Late Renaissance & Early Baroque, stylistic comparisons (preliminary observations)

1. Sacred Music

Note that Baroque composers continued to use what they perceived as Renaissance style. Italian baroque composers referred to this as prima prattica ("First practice"). They called the new style seconda prattica. Some types of the new style were (and are) referred to as concertato. Pieces in concertato style employed much contrast (in rhythm, tempo, ensemble, etc.).

RenaissanceEarly Baroque
stylistic consistency generally uniform many styles; variety even within single pieces
lyrics restrained treatment; apparent indifference to meaning of text and to rhythm and intonation of words
normally in Latin; Protestant may be in English or German
affective treatment of text (i.e., careful, or even extreme, attention to meaning); careful, or even extreme attention to rhythm and intonation; often declamatory
Catholic in Latin; Protestant usually in English or German
texture (1) voices tend to be evenly spaced and close together in range and register; much overlapping of register (crossing voices) often large gaps in register and range between adjacent voices; common grouping of voices in pairs of equal range (and much crossing) with bass part distinctly separated; polarity
texture (2) primarily consistent polyphony, voice parts more or less equal in activity and importance (though bass parts often have more slow notes than other parts); much imitation (pervading imitation); some sections of homophony, though even then some semblance of polyphony is maintained; independence made apparent by quicker movement in one or two voices while other parts move in slower values—this moves from part to part; often made more apparent by lyrics through placement of consonants (especially sibilants) much variety; often is fully polyphonic, with voice parts more or less equal in activity and importance and much imitation (pervading imitation); often homophonic; often paired voices (or three) over a bass line (basso continuo)—the pair might be in polyphonic imitation, in parallel motion (often with much dissonance), in dialogue, etc.
openings most often imitative (point imitation); first sounding note in first part to enter almost always on the pulse; sometimes homophonic; in early 16th century entries in pairs is common much variety; can be imitative, homophonic, solo, etc.; often first pulse is accompaniment chord (notated as single bass note) followed on after-beat (off-beat) by main entry; upbeat entries also
harmonic language primarily modal (i.e., vague or indefinite harmonic motion—floating effect); forward momentum generated by motion of lines and polyphony; little chromatic motion, usually carefully used; some cross relations (especially in relation to the Picardy third—major chord might be followed by the same triad become minor or another chord with the previously major chord's third made natural) can be modal; often very chordal; generally tonal (functional harmony), with touches of modal; much use of circle of fifths and other harmonic sequence; often striking progressions used for expressive purpose (e.g. E major chord followed by G minor chord); often very chromatic
dissonance restrained; suspensions are the only accented dissonance; (appoggiaturas are very, very rare—never in strict style) can be very dissonant—drawn-out suspensions, often in sequence; many appoggiaturas; much use of seventh chords, some ninth chords, special uses of (seldom) eleventh chords; much melodic dissonance—appoggiaturas; escape tones, often with large leaps
melody very "vocal", rarely virtuosic; primarily diatonic (rarely direct chromatic motion, some neighboring chromatic motion), small range; leaps carefully used, all leaps consonant; larger leaps enclosed (change of direction); repeated notes relatively less common; phrase shapes carefully balanced, often in arc; motivic writing rare often idiomatic, virtuosic; diatonic or chromatic; leaps consonant or dissonant, some using diminished intervals (usually for expression); augmented intervals rare; often large leaps; often angular (leaps not enclosed); often many repeated notes (especially in declamation); sometimes static; sometimes apparently aimless; sometimes motivic
bass line normally more or less equal in style, character, and melodic interest to other parts, though generally will have more slow notes; participate fully in imitation may be like other voices; more often distinct in style, melodic activity, register, timbre, etc.; normally doubled by several instruments; can be very repetitive; often is more active and more interesting than upper voices
rhythm restrained; careful balance among parts; gradual changes in speed; common is dotted half followed by one or three (or more) quarter notes; little or no rubato often much (even extreme) variety; often extreme contrast, between parts and within a single line; common use of rapid dotted rhythms, and reverse dotted (short-long; "Lombardic rhythm" or "Scotch snap"); often rubato; often very busy, energetic; often motivic (repetitive); some use of recurrent eighth-sixteenth-sixteenth-eighth pattern
dynamics restrained; changes normally result of increase in number of parts and changes in register many changes, section to section, phrase to phrase, within phrase, on single note (especially with long notes)
instrumentation instruments treated just like voices; often voice and instrument parts interchangeable; often voice and instrument parts mixed; often voices doubled by instruments;
accompaniment (continuo) not necessary, normally not present; sometimes modest chordal accompaniment of organ, lutes, or (less often) harp
instruments sometimes treated just like voices; normally instruments used idiomatically; instruments often have essential, individual roles; most common solo instruments are violins, most often in pairs;
accompaniment (basso continuo) present most of the time; can be very independent; basso continuo is often more active than upper parts; chordal accompaniment in any harmonic instruments: lutes and theorbo/chitarrone (most common), organ (most common), harps, harpsichords; often several instruments; melodic bass line sometimes in chordal instrument(s), sometimes separate melodic instrument, then most often bass viol (viola da gamba), also dulcian; possible doubling in violone (extra large viol or double bass viol)
tempo normally constant throughout piece; possibly change for new section of lyrics; or for triple section; changes usually proportional often much change within pieces and sections of pieces; change may gradual, more often sudden
meter mainly an even flow of pulses, tactus; often no apparent "meter"; some sections in triple meter; sometimes meter in modern meaning generally metrical; much variety; some pieces have many changes of meter, even within phrases; can be an even flow of pulses; some sections with no apparent meter or pulse, rather, driven by rhythm of words—declamatory
(1. overall)
very uniform; most often through composed; little repetition or recurrence of sections; sometimes (less often) last section of piece repeated (though repeat is often hidden);
unity maintained through consistency of motion; and (!important!) through use of thematic unity within sections with constant imitation of thematic material in all (or most) voices
often much (even extreme) variety; often extreme contrast, between sections; structure often broken up into many short sections; much repetition and recurrence of sections; a return of vocal section called refrain; (!important!) return of instrumental section called ritornello; often ritornello is in the bass line; sometimes (less often) last section of piece repeated (though repeat is often hidden);
Often structural unity maintained by recurring or repeating bass lines; can be general repetition of material; also, immediately and persistent repeating bass lines are common: called ground or basso ostinato (if relatively short) or strophic bass (if relatively long and sectional).
sometimes unity through use of thematic unity within sections with constant imitation of thematic material in all (or most) voices
(2. local)
very uniform; much consistency of motion; much thematic unity with constant imitation of thematic and incidental material in all (or most) voices; though rarely motivic;
sequence rare; in strict style (e.g. Palestrina, Victoria) almost never; in early sixteenth century (especially Josquin) some melodic sequence is used and (less often) imitative and even harmonic sequence
often much (even extreme) variety; often extreme contrast; much repetition; often motivic;
sequence very, very common—melodic, imitative, motivic, harmonic; often in combination; sequence is one primary means of generating forward momentum
cadences a few standard patterns: what are now called "perfect authentic cadences"; the consonant fourth pattern; plagal cadences; the clasula vera (in our terms, viio6-I);
strong cadences normally very widely spaced in time; (so overall phrases tend to be very long, though individual phrases in single voices may be relatively short);
most cadences blurred by continuous motion, through true overlap (some voices continue on with melodic line), elision (next phrase begins at same moment as cadential arrival), near elision (next phrase begins on next pulse or half-pulse), or sustained notes in parts while other parts begin next phrase;
sometimes one or more full stops within a piece (sparse)
a few standard patterns: what are now called "perfect authentic cadences"; the consonant fourth pattern; plagal cadences; the clasula vera (in our terms, viio6-I);
often involve much dissonance; often extended with dissonance or ornamentation (the Cadenza);
strong cadences may be very frequent or widely separated; (so phrases may be very short or very long);
phrases more often occur in all parts together; may be overlapped or, more common, elided
ornamentation less; normally inserted unobtrusively into melodic line; primarily melodic and linear (consists mainly of neighboring tones, passing tones, and turns); cadence embellishment may be more active much; may be extremely virtuosic; sometimes delays motion of music; can be melodic and linear; often very rhythmic, motivic; may include rapid scales (tirata), repeated notes (including tremolos—trillo), trills, mordents, rapid turns, dotted rhythms (especially on neighboring tones—ribattuta); many stylistically specific ornaments
types of pieces uniform style, different functions sound the same;
Mass movements (the Ordinary), Motets (including Mass Proper items), Psalms, etc., Anthems (English Motets), Verse Anthems
varieties of style;
Mass movements (the Ordinary—less common), Motets (solo and ensemble), vocal Concerto (or Sacred Concerto—various terminology in different languages), Psalms (common), Anthems (English Motets), Verse Anthems

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