The Top Famous Renaissance Composers

The Renaissance Period was a vibrant time when knowledge and fine arts flourished. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, and Titian were painting some of humanity's most awe-inspiring works of art. Wars like the War of Roses were fought between clashing dynasties in their arduous quests to rule, and great changes were made in the church during the Protestant Reformation. Generally classified as taking place between 1400 and 1600, these 200 years mark an incredible transformation and advancement in the world. And among those transformations was that of great music notation and composition. If it weren't for these great Renaissance composers, whose ground-shaking, mold-breaking musical ideas opened a floodgate of musical curiosity, the world of classical music we know today might be drastically different.

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William Byrd (1543–1623)

William Byrd is perhaps the greatest English composer of all time. With hundreds of individual works, Byrd seemingly mastered every style of music that existed during his lifetime, outshining Orlando de Lassus and Giovanni Palestrina. He was a pupil working under Thomas Tallis, also on this list. Apart from his choral works, Byrd is considered by many to be the first "genius" of the keyboard. Many of his piano works can be found in "My Ladye Nevells Book" and the "Parthenia."

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Josquin Des Prez (1440–1521)

Widely recognized by just his first name, Josquin Des Prez was Europe's most sought-after musician during his lifetime. His popularity, no doubt, was a result of his diverse interests, combining many contemporary styles of music. His originality and his ability to unveil the meaning and emotions of a text through music, both sacred and secular, added to his popularity. While he may not be the most well-documented composer, his reputation is strong, and much of Josquin's music survives today, with his masses and chansons being the most popular.

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Thomas Tallis (1510–1585)

Thomas Tallis
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Thomas Tallis, an English composer, flourished as a church musician and is considered one of the church's best early composers. Tallis served under four English monarchs and was treated very well. Queen Elisabeth granted him and his pupil William Boyd exclusive rights to use England's printing press to publish music—a first of its time. Although Tallis composed many styles of music, the majority of it is arranged for choir as Latin motets and English anthems. While Tallis' music is well-known, not much is actually known about his life.

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Pierre de La Rue (1460–1518)

Pierre de La Rue, a Frenco-Flemish composer and singer, wrote many styles of music (almost as much as Josquin). La Rue's repertoire consists entirely of vocal music. His style of voicing shows that he preferred low voice types, often composing Cs and B-flats below the bass clef. His most popular work, the "Requiem," and one of the earliest surviving Requiem masses, emphasizes the lower voices. Along with low voicing, various rhythmic patterns and long, flowing melodies are main characteristics of La Rue's music.

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Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)

Linking the Renaissance to the Baroque, Claudio Monteverdi's revolutionary music included the first dramatic opera, "Orfeo." An Italian composer, string player, and choirmaster, he was considered a pioneer in the realm of opera and an artist who served an integral transitional role between the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Much of Monteverdi's early years were spent composing madrigals: nine books in total. These books clearly mark the change in thinking and compositional style between the two musical periods. Book 8, "Ottavo Libro," includes what many consider to be the perfected form of the madrigal, "Madrigali dei guerrieri ed amorosi."

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526–1594)

With over hundreds of published works, Italian composer Palestrina was the most famous representative of the Roman School of musical composition, greatly influencing the development of music in the Roman Catholic Church. Because the voicing is extremely well balanced and beautifully harmonized, Palestrina's polyphonic music is smooth, pure, and transparent in sound.

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Orlando de Lassus (1530–1594)

Orlando de Lassus, a Netherlandish or Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance, was known for his smooth, polyphonic style. His beautiful motets combined the rich northern style of polyphony, the superb French style text-setting, and the expressive Italian melody. With over 2,000 written works for all styles of music, including all Latin, French, English, and German vocal genres, Lassus easily remains one of Europe's most versatile composers.

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Giovanni Gabrieli (1553–1612)

Giovanni Gabrieli, an Italian composer and organist, also bridges the Renaissance to the Baroque and is most known for his mastery in the style of the Venetian School. Gabrieli preferred composing sacred works; using the unusual layout of the San Marco Basilica in Venice, Italy, he was able to create stunning musical effects. Unlike those before him, Gabrieli meticulously created and planned the use of antiphone (a choir or group of instruments first heard on the left, followed by a response from another group of musicians on the right).