Rue's music.

4. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Linking the Renaissance to the Baroque, Claudio Monteverdi's revolutionary music included the first dramatic opera, Orfeo. Much of Monteverdi's early years were spent composing madrigals; nine books in total. These books clearly mark the change in thinking and compositional style between the two periods. Book 8, Ottavo Libro, includes what many consider to be the perfected form of the madrigal, Madrigali dei guerrieri ed amorosi.

5. William Byrd (1543-1623)

William Byrd is perhaps the greatest English composer of all time. With hundreds of individual compositions, Byrd seemingly mastered every style of music that existed during his lifetime, outshining Orlando de Lassus and Giovanni Palestrina. Apart from his choral works, Byrd is considered by many to be the first "genius" of the keyboard. Many of his piano works can be found in "My Ladye Nevells Book" and the "Parthenia."

6. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526-1594)

With over hundreds of published works, Italian composer, Palestrina was the most famous representative of the Roman School of musical composition, and greatly influenced the development of music in the Roman Catholic Church. Because its voicing is extremely well balanced and beautifully harmonized, Palestrina's polyphonic music is smooth, pure, and transparent in sound.

7. Orlando de Lassus (1530-1594)

Orlando de Lassus was also known for his smooth polyphonic style. His beautiful motets combined the rich northern style of polyphony, the superb French style text-setting, and the expressive Italian melody. With over 2,000 written works for all styles of music, including all Latin, French, English, and German vocal genres, Lassus easily remains one of Europe's most versatile composers.

8. Giovanni Gabrieli (1553-1612)

Giovanni Gabrieli also bridges the Renaissance to the Baroque and is most known for his mastery in the style of the Venetian School. Gabrieli preferred composing sacred works, and using the unusual layout of the San Marco Church, he was able to create stunning musical effects. Unlike those before him, Gabrieli meticulously created and planned the use of antiphone (a choir or group of instruments first heard on the left, followed by a response from another group of musicians on the right).

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