Renaissance Music VIII: Pop Stars

In the late Renaissance, music began to change in substance, form and function.  The Church, the mighty patron of composers since the beginning of the European musical tradition, was about to take a back seat to secular music, led by a wave of popular songsmiths of the late 16th century.  Chief among these new pop stars was Jacques Arcadelt (1504-1568), who was so famous, no less a celebrity that Caravaggio (the baddest of the bad boy artists of all time—set aside an hour and watch this: memorialized his sheet music in his paintings.  Here is his most famous chanson (the French version of the Italian madrigal):

Jacques Arcadelt, Margot labourez les vignes: 

Arcadelt may seem a bit old fashioned to our ears today, but take him to the beach, add a backbeat and you’ve got the early Beach Boys:

The Beach Boys: Catch a Wave:

Arcadelt was hardly alone.  The English singer-songwriter John Dowland (1563-1626) created beautiful tunes that seem to exist out of time to my ear.  Are they so very different from what we consider 450 years later to be our pop songs?  Paul Simon? John Lennon?  Here are the origins of their music. Simple melodies about human emotions.  Radical and revolutionary.

John Dowland, Flow My Tears:

John Lennon, Oh My Love:

Some composers are sadly lost to history.  But here is a tune that everyone knows, likely the first on this list to claim that honor.  Several contemporaries claim the honor of its composition, but the actual author is likely unknown.  A perfect expression of Renaissance popular song-craft and still popular to this day:

Anon., Greensleeves

Greensleeves is, I think, the first #1 hit, a simple melody simply told, as the great guitarist Jeff Beck explained by way of an acoustic guitar on his first solo album:

Jeff Beck, Greensleeves (after Anon.):

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