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Elizabethan Music

Queen Elizabeth Ist

"Queen Elizabeth Ist"

Elizabethan Music

Music was an important form of entertainment to the people who lived during the Elizabethan era. Music and Elizabethan instruments could be performed by Elizabethan musicians, or simple songs and ballads could be sung in the villages and fields to ease the monotonous tasks undertaken by the Lower Classes.

All Elizabethans attended church on a Sunday which led to the popularity of hymns and secular songs. The earliest Church organ dated back to to the 8th Century.

Elizabethan Theatre Music
Music had been used to accompany poems during the medieval era. The Elizabethans taste for the Theatre was soon enhanced by the accompaniment of music. It was only a short step to combine the accustomed music with its accompanying verse with the exciting pageantry of the Elizabethan theatre. The importance of music to the Elizabethans was reflected in the plays of William Shakespeare who makes more than five hundred references to music in his plays and poems.The plays of William Shakespeare were divided into three categories - Comedies, Tragedies and Histories. Each genre required a different emotions to be reflected in the music. The Shakespeare plays As You Like It and Twelfth Night contain six songs each. And it is believed that 'Full fathom five' and 'Where the Bee Sucks' were written by Robert Johnson (1580-1634) for the first performance of the Tempest. Elizabethan Theatre musicians were usually situated in a section of the 'Lords Rooms'. The 'Lords Rooms' were situated in a gallery immediately above stage wall and facing the backs of the actors. A perfect position for the musicians to accompany the plays. The theatre musicians also took strategic places on the theatre stage and were even known to play under the theatre stage giving the impression of distance or providing an eerie atmosphere in plays like Macbeth. The hautboy (an early oboe) provided a high pitched, supernatural effect which accompanied the witches in Macbeth.

Refined Elizabethan Court Music
The introduction of new musical instruments such as the early violin called the viol, the early oboe called the hautboy and the keyboard musical instruments called the spinet, harpsichord and the virginals provided the sounds which produced a much more refined sound than had been produced during the Medieval era. Combinations of musical instruments, as in the modern orchestra, were still in the experimental stage but provided the opportunity to create unusual and creative music. The popularity of stringed and keyboard instruments grew tremendously during the Renaissance period creating beautiful, refined sounds. Music was being taught in schools and Universities and the ability to play a musical instrument was an essential skill at the court of Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth was a patron of all the Arts and encouraged Elizabethan composers and musicians. She had been taught to play musical instruments as part of her education and was a skilled musician of the lute and the virginal. Music played a huge part in court life. Nobles were expected to entertain their contemporaries and to show their prowess in dancing. Dancing was a form of exercise enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth practised every morning. Dancing was accompanied by the Court musicians.

Elizabethan Music
Elizabethan music had developed into sophisticated and varied forms. The introduction of the theatre during the Elizabethan era was enhanced as the plays were accompanied by music. Elizabethan music played in the theatre therefore need to be  capable of communicating many different moods reflecting the plots of the plays and heightening the drama.  The different types of Elizabethan music were:

  • Elizabethan Church music
  • Elizabethan Court Music
  • Elizabethan Street Music
  • Elizabethan Theatre Music
  • Elizabethan Town Music

The Elizabethan Golden Age saw the emergence of the Anthem, the Madrigal, the Masque and Opera. The emergence of new English music schools. And great Elizabethan Composers such as William Byrd (1543-1623), Thomas Campion (1567-1620), John Dowland (1563-1626), John Farmer (1570-1601), Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Robert Johnson (1500-1560) and Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Elizabethan Music reflected moods and emotions
The idea of accompanying plays with music was inspired and ensured that Elizabethan music reflected all different types of moods and emotions. Music therefore became far more expressive during the Elizabethan era and the Renaissance saw the linking of the Arts with everyday pastimes.

Elizabethan Court Musicians
Queen Elizabeth employed at least 70 musicians and singers. The singers included those from the Chapel Royal. Her favorite court composers included Thomas Campion (1567-1620), Robert Johnson (1500-1560) and William Byrd (1543-1623). The range of Elizabethan music played at court varied enormously from traditional, simple English ballads to sophisticated madrigals and from solemn church music to lively dance music. The court musicians played to the courtiers from the Minstrels Gallery. The Minstrels Galleries were situated on a raised gallery overlooking the Great Hall of the castles and palaces used during the Elizabethan era. The musicians were seated on a narrow balcony, usually having a railing or balustrade.

Elizabethan House Musicians
Elizabethan music was so popular that every Nobleman employed his own musicians. Even Middle Class households employed at least one servant who could also play a musical instrument. Anyone who belonged to these classes were expected to be able to perform on an instrument and read music on sight. Music and Song lyrics were printed during the Elizabethan era but these were sold as separate documents. The Elizabethan composer John Dowland (1563-1626), a University Graduate in Music,  published his ' First Booke of Songes or Ayres' in 1597. It became a best seller and highly profitable to the Publisher. Other popular composers followed suit.

Elizabethan Street Music
The Medieval era of travelling minstrels and troubadours had passed with the coming of the bubonic plague. Strangers and travellers were looked upon with fear and suspicion. Travelling was discouraged by the Elizabethan government and licenses were required for any type of travel. Street, tavern and theatre musicians replaced the travelling minstrels. Wealthy Elizabethans hired musicians to play during dinner. Elizabethan street music was played at weekly markets and the occasional fairs. Elizabethan Feasts, Fairs and Festivals were all common occurrences and were celebrated during specific times of the year (most of which were dictated by the Church and religious festivals.) The instruments played to provide Elizabethan  Street music were light and easily carried. They included fiddles, the lute, recorders and small percussion instruments. The songs and ballads sang by the street musicians were the traditional favorites - a far cry from the sophisticated and refined music of the Elizabethan court.

Elizabethan Town Music - the 'Waits'
There were official musicians in the large English towns who were called the Waits, equivalent to a town band. The Waits dated back to the early medieval era when they accompanied town watch. The Waits were supplied with high-pitched pipes or hautboys (similar to the modern oboe). These pipes became known as Waits Pipes and were first used to sound alarms. The role of the Waits gradually evolved into groups of musicians employed by the towns. The Waits were expected to compose and play music for important town and civic ceremonies and occasions. The Elizabethan Waits therefore provided free concerts for everyone, financed by the town.

Elizabethan Church Music
Elizabethan Church music was beautiful. Many of the Elizabethan composers not only composed music for the court but also the church. Elizabethan composers for the voice made use of two distinct styles which were called the Madrigal and the Ayre. The emergence of the madrigal ensured that ‘England first became sophisticated in the ways of Continental music.’ The early 1500's saw the high point of the unique English liturgical style. Church music included canzonets, balletts, madrigals and ‘sacred songs’. The style of Elizabethan church music is described as choral polyphony (polyphonic, counterpoint, contrapuntal), meaning more than one part. Thomas Tallis and William Byrd ( organist of the Chapel Royal ) were the chief Elizabethan composers of Elizabethan Church music providing the new Protestant Church of England with a wealth of Hymns that are still played today.

Elizabethan Musical Instruments
Elizabethan Stringed Instruments
Elizabethan Wind Instruments
Elizabethan Percussion Instruments
Elizabethan Keyboard Instruments
Elizabethan Songs
Elizabethan Dance
Elizabethan Composers
Elizabethan Masques
Elizabethan England
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