One of the most pronounced features of early Renaissance European art music was the increasing reliance on the interval of the third (in the Middle Ages, thirds had been considered dissonances). Polyphony became increasingly elaborate throughout the 14th century, with highly independent voices: the beginning of the 15th century showed simplification, with the voices often striving for smoothness. This was possible because of a greatly increased vocal range in music – in the Middle Ages, the narrow range made necessary frequent crossing of parts, thus requiring a greater contrast between them.
The modal (as opposed to tonal) characteristics of Renaissance music began to break down towards the end of the period with the increased use of root motions of fifths. This later developed into one of the defining characteristics of tonality.
The main characteristics of Renaissance music are:
- Music based on modes.
- Richer texture in four or more parts.
- Blending rather than contrasting strands in the musical texture.
- Harmony with a greater concern with the flow and progression of chords.
Polyphony is one of the notable changes that mark the Renaissance from the Middle Ages musically. Its use encouraged the use of larger ensembles and demanded sets of instruments that would blend together across the whole vocal range.
Read more about this topic: Renaissance Music
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