Compare and Contrast Essay on Medieval and Renaissance Music

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Ever thought about the music that you hear? Ever heard a solo voice without a music background? It was probably a Gregorian chant. Gregorian Chants are one of the oldest foundations in Western music in history. Gregorian chants are hymns from the Roman Catholic Church. Religious songs date back to the origin of the churches with Gregorian Chants becoming the proper music of the Roman rite in the middle ages. Gregorian Chants were religious poems or songs sung by a choir, and if they were not sung, they were played instrumentally. During the Renaissance era, a new form of music came alive. Renaissance music was vocally and musically sung throughout the years. The Renaissance era created a type of music that was known as the ‘rebirth’. During the first part of the Renaissance era music was written and sung for the church but in the later year music was for the churches, courts, wealthy persons, and music printing. The Gregorian Chants and Renaissance music are similar but different when really compared.

Gregorian Chants were sung a cappella (without musical instruments) or with musical instruments only. Gregorian chants were monophonic, which means that there was only one unaccompanied musical line.

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“Medieval church music was based on one of eight scales or modes. Certain of the modes were used for joyful music, others for meditative chant, and still others to tell sad stories. All of these modes were built from the notes in the C major scale (white keys on the piano). In Gregorian Chant (medieval church music), the melody stayed within about an octave” The Medieval Church Modes, (American). Normally the chants were sung by choirs of boys and men within the churches, but however, in religious orders, women and men were allowed to sing together. Women were not needed as much because younger boys were able to hit a higher octave than women due to the lack of puberty. Considering that Gregorian chants were produced and sung during the Roman Catholic era, the language that was used to sing and write was Latin. The Latin language was used throughout the churches. Gregorian chants have a special way of being sung.

Chants were normally sung in unison “Innovations included tropes, extra words or notes added to a chant, and organum, improvisational harmonies focusing on octaves, fifths, fourths, and, later, thirds. Neither tropes nor organum, however, belong to the chant repertory proper” (New).

Gregorian chants influenced the square notation heads, the harmonizing of voices and instruments, etc. The staff notation in music heard throughout the years was from the chants. Square notation heads were used to mark the octave that the note was supposed to be sung on. Musical notation was derived from the chants along with the repetition of a note. Gregorian chants were known for the repetition of notes and words. Neumes were tiny marks indicating the fall or rise of the voice. One of the most popular influences that were that was taken from the Gregorian chant was the chorale a simple melody, written for congregations to sing hymns. Chorale settings can be sung vocally, by instrumental, or both in later years.

“The renewed interest in early music in the late 19th century left its mark on 20th-century music. Gregorian influences in classical music include the choral setting of four chants in 'Quatre motets sur des themes Gregorian’s' by Maurice Duruflé and the choral work of Arvo Pärt” (New). The calmness and gentleness of the Gregorian chants influenced music as we know it now. The harmonies styles such as somebody would call out a phrase and it would be repeated or a phrase or note would be called out and the lower note would be called. Gregorian chants were the staple of the Roman Catholic period. They influenced many cultures and musical movements.

Renaissance music was sung with instruments and also only instrumental. “Renaissance instruments, such as vials and most wind instruments were often built in families, with several different sizes to cover different ranges. A group of like instruments were called a consort” (Burkholder). Renaissance music also included winds, plucked strings, bowed strings, keyboards, and percussion. Because of the recent change in society, a common unifying polyphonic style of music emerged. “Polyphony means music with more than one part, and so this indicates simultaneous notes” (McComb).

“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. Principal liturgical forms which endured throughout the entire Renaissance period were masses and motets, with some other developments towards the end, especially as composers of sacred music began to adopt secular forms (such as the madrigal) for their own designs.”

Renaissance music was very influential in history.

“The music of the period was significantly influenced by the developments which define the early modern period: the rise of humanistic thought; the recovery of the literary and artistic heritage of ancient Greece and Rome; increased innovation and discovery; the growth of commercial enterprise; the rise of a bourgeois class; and the Protestant Reformation” (Lumen). The Renaissance era was called the ‘rebirth’ period because the era was very different than what was previously known. Music changed a lot throughout the era; at the beginning of the era, music was religious and only for the church. Towards the end of the era music was public and for the wealthy. The whole attuited throughout the year changed because the idea of humanism hopped in minds. Humanism was the value of humans and the thoughts being emphasized. The Mensuration notation is a numerical system where rhythmic durations were measured between note values. “Arithmetical proportions are used in mensural notation to diminish or increase the value of a note in certain ratios” (Apel 146). “Just as a whole rest in modern notation can have different durations depending on the time signature, so many of the notes and rests of this earlier notation can have different durations depending on the mensuration. There are no bar lines to mark each measure nor to distinguish one mensuration from another, but the rhythmic organization is there just the same” (Diffin, 6)

Both the Gregorian chants and the Renaissance music influenced a lot of things within the society and in later years to come. Both Gregorian Chants and Renaissance music are two very different types of music type. These musical influences have rarely anything in common with each other when it comes to music but when you look at how music influences society it had many simulates

Work cited:

  1. “A Brief History of Gregorian Chant.” America Magazine, 7 Mar. 2018,
  2. INVITATION TO LEARN GREGORIAN CHANT | Gregorian Chant Hymns---. . Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  3. The Medieval Church Modes, Dorian Scales & Mixolydian Scales. Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  4. Gregorian Chant - New World Encyclopedia. . Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  5. McComb, Todd M. What Is Monophony, Polyphony, Homophony, Monody Etc.? . Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  6. Renaissance Music | Music Appreciation. . Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  7. Apel, Willi. The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900–1600. 1961. 5th ed., Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America., December 15,
  8. Duffin, Ross W. “Notation Manual.” Notation Manual, 1983,
  9. Burkholder, J. Peter. “ Renaissance Instruments.” Music M401 History and Literature of Music I: Antiquity to 1800, Iowa State University’s Musica Antiqua, 15 Oct. 2014,
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