A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

THE AGE OF THE RENAISSANCE:
MUSIC OF THE LOW COUNTRIES

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS

The great renewal of European interest in ancient Greek and Roman culture during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries deeply affected how people thought about music. To be sure, they could not experience ancient music itself as they could architectural monuments, sculptures, and poems. But they could read the writings of classical philosophers, poets, essayists, and music theorists that were being newly translated. They learned about the power of music to move the listener and wondered why modern music did not have the same effect. One influential religious leader, Bernardino Cirillo, expressed disappointment with the learned music of his time and yearned for the greatness of the past (see vignette). He urged musicians to follow the example of the sculptors, painters, and architects who had rediscovered ancient art, and the scholars who had restored Greek and Roman literature, and reclaim the power of the classical styles and modes.

Revival of ancient ideals


Humanism

This interest in the culture of antiquity was quite common among laypersons. Yet at the same time, musicians like Gioseffo Zarlino (1517-1590) were pointing with pride toward the achievements of modern contrapuntal techniques. Both the critics and the defenders of modern music were reacting to humanism, a movement that revived ancient learning, particularly grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy. People were asked to judge their lives, artworks, customs, and social and political structures by the standards of antiquity. Although Cirillo and Zarlino disagreed on other fronts, they both

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