Essay: Humanism and 16th Century Music

Pages: 3 (1003 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper

Humanism and 16th century music 'Humanism' is the term used to describe the philosophy that came to dominate Western culture in the 16th century. Humanism was a reaction to the single-minded focus on faith that characterized most of the intellectual life of the medieval era. Before, classical learning was feared and disdained as pagan: in the 16th century there was a revival of interest in Greek and Roman science, history, literature, and art. Classical and sacred allusions and metaphors were now both used freely, often interchangeably. A new faith in the ability of physical, earthly beauty to provide a glimpse of transcendence in the mortal world began to emerge in the art of this period (Kries 2009). Symmetry and classical proportions grew in importance in all areas of design, versus the asymmetry and grotesque nature of the Gothic aesthetic. Personal life, individualism and non-sacred elements of the world, as a result of this new embrace of earthly realities, took on a new level of cultural importance.

The 16th century saw a flowering of interest in classical antiquity in all of the arts. However, unlike painting and writing, no useful records of what Greek and Roman music remained to guide musicians and composers. "Knowledge of ancient Greek music was restricted to a handful of indecipherable fragments, known only to a small circle of scholars" ("The Renaissance," Free Encyclopedia, 2009). The relationship between Renaissance music and its classical models was thus "not pragmatic but aesthetic" ("The Renaissance," Free Encyclopedia, 2009). Composers drew inspiration from the myths of the ancient world, as well as from neo-classically themed art and literature of their contemporaries. The fine arts also often appropriated musical images and terminology: one popular theme was the symbolism of Orpheus' ability to temporarily transcend death with song. Musicians were featured prominently in artworks of the period by Caravaggio and Titan (Arkenberg 2002). In art, music was depicted as expressing human emotion, purely and authentically, in a way that the other arts often could not.

The rise of secular music was perhaps the most notable feature of this period. While during the immediately preceding centuries, formally composed music was primarily sacred, the new interest in personal life and 'the human' came to the forefront during this period and allowed more sophisticated composition for dances and romantic songs. Dance music experienced rapid innovations: the century "saw the development of instrumental music such as the canzona, ricercare, fantasia, variations, and contrapuntal dance-inspired compositions, for both soloists and ensembles, as a truly distinct and independent genre with its own idioms separate from vocal forms and practical dance accompaniment" (Arkenberg 2002). While folk dancing had always existed, now dance music began to be elevated to its own status as a true art form. Setting poetry to music, love songs, and folk songs all became popular at the court as well as in the streets. High and low culture began to merge. More people began to compose as well as play music.

At the beginning of the 16th century,… [END OF PREVIEW]

Philosophy of Humanism & Music of the Renaissance Era Thesis

Henry VIII Term Paper

Cultural Transmissions by the Italian Renaissance Term Paper

Southern and Northern Renaissance Term Paper

Renaissance the Characteristics of the Renaissance Man Term Paper

View 15 other related papers  >>

Cite This Essay:

APA Format

Humanism and 16th Century Music.  (2009, December 12).  Retrieved September 15, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Humanism and 16th Century Music."  12 December 2009.  Web.  15 September 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Humanism and 16th Century Music."  December 12, 2009.  Accessed September 15, 2019.