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Knowledge Base -->  Early Music | Instruments | Revival |

What is Early Music?

In the 1960s, David Munrow imported from America the term 'early music' as an attempt to anglicise the concept 'Alte Musik' used in Germany and other European countries. At that time, the term early music could have been understood in England as children's music. Following the succeed of the Munrow's ensemble -The Early Music Consort of London- the term quickly reached the present meaning all over the world. Prior to its emergence, early music was called ancient music, music of olden times or just old music. In some contexts it is also referred as pre-classical music.

Early music commonly designates either a repertory (European music written in a millennium that spans from roughly 800 to 1800, including Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical music 1) or an approach toward the idea of performing any old music more "authentically" on the basis of surviving instruments, treatises and other evidence (known as "Historical Performance", "Period performance" or "Authentic performance") including the use of period instruments. Frequently it is both.

Early music practitioners seek to discover and perform music from times past, to explore a repertory of music that is otherwise little known. Early music specialists also aim to recreate the sound-worlds of earlier times through the use of period instruments and techniques. They base their interpretations on the accumulated evidence of original instruments, manuscripts, first editions, and the remarks of theoretical and instructional treatises, rather than on “received tradition” passed on by previous generations of performers and teachers.

Why is it those periods in particular? Beginning with the late 18th century, music of Mozart & Haydn and especially Beethoven's in the following generation, was performed in public concerts during their lifetimes and then after their deaths, continuously to the present day. Historically speaking, this is a fairly noticeable change, as earlier music frequently was not performed even a few decades after it was written. Early music becomes 'early' by virtue of not generally having had this public continuity. Early music is the music which was not typically being performed in concerts at the time when performers decided to play it. This happened gradually over the course of a few decades and it is known as the Early Music Revival.

Musical periods

  EARLY MUSIC        

(before 1500 BC)

(before AD 500)

Medieval (500–1400). Early Middle Ages (500 to 1100), Late Middle Ages (1100 to 1450)
Renaissance (1450–1600)
Baroque (1600–1760)

Classical (1730–1825)
Romantic (1820–1910)

20th century


What changed in the Renaissance?

Emancipation of instrumental from vocal music. Methods and compositions only for instruments and orchestration in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Contrast and blend of timbres, as a vital part of music. The new delight in timbre acted as a strong stimulus in making instruments. All instruments were made in families or consorts, that is, in several sizes. They extended the lower limit of medieval music with basses and contrabasses. Never before and never since has the palette of musical hues been as rich as in the sixteenth century. In contrast to the following centuries, there was a prevalence of wind instruments (80%) over stringed (20%). Comprehensive and reliable, the Syntagma (Praetorius 1571-1621) is the standard reference book on sixteenth century instruments.

The beauty of musical instruments has never been so much appreciated before and since. At that time the violin and most other instruments were given their classical shapes. Moreover, many instruments of that time were carefully joined, turned, carved and inlaid; precious material was used; harpsichords and spinets were decorated by first-rate painters. For the same reason instruments were collected by art lovers and preserved in museums.

Musical Instruments may be described as the ingenious work of able and earnest artisans who devised them after much diligent thought and work, fashioned them out of good materials and designed them in the true proportions of art, such that they produce a beautiful accord of sound and can be employed for the magnification of God and the fitting and proper entertainment of men.

More Info

The general topic overcomes the intention of this website. More information in the following links:

Early Music Info:
Early Music Network:
Medieval Music & Arts Foundation:

Books about Early Music in general:

Haskell, Harry. The Early Music Revival. (Thames and Hudson, 1988; Dover, 1996).
Sherman, Bernard. Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers (Oxford University Press, 1997).
Haynes, Bruce. The End of Early Music (Oxford University Press, 2007).



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Last modification: 03 de mayo de 2019
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