Welcome

Medieval musicThis page aims to be an introductory guide to resources the library holds on early and Renaissance music. The title-underlined links will take you directly to our catalogue. Some featured items are linked via a cover to enable you to listen to tracks or read more about the items.

(Page last updated July 2012.)

 

Scope

So, what exactly is "early" music? Generally speaking, music composed before about 1600. This can cover the Middle Ages (Mediaeval), or the Renaissance, but can extend back further to more ancient times. Like Baroque music, Early music has recently undergone a revival - and especially attempts at "authentic" performance. A longer introductory definition of the period may be found at www.medieval.org .

Musical instruments changed a lot over this period so check the guide to medieval and Renaissance musical instruments.

Catalogue Quicksearch:

To find all early music CDs at the library, try this Catalogue Quicksearch

New @ the library

Featured CD:

Amazon jacket Missa Ecco si beato giorno ; and, other works / Alessandro Striggio. Spem in alium / Tallis. [CD & DVD]
Performers: I Fagiolini ; Robert Hollingworth, conductor ; with instrumental acc.
"World premiere recordings [mass and madrigals]"--Container.
"Beautifully performed by I Fagiolini with soloists and countless continuo parts, the polychoral effects are striking ... a masterpiece." (Guardian reviewer) Includes DVD with audio files for Ecce beatam lucem, Missa Ecco si beato giorno, and Spem in alium (Plainchant and Tallis), and a documentary The Making of Striggio, with narration by the conductor, comments by the performers and excerpts from the recording sessions.

Amazon jacket Cancion del emperador : music for vihuela.
Performer: Jose Miguel Moreno, vihuela.
although the vihuela has a more limited range that the harp and organ (the other common instruments of the day) the value of the instrument's greatest resource is its "expressivity, its power to suggest, to evoke elegantly, rather than be explicit or even shout. The vihuela speaks to us and and its speech has inflections, phrases begun, words suggested, motives evoked, in a flow of voices that search for the vitality and modulation of sounds and virtues of harmony." (drawn from the booklet page 8).

 

More new & recent items:

Booklists

Check out our new book lists section for a complete list of all new classical CDs at the library, compiled every month.

MyLibrary

Have a look at the libraries' Classical Music recent picks for more new CDs, biographies of classical musicians and new scores.

MyLibrary is a free service which allows you to set up your own portal page to collect lists of new books, CDs and DVDs in the library. Our librarians compile these lists on a monthly basis across the different subject areas in the library's collection, and for many subjects these monthly lists are available going back a number of years.

 

Selected CD compilations

Amazon jacketSong of songs, by Palestrina, Guerrero, Lassus, Victoria and others.
Performers: Stile Antico ; with Alison Hill, soprano ; Benedict Hymas, tenor.
"This ensemble, its members still in their 20s and just a dozen beautifully blended voices singing a cappella, has emerged as one of the best and freshest early music choirs around... Palestrina's flowing lines... blur the boundaries of sacred and profane to sumptuous effect. (Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian)

Amazon jacket Monastic chant : 12 & 13 C. European sacred music
Featuring: CD 1. The age of Cathedrals : music from the Magnus liber Organi.
CD 2. Hoquetus : medieval European vocal music.
Gramophone Awards 2003 Record label of the year. (Harmonia Mundi)
Performers: Theatre of Voices ; Paul Hillier, director.
This double CD set is well worth sampling. It includes the most important composers before 1400 e.g. Perotin, Adam de la Halle, Machaut etc, and the performances easily rival other groups such as the Orlando Consort, or Gothic Voices) with flawless intonation.

Amazon jacketCourt jesters : Tudor minstrel music dances, songs, ballads, street cries, instrumental pieces and solos from the court of King Henry VIII., performed by Sirinu (musical group).
North's Dowland Lute series has gained him critical accolades: 'A collector's item' (The Times on Vol 1, 8.557586), 'a remarkable performance of wonderful music' (American Record Guide on Vol 2, 8.557862), 'North's sweet-toned playing is both unfailingly musical and highly imaginative' (Gramophone on Vol 3, 8.570449), 'Nigel North's Dowland cycle sets a new benchmark' (5 STARS, BBC Music Magazine).

 

DVDs:

Amazon jacketSpem in alium : music for monarchs and magnates, by Thomas Tallis
Featuring: Spem in alium / Thomas Tallis -- O all true faithful hearts / Orlando Gibbons -- Deus venerunt gentes / William Byrd -- Know you not / Thomas Tomkins -- Great King of Gods / Orlando Gibbons -- O God, the heathen are come / Thomas Tomkins -- Te Deum / Thomas Tallis -- Be strong / Thomas Tomkins -- Sing and glorify / Thomas Tallis.
Performers: The Sixteen ; Symphony of Harmony and Invention ; Harry Christophers, conductor.
This DVD explores the use of music for ceremonial, even propaganda purposes by the state, contrasted with the composers' private use of biblical texts to give public vent to their own sometimes dangerous views in an England torn by political and religious strife. Alongside the usual 40 voice setting of Spem in alium is an English version of the same work, Sing and glorify, which was adapted to an English text for King James I to honour his son Henry, the newly appointed Prince of Wales. With cornetts, sackbuts, dulcians and organs in place of some voices, this is a glorious complement to the usual version. (drawn from the slick)

 

Books

Amazon jacketMedieval music, by Richard H. Hoppin.
"Although arguably this book is not for the beginner, (it assumes a working knowledge of music and is rather scholarly at times), its thorough approach and placement of the music within its cultural or political environment recommend it. The first chapter covers the end of the Roman Empire up to 1000 A.D. while following chapters cover sacred music (Gregorian Chant, the music of the Offices/Mass, Embellishment of the liturgy, polyphony, and the Notre Dame School) and then switches over to secular music (trouveres, music outside France, and the motet). The book then covers the later medieval period, including the Ars Nova in France, Machaut, the Italian Ars Nova, with a section on English music.

Amazon jacketInside early music, by Bernard Sherman.
"How far should (and can) one go toward the past? That is, how far does one go in aiming to re-create the specific conditions (instruments, vocal techniques, scoring, pitch, etc.) of the time, versus using the most modern media available or making compromises between the two extremes? This fundamental question--with the many different ways in which musicians answer it and the controversies that result--is what makes "Historically Informed Performance" (HIP) one of the most interesting and dynamic field in classical music today. Bernard D. Sherman's "conversations with performers" illuminate these topics in a way that most scholars can't, and most music magazines don't have space for." (drawn from product description)

 

Useful Websites

  • Oxford Music Online.
    Contains The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., (2001, 29 vols). Features more than 50,000 articles on musicians, composers, musicologists, instruments, genres, terms and much more. Use your library card to log in.
  • www.teacheroz.com.
    An extensive portal site assembled by an American teacher for her students. Copious other links to related topics such Renaissance history, architecture, religion etc.
  • Early music FAQs.
    Extensive links and helpful information e.g. suggestions for beginners.
  • Renaissance Composers.
    Many composer links, as well as history and genre information. Other good features are the links to Mediaeval to Renaissance Dance and Art, scores and facsimiles, together with national style guides.
  • The birth of polyphony
    Overview of the development and contribution of medieval pholyphony. Also of note is a Medieval Music glossary, by Cynthia J. Cyrus.
  • Recorders and Early Music Union.
    The NZ website of the society of supporters of performance of classical and older music and dance, and recorder playing of all kinds. They promote the use of instruments, techniques and interpretation appropriate to the composer's culture. Check this out for local details of soirees, workshops and festivals.
  • Oxford Music Online.
    Contains The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., (2001, 29 vols). Features more than 50,000 articles on musicians, composers, musicologists, instruments, genres, terms and much more. Use your library card to log in.
  • Allclassical.com
    General biographical material as well as access to works listings.

Related pages on our website:

Online Databases

NAXOS Music Library

Logon with your library card to stream more than 276,000 audio tracks from over 20,000 CDs, with more CDs being added monthly. Includes almost all the standard classical repertoire, so it contains an extensive collection of medieval music.. It includes the complete catalogues of Naxos, BIS, Chandos and others. Contains liner notes plus opera synopses and libretti, composer and artist biographies, and other useful information.

Naxos Music Library can not currently be accessed from the public computers in the library - logon from home or ask a staff member for help. As there are a limited number of sessions available at any one time, please log out when you have finished listening.

Some important genre and composers

(The links below will jump you further down the page.)

  • Ancient |
  • Gregorian & other early chants |
  • Troubadours and madrigals |
  • Lute |
  • Guillaume de Machaut |
  • Early keyboard music |
  • Josquin Desprez |
  • Palestrina
  • Ancient

    Sample CD:

    Amazon jacket La Musique de la Bible revelee : une notation millenaire decryptee.
    Performers: Suzanne Haik Vantoura.
    This is an attempt to reconstruct the past for those curious to hear what the Psalms or other ancient Hebrew song may have sounded like. One reviewer notes "The most astounding thing about this music is that it sounds so "modern" (that is, tonal and harmonic in its structure), despite the fact some of it is 3,000 years old. ...The splendid versions of Psalms 23 and 24 alone make this recording worth the purchase". (drawn from Amazon)

     

    Gregorian and other early chants

    Sample CDs:

    Amazon jacketChant : music for paradise, performed by the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz
    This version takes traditional Gregorian chant into a modern acoustic. This selection focuses on Advent and Christ related texts. Maintaining a public face of complete religiosity, the monks refuse any press attention and don't perform in any traditional public arenas apart from their own monastery. Recorded: 31 March - 3 April 2008, Cistercian Abbey of Stift Heiligenkreuz.

    Amazon jacket Gregorian chant, performed by King's College choir.
    Features : First vespers for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many ways this recording is about an acoustic: the famously flattering ambience of King's College Cambridge, which has reverberated to the sound of human voices raised in praise since the mid fifteenth century. ...the simple beauty of this Gregorian chant CD could be a revelation; services from King's as they might have been heard there over 500 years ago." (Drawn from the BBC Review)

     

    Madrigals and Troubadours

    Sample CDs:

    Amazon jacketEnglish and Italian Renaissance madrigals, Performed by the Hilliard Ensemble
    Contains Italian madrigals by - Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, Antonio Caprioli, Loyset Compere, Jacques Arcaldet, Adrian Willaert and many others.
    English madrigal composers represented include Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes, John Wilbye, Orlando Gibbons.... The contrast between these two European styles is quite telling.

     

    Scores:

    Troubadours: medieval music to sing and play, selected and edited by Brian Sargent.
    Includes works by Adam de la Halle, and Guillaume de Machaut.

     

    Lute

    Sample CDs:

    Amazon jacketLute music (4), by John Dowland, performed by Nigel North, lute.
    North's Dowland Lute series has gained him critical accolades: 'A collector's item' (The Times on Vol 1, 8.557586), 'a remarkable performance of wonderful music' (American Record Guide on Vol 2, 8.557862), 'North's sweet-toned playing is both unfailingly musical and highly imaginative' (Gramophone on Vol 3, 8.570449), 'Nigel North's Dowland cycle sets a new benchmark' (5 STARS, BBC Music Magazine).

     

    Early Keyboard music

    Sample CDs:

    Amazon jacketFantasies, dreams and jewels : early English music., performed by Martin Souter, organ, at a c1605 organ, Knole, England.
    Contains music of William Byrd, Peter Philips, Giles Farnaby, John Mundy, John Bull, John Blitheman.

    Amazon jacketFitzwilliam virginal book : excerpts, performed by Ton Koopman.
    Toccata / Giovanni Picchi; Pavana / Orlando Gibbons; Fancie / Thomas Morley; Ut re mi fa so la / John Bull; Up tail's all / Giles Farnaby; Pavana ; Galiarda / William Byrd; Amarilli di Julio Romano / Peter Philips; Pakington's pownde / Anonymus; Pauana dolorosa treg(ian) ; Galiarda dolorosa / Peter Philips; Fantasia / William Byrd.

     

    Scores:

    Musik aus fruher Zeit 1550-1650 = Music of ancient times = Musique du temps ancien, selected by Willi Apel.
    A selection of early keyboard music from Germany, Italy, England, Spain and France.

    Josquin des Prez

    (d. 1521) French. He probably received his early musical lessons from Okeghem, and from 1486 to 1494 he sang in the Vatican's papal choir. He was known as one of the great Franco-Flemish contrapuntists although his compositions encapsulate every musical style of the time. As well as 20 masses and about 110 motets there are over 75 secular pieces, primarily French chansons, with a sprinkling of instrumental pieces. A particularly witty example of his secular style is "El Grillo" (The Cricket) which, with repeated words on one note, imitates the cricket's clicking sound.

    Sample CD:

    Amazon cd jacket Missa Faisant regretz; Motetti de Passione , performed by The Clerks' Group ; Edward Wickham, director.
    Contains - From Motetti de Passione. Tu solus qui facis miribailia ; Domine, non secundum ; Ave verum corpus ; O Domine Jesu Christe ; Christem ducem/Qui velatus / Josquin des Prez -- Tout a par moy / Walter Frye -- Missa faisant regretz / Josquin des Prez.

     

    Guillaume de Machaut

    Generally assumed to live 1300-1377, Machaut was a French priest who wrote his own texts (known for his poetry as much as music) and is an accomplished composer in the Ars Nova style. He was an early exponent of "isorhythm" - where a rhythmic pattern of notes and rests was repeated at fixed points throughout a composition. He is studied as Machaut is also credited with the first fully fledged complete mass composed by one man. It was also one of the earliest works where the music is suggestive of the emotional or spiritual content of the text. Longer biographical details.

    Sample CD:

    Amazon cd jacket Messe de Notre Dame ; Le lai de la fonteinne ; Ma finest mon commencement, Guillaume de Machaut, Performed by Hilliard Ensemble. The score for this work is shelved at 780.56 MAC.

     

    Giovanni Palestrina, (c1526-1594)

    Italian. In fact, Palestrina was the town of his birth, not his surname. He was dismissed from a post as organist at the Papal Chapel when it was discovered he was married. He worked mainly at cathedrals so his output is mainly sacred - over one hundred masses, three hundred motets, hundreds of hymns, psalms, litanies and lamentations, as well as over a hundred secular madrigals.

    Amazon jacketIn Paradisum, performed by Hilliard Ensemble.
    In fact, Palestrina was the town of his birth, not his surname. He was dismissed from a post as organist at the Papal Chapel when it was discovered he was married. He worked mainly at cathedrals so his output is mainly sacred - over one hundred masses, three hundred motets, hundreds of hymns, psalms, litanies and lamentations, as well as over a hundred secular madrigals. This CD contains some of his lesser known works but no less beautifully performed.

     

    Contact us

    This page is written and maintained by Jo. My aim is to keep you informed about the classical music and scores section of the library and to highlight parts of the collection which may interest you. Comments and suggestions about this page or the classical music collection are welcomed to classical page.

     

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