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This innovative and multi-layered study of the music and culture of Renaissance instrumentalists spans the early institutionalization of instrumental music from c.1420 to the rise of the basso continuo and newer roles for instrumentalists around 1600. Employing a broad cultural narrative interwoven with detailed case studies, close readings of eighteen essential musical sources, and analysis of musical images, Victor Coelho and Keith Polk show that instrumental music formed a vital and dynamic element in the artistic landscape, from rote function to creative fantasy. Instrumentalists occupied a central role in courtly ceremonies and private social rituals during the Renaissance, and banquets, dances, processions, religious celebrations and weddings all required their participation, regardless of social class. Instrumental genres were highly diverse artistic creations, from polyphonic repertories revealing knowledge of notated styles, to improvisation and flexible practices. Understanding the contributions of instrumentalists is essential for any accurate assessment of Renaissance culture.
The mensural system of rhythmic notation used in the fifteenth century, musica mensurabilis, was largely inherited from earlier centuries. This chapter focuses on aspects of the mensural system that led to the most interesting features of fifteenth-century rhythmic style. It describes current scholarly arguments about aspects of fifteenth-century notation. Students who learned mensural notation in the fifteenth century most likely did so from a textbook that was a century old, the Libellus cantus mensurabilis attributed to Johannes de Muris. For the modern musician reading fifteenth-century notation, imperfect notes are very close to modern note shapes, since they are the origin of binary system. Johannes Tinctoris's highly polemical remarks about improper use of proportion signs in Proportionale musices are both entertaining and enlightening for the modern reader. By the early fifteenth century, successive diminution of a tenor line was generally not written out but signaled by a verbal canon.