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Music and the Other Arts: Renaissance and Baroque as Examples

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Design +1 Age Level High School (16 to 18 years old)

The National Association for Music Education Composition/Theory Connect #11 standard asks: Demonstrate an understanding of relationships
between music and the
other arts. One entree into the subject is to consider the correspondences of artistic movements in very different art forms.
For example: Just as we identify sixteen-century Italian art and architecture as Renaissance and seventeenth-century art and architecture as
Baroque, so we identify the music of those centuries as Renaissance and Baroque. Presented here are ideas on looking at the Renaissance com-
poser Palestrina and the Baroque composer Monteverdi  in light of the Renaissance and Baroque designs below. See READ MORE or click the text
box to the right of the rightmost picture.


READ MORE

The term Renaissance, meaning “rebirth,” refers to the rediscovery of artistic and architectural principles of ancient Greece and Rome, which began in Italy in the 1400s. Baroque comes from the Portuguese word barocco, meaning “irregular pearl.” The very name Baroque suggests everything that Renaissance is not.  

In architecture, common adjectives to describe Renaissance are: symmetrical, geometrical, proportional, restrained. For Baroque: sweeping, dramatic, ornate, contrastive, and, yes, irregular. The two architectural plans here, both from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, might give an indication of the differences.  

At left is a theater building in the manner of Antonio Palladio (1508–80), who gave his name to a specific Renaissance style: Palladian. On a Palladian facade such as this, the main entrance is at the exact center, topped by a pediment. The pediment rises to a point, but does not rise steeply. The round arch of this central entrance is flanked by two identical entrances. The three entrances are flanked by three round-arched windows on either side. As we move up, the steps are gradual: rectangular and then smaller square windows on the upper floor, then a low balustrade above. The two sides of the facade are identical.

At right is a plan for an unnamed Italian Baroque church. Students looking for differences in symmetry might see one right away: on the left of the upper section is a decorative urn; on the right is a much more prominent sculpture of a saint. The upper section itself tells us much: nothing in the Palladian building rises steeply like this.

A musical analogy might be found in the Renaissance church music of Giovanni P. da Palestrina (1525–94) and the Baroque church music of Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643). Aaron Copland wrote of Palestrina: “Part of the unworldly quality of many of Palestrina’s melodies is due to the fact that they move conjunctly, that is, stepwise from note to note, with a minimum number of skips. This restraining discipline, which makes so many of Palestrina’s melodies seem smooth and imperturbable, has the added advantage of making them easy to sing.”  

Monteverdi wrote something quite different about his own work: “I was aware that it is contraries that greatly move our mind. When I have not been able to find variety in the affections I have at least sought to bring variety into my music.”  

IDEAS FOR A COMPARISON

Available in public-domain recordings are an Agnus Dei by Palestrina and a Deus ad adiutorium by Monteverdi. The Palestrina is represented only by the melody; the Monteverdi in voices. As you listen to both, try to concentrate only on the melody of the Monteverdi. Ask students:  

Which piece has the broadest range in pitch?  

Which piece do you think would be more difficult to sing?  

Show students the two pictures, the Renaissance and Baroque buildings, without identifying their time periods. Ask:  

Which building reminds you most of the Palestrina? Which of the Monteverdi? Can you explain the analogies?  

Scroll down the main screen to find samples of sheet music for Palestrina and for Monteverdi. The Palestrina contains only one skip of a third. The rest of the notes move, as Copland says, conjunctly—one step at a time. Ask students to concentrate on the mere shapes that the notes form as they make their progression along the staffs.    

Which looks most like the Baroque church? Which looks like the Renaissance building?  

Palestrina composed for the ancient, relatively austere St. John Lateran Church in Rome. Monteverdi composed for the sumptuously Byzantine St. Mark’s Church in Venice. Were they influenced by their architectural surroundings?  

It is one of the sweet mysteries of art: Impressionist music somehow sounds like Impressionist painting. Did Impressionist painters and musicians learn from each other? Or Modernist composers and Modernist architects? Or was there just something in the air?

The question is without clear answer, but clearly there is an analogous relationship between architecture and music. As musicologist Joseph Machlis put it: “It has been said that architecture is frozen music. By the same token, music is floating architecture. Form is the structural principle in music.”

Scroll farther down the main screen to see a graphic representation of this.


Elevation of the Facade of a Theater, Amsterdam

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Proportional study of a church façade

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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