Renaissance love songs
The Renaissance period is renowned for its love songs. Medieval music was largely spiritual but secular music became increasingly prevalent, particularly from the 15th century onwards. Then, as now, love songs were extremely popular, many of them written about courtly love. Although the ideas behind courtly love were rarely taken seriously, its themes and imagery were evocative and very appealing.
The concepts of chivalry and courtly love were popularised by the poetry and songs of the troubadour composers. Originating in southern France in the 12th century, troubadours and their songs of love and longing spread throughout Europe. Eleanor of Aquitaine brought the tradition to England when she married King Henry II in 1152.
The recordings you can listen to on this page are featured throughout the Museum's Medieval & Renaissance galleries and complement significant objects in the collection. The recordings were made by the Royal College of Music especially for the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries thanks to an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
O Rosa bella
Songs which reflected the heartbreak and pain of love were extremely popular in the 14th and 15th centuries.This one, O Rosa bella (O Lovely Rose), describes courtly love, a formalised secret passion between aristocrats that was both erotic and spiritual, even morally uplifting. This type of song was first written in the 12th century by the troubadours; aristocratic poets of southwest France.
The music for O Rosa bella was written around 1400 by Johannes Ciconia, a Franco-Flemish composer, who worked mainly in Italy. The original singers were probably soloists from the court chapel or cathedral choir. In this recording the piece is performed with two male voices accompanied by a lute.
D'où vient cela, belle
D'où vient cela, belle (How is it, my love) is one of the most famous works written by one of the greatest masters of the Renaissance chanson, Claudin de Sermisy. A chanson is a lyrical song with French words. This one is the sad lament of a jilted lover, wondering how it is that his beloved no longer wants him.
Sermisy composed for several French monarchs in the early 16th century, including François I (1494–1547) and Henri II (1519–1559). His chansons were performed on a variety of instruments, but in this recording, four singers are accompanied only by a lute, a typical set-up of the time. Music like this, involving only a few performers, was probably heard in the private quarters of the palace, an intimate and exclusive experience.
Trionfo di Bacco
Trionfo di Bacco (The Triumph of Bacchus) was written for a Florentine festival and would have been performed in the city's crowded streets. It is one of the best examples of Florentine festival music written before 1500 to have survived.
The words for Trionfo di Bacco were written by Lorenzo de' Medici, the de-facto ruler of the Florentine Republic between 1469–92. Under Lorenzo the festivals in Florence became even more spectacular as the city's best craftsmen, artists and artisans were commissioned to make magnificent designs and costumes.
Latin was the language used for music written for the church. However songs like this one were sung in the Italian vernacular and would have been understood by all. Composers took great care to insure the proper accentuation of the text, as the words had to be heard above the commotion of an outdoor festival.
In the recording you can listen to here, the three voices sing to the accompaniment of a lute. The popularity of this song means that it is most likely to have been performed in all sorts of situations: with the accompaniment and reinforcement of many more instruments and voices for outdoor performances or to the accompaniment of lute, as in this recording, for indoor renditions of the song.