Renaissance music took great liberties with musical form. In 1300 the most popular music was French and secular. Although secular music gradually spread all over Europe, it flowered in Italy. In fact, in about 1330 an Italian school of musical composition developed in Padua, Verona, Bologna, Florence, and Milan. Often this music was written in the vernacular; its primary composers, thinkers such as Leonardo Giustiniani (1398–1446) and Marsilio Ficino, would often improvise words to the accompaniment of a lute-viola. This experimentation led to the development of contrapuntal music, or music that hinged on the pleasing interplay of two melodic lines.
Josquin Desprez composed masses, chansons, and motets, of which his Hercules Dux Ferriare mass and Misere motet are lasting examples; he was one of the first composers to use imitation, or repetition of melodies, successfully within a composition. Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina also composed mainly religious music. He distinguished himself with his motets and masses, namely Veni creator spiritus, Missa brevis, and Accepit Jesus calicem ; he also made full use of the cantus firmus, or pre-existing melody around which other melodies are intertwined, in his compositions. Orlando di Lasso was also a noted composer whose work included motets, chansons, and madrigals.
Madrigals were popular throughout Europe; the best known, The White and Gentle Swan, was by the Flemish composer Jacob Arcadelt. English composers rivaled the Flemish; leading English madrigal composers of the Renaissance include Thomas Weelkes, William Byrd, Thomas Morley, and Orlando Gibbons. Often, English madrigal composers were influenced by the work of Italians. The main Italian madrigal composers were Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo, and Claudio Monteverdi. Monteverdi was the most accomplished artist of the three; in addition to composing madrigals, he composed the first major operas, including L'Arianna and Orfeo.
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