10 Best Renaissance Composers | Classical music

As one of the most artistically successful eras in history, the Renaissance produced an abundance of composers. But who were its best representatives? Here’s our guide to the 10 best of the bunch.

1.Orlando de Lassus
The leading Franco-Flemish exponent of mature polyphony, Orlando de Lassus (1530/32-94) was one of the most versatile composers of the late Renaissance, highly regarded for his painting of dramatic text, energetic rhythms and his flowery use of counterpoint. He was a prolific composer of sacred and secular music, the latter including French songs, madrigals, German lieder and motets. However, his best known work is probably his collection of penitential psalms from 1584: Psalmi Davidis Poenitentiales.


2. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Widely regarded as the grand master of the polyphonic style, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594) is one of history’s most revered composers, studied by everyone from Bach to Bruckner. As one of the few well-known composers of Italian descent working in Italy during his day (most of the others were Flemish or Spanish), he came to be seen as the leading exponent of the conservative Catholic style during the Counter- Reform. As a result, he wrote intensely graceful music, treated chromaticism with caution, and always favored melodic flow over harmony. Most famous among his extensive list of sacred and secular works is the Mass Papae Marcelli which is still regularly sung in Catholic churches around the world.

3. John Taverner

Although he was one of the most important English composers of his time, John Taverner remains a mystery. It is believed that he was born around 1490 in Lincolnshire and in 1526 he accepted an invitation to become a choirmaster at Cardinal College (now Christ’s Church), Oxford, where he wrote many of his famous vocal works , mainly sacred. Beyond that, our knowledge of his biography is uneven. What we do know is that he embraced the kind of elaborate, imitation-heavy polyphony characteristic of late medieval and early Renaissance English style, exemplified most impressively in works such as that Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, The Western Wynde Mass and Missa Corona Spinea.

4. Thomas Tallis

Born towards the end of the reign of Henry VII, Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) lived through a period of intense conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism, serving in the courts of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth. He was therefore one of England’s most versatile composers, adapting the style of his compositions to the requirements of each monarch. Best known among his works are his exquisitely simple hymn “If Ye Love Me” and his breathtakingly complex motet “Spem in Alium” for eight five-part choirs – both composed at the time. Elizabethan.

5.William Byrd

Thomas Tallis’s pupil William Byrd (1543-1623) was probably the best-known English composer of the late Elizabethan era, writing for every medium available at the time – except the lute. Although perhaps best known for the development of the English madrigal, he also did much to develop English keyboard music with the works he wrote for the virginal and the organ, wrote music progressive for viol consort, as well as lots of intense, elaborate Catholic church music. Among his most famous works is the very moving motet Tristitia and anxiety of his Cantiones Sacrae of 1589 and his colorful keyboard work: Fantaisie in A minor.

6. Claudio Monteverdi (photo)

Having lived through the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque period and having contributed a great deal to it, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was one of the most pioneering composers in history. During a long career, during which he served at the Court of Mantua and then as maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the Italian composer imagined new textures and effects, expanded his harmonic vocabulary and found new ways to infuse his orchestral and vocal music with emotional undertones.
Most important of all was probably his impact on the development of opera, an art form which was in its infancy when he got his hands on it. His masterpieces The Orfeo, The Ritorno of Ulisse and The Incoronazione di Poppea remain pillars of the lyrical repertoire. Other key works include his Vespers of 1610 and his several books of madrigals.

7. Carlo Gesualdo

He murdered his wife and her lover when he found them in the act, and spent much of his later life attempting to redeem himself, allegedly being beaten daily by servants. No wonder there is a widespread fascination with the Italian prince-composer Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613). As Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker in 2011: “If Gesualdo hadn’t done such shocking acts, we might not be paying so much attention to his music. As it stands, however, his music certainly deserves special attention, comprised of some of the craziest and most experimental chromatic harmonies ever devised. Among his most famous works are his intensely expressive madrigals and his Tenebrae Factae Sunt, which use a harmonic language not heard of again until the end of the 19th century.

8. Orlando Gibbon

Born towards the end of the 16th century, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) is often perceived – like Monteverdi – as someone who stands at the crossroads of the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Musician of the Royal Chapel, he cultivated the traditional polyphonic style at the court of King James I and would likely have obtained an even greater inheritance if he had not died, probably of a cerebral haemorrhage, at the age of 41 years old only.

For a long time he was best remembered as a composer of sacred music, with the 19th century musicologist and composer Frederick Ouseley dubbing him the ‘English Palestrina’. Since the early music revival, however, greater attention has been paid to Gibbons’ secular works, particularly his madrigals – a genre he did much to develop, building on the foundations laid by his predecessor. William Byrd. Among his works, the most famous are his five-part hymn “This is the Record of John” and his magnificent five-voice madrigal “The Silver Swan”.

9. Johannes Ockeghem

Although only a small number of his scores still exist, Johannes Ockeghem (1400/1430-1497) was one of the most renowned composers of the early Renaissance, with a profound influence on Josquin des Prez and other Franco-French composers. Flemish who followed him. Like many composers of this period, he began his musical career as a chorister and spent most of his career in the service of the French royal court under Charles VII, Louis XI and Charles VIII. Of his relatively small output, which was notable for its complex polyphony, careful management of vocal ranges, and emphasis on intricate and expressive bass lines, his most famous works include the Missa Prolationumthe Missa Cuiusvis toni and his song “Take on me”.

10. Josquin des Prez

The most famous Renaissance composer of the Franco-Flemish school, Josquin des Prez (C.1450-1521) was a master of polyphony. Little is known about his youth. Born in the French-speaking region of Flanders, he may have been an altar boy and may have been taught by his predecessor Johannes Ockeghem.

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What is more certain is that, even during his lifetime, he was one of the world’s most admired composers, widely credited with pioneering some of the major musical innovations of the time, including the gradual abandonment of extended melismatic lines, the prominent use of imitation, and the emphasis on text and word painting. His Miserere remains the most famous setting of Psalm 50. Among his many other well-known works is his influential motet ‘Ave Maria… Virgo serena’ and three masses: Missa The armed man super musical voices, missa beata virgine and Missa Pange Lingua.

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