In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Guides to Composers
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Musical Compositions
  • Source Texts
  • Composers and Their Works
  • Composition and Theory
  • Confraternities
  • Improvisation
  • Music and Image
  • Music and Poetry
  • Musical Scholarship, Natural Philosophy, Magic
  • Origins of Opera
  • Patronage
  • Performance Practice
  • Print Culture
  • Religious Reform and Confessional Issues
  • Styles and Genres

Renaissance and Reformation Music
Ann E. Moyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0011


Scholarship on Renaissance music has developed enormously from the mid-20th century onward. Still important is the traditional heart of the field, studies of composers and of styles, forms, and compositions. Formal musical scholarship existed during the Renaissance; its history, the history of music theory, extends from compositional practice and notation to Renaissance natural philosophy. The social contexts of both writing and performing music comprise another large research sector. Studies of performance practice expanded as a field with the overall interest in “early music.” The history of the book, especially of music and print culture, has become a significant subject. Intersections with literary history can be seen especially in studies of vocal music in general as well as studies of musical theater, not only in the development of new genres such as opera but also in the rise of commercial theater and of public, secular musical performances as social and cultural phenomena. Music became one of many contested practices during the Reformation, issues nearly inseparable from those involved with the spread of humanist scholarship and culture. A persistent question has been the degree to which Renaissance music should be understood as part of the cultural movement of the Renaissance, as opposed to music of the same chronological era. Many scholars of Renaissance music over the past two decades and more have reacted against efforts to apply broad labels or characterizations. They have produced instead an abundance of focused studies that have remained close to the sources.

General Overviews

Atlas 1998, Brown 1999, Fenlon 1989, Perkins 1999, and Strohm 1993 are all intended to serve as potential course textbooks in music history. Brown 1999 is the most traditional of the three; Perkins 1999 updates the well-known synthetic work by Gustave Reese from 1954 of similar title. Strohm 1993 concentrates particularly on the northern polyphony for which the era was so well known. Atlas 1998 devotes more attention to issues of sources and editing. Such courses in music history are generally taught at the higher undergraduate or graduate level. Thus, on the one hand, all of these works provide useful starting points as well as syntheses of issues and topics of current and recent significance. On the other hand, for the scholar approaching the field from a different discipline, they may seem less than easy to approach because of the level of background knowledge in music that most of these authors assume of such students. In order to analyze particular compositions, readers must not only know how to read modern musical notation but also understand the general principles and terminology of modern music theory and analysis. Ongaro 2003 assumes little or no background in classical music but does so at the cost of losing the ability to speak about musical works in as much detail as similar surveys and syntheses of Renaissance painting or literature. The articles in Strohm and Blackburn 2001 offer more focused attention on particular topics.

  • Atlas, Allan W. Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400–1600. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.

    Written as a textbook, this volume covers the topics with clear prose and particular attention to documentary records and the editing of musical notation.

  • Brown, Howard Mayer, and Louise K. Stein. Music in the Renaissance. 2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

    Stein updates Brown’s popular and compact survey first published in 1976. It maintains a traditional approach focusing on major composers and the rise of regional styles.

  • Fenlon, Iain, ed. The Renaissance: From the 1470s to the End of the 16th Century, Man and Music. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1989.

    Here the general subject is split into a number of chapters to provide a full survey, but each chapter is authored by a particular specialist; the organization emphasizes geography and region.

  • Ongaro, Giulio Maria. Music of the Renaissance. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003.

    This is the only work in this cluster deliberately written to provide an overview of the subject to nonmusicians; thus it is text only, without notated musical examples.

  • Perkins, Leeman L. Music in the Age of the Renaissance. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

    This work is intended to serve not merely as an introduction but also as a scholarly synthesis of the subject undertaken in the light of growing volume of new research. Reviewers have often portrayed the approach as traditional, but there is considerable attention to social and cultural context. It is the lengthiest of the surveys.

  • Strohm, Reinhard. The Rise of European Music, 1380–1500. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    Strohm focuses especially on the ecclesiastical polyphony produced by northern Europeans and spread throughout Europe and ends with a section on Italian music and the humanist movement.

  • Strohm, Reinhard, and Bonnie J. Blackburn, eds. Music as Concept and Practice in the Late Middle Ages. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    This collection of articles is part of the New Oxford History of Music. It deliberately includes a number of subjects that had escaped the traditional bounds of the field, including music of Muslims and Jews in its treatment of religious music, and deliberately avoiding a synoptic view of the field.

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