15th & 16th-Century Music

Two of the most important facets of musicianship are the challenge of making music with at least one other human, and the opportunity to deal with actual repertoire. For both reasons, I don't see much point in wasting time on "exercise music" -- the single-line junk used to fill those horrific music-by-committee textbooks such as the one by Berkowitz, Fontrier, and Kraft. Why spend your valuable time learning dumb textbook-tunes that, in the end, don't belong anywhere in the world, except as part of some dreary chapter in a yet-to-be-written history of music pedagogy?

The subtitle of this section might have been "Is there life before Bach?" A number of years ago, I began collecting as many two-part pieces as I could find by the generation of composers active roughly in the years 1475-1550. Starting with Ockeghem, the names include Obrecht, de la Rue, Fevin, Brumel, Willaert, and of course the giant, Josquin. All of these composers, and others, left behind a body of work in which may be found, mainly in the masses, some great examples of two-part vocal counterpoint. Rhythmically, much of it is quite complex, surprisingly so if you associate the sound of Renaissance music with the placid flow of, say, a Palestrina or a Victoria. Because the music is modal, singing it can really open up your ears to the fact that not all music, even within the Euro tradition, is major or minor. Actually, I sometimes get an extra kick out of changing the modality of these things by pretending that there's a different "key signature" (shifting the location of the semitones). And finally, the pleasure of singing with someone else, in tune, is one of life's little miracles. Guess I'm just a fool for harmony.

So far, I have edited about three hundred of these compositions. From these, I have also assembled a small set of fifty-eight canons (48 pages), in which only one part is written out, together with instructions for how to produce the second voice. Sometimes this is simply a matter of starting a couple of beats later, but it can also involve things like imitating at a fifth, with or without the same solfa syllables, and moving at half of the speed of the written part. You can see a couple of examples in the section Ear Training & Musicianship. Beyond that, I have included two more pieces here, the Agnus from Josquin's "Missa La sol fa re mi", and a beautiful augmentation canon at the fifth in phrygian mode by Hans Leo Hassler (and its resolution). If you are interested in more of this amazing music, you should 1) go to your nearest big music library and dig it up yourself, or 2) get in touch with yours truly.

15th- & 16th-century Online Materials
Here you will find a selection of materials, *.midi sound files and *.pdf files available for download. Most are available free-of-charge, and others may be purchased for a nominal amount with our easy-to-use paypal service.