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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CX_KWIvIVM8) 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 vigneshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NjZ4WAVvvY

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLgWbH-qhVo

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3clX2CJqzs

John Lennon, Oh My Love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3QZVdqUidw

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., Greensleeveshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCpF2cwm_04

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.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCLv-kPra2I

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s