Famous Renaissance composer Tileman (Tylman) Susato got luckier than many of his contemporaries in regards of posterity. Much of his amazing music is still performed and recorded. And even if we forget about his contribution to the art of music, Susato will still be remembered as a great Renaissance instrumentalist and publisher from the city of Antwerp.
Supposedly, he was born around 1510 or 1515 in the town of Soest in Westphalia. As with many other great musical minds of that period we don’t know much about his early life. His name starts popping up in multiple Antwerp archives around 1530. He is listed and praised as a calligrapher and musician who played on tenor pipe, trumpet and flute.
Susato was the owner and creator of the first music press in the Netherlands. He worked from 1543 until his death sometime after 1570 as a music publisher. Most important of his music publications in terms of distribution and influence were the Souterliedekens of Clemens non Papa that were immensely popular in 16th century. Thanks to Susato Antwerp and Low Countries became a big center of music publishing although before music press printing was done mainly in Germany, Italy and France. In 1561 he passed his thriving musical business to his son Jacob Susato.
As an accomplished and prolific composer Tielman Susato created and published several books of masses and motets and two books of chansons for two or three voices. His instrumental music that is popular even today was published as a book of dance music in 1551. Sometimes he would dedicate his music to one composer, prominent citizens of the town or other Flemish composers.
We can’t say for sure when Tielman died as he eventually moved to the North Holland and then to Sweden. So, the last record of him comes from 1570. After that date his name vanishes from history.
Lorenzo da Firenze was one of the famous composers of Italian Trecento. Unfortunately, his bio details are scarce, birth date is unknown. Specialist theorize that he died around 1373. But Lorenzo left us some details that are integrated in his wonderful creations. His music is progressive and, occasionally, experimental. His relatively new technique contains visible French influence which was quite unusual for Italian music of that period.
Lorenzo da Firenze was not just a composer but also a famous music teacher in the period that we know as Italian ars nova. Throughout his life Lorenzo was a close friend of the brilliant Francesco Landini, and possibly his teacher too. In 1348 Lorenzo became a canon at the church of St Lorenzo and remained on this post for the remainder of his life.
His music became a part of the the Squarcialupi Codex. Up to this day this illuminated manuscript is the best source of Italian music in the 14th century. Lorenzo da Firenze is presented there with 16 pieces of music. He also left us his pedagogical manuscript “Antefana” and two mass movements.
Famous English composer of the Renaissance William Byrd lived a long life, perhaps even too long. Before he died in July 1623, Byrd created secular, consort, instrumental and sacred music in many of the forms popular in England of those times.
Byrd enjoyed outstanding reputation among English public and musicians. However, as it happened to many other European compsers his music in the end turned out to be surprisingly little influence. His native tradition of Latin music more or less died with him. During his exceptionally long life many of the forms of vocal and instrumental music he created eventually had lost their appeal to most musicians.
In our present times specialists put William Byrd on the same row with other great masters of European Renaissance music. His gigantic output is impressive: it consists of about 470 talented compositions. His ability to transform so many musical forms and add his own identity to them is one of his most impressive achievements as a composer.
Today we know much more about his life than even in 20th century. William Byrd was born in 1540 in London and had two brothers and four sisters. He started as a Chapel Royal choirboy and was lucky to land a great teacher – Thomas Tallis who was a leading composer there at the time. He moved up pretty fast as in 1563 Byrd obtained an envious position as a choirmaster and organist of Lincoln Cathedral. He held this post until 1572, and in 1568 married Julian Birley. This long-lasting produced no less than 7 children.
It seems that time spent at the Lincoln Cathedral was a happy one. Byrd wrote very interesting instrumental music there including a number of important keyboard works. Years after he left the cathedral, this composer would send there some of him compositions.
In 1572 a gifted English composer Robert Parsons, who worked at the Chapel Royal, accidentally drowned in the Trent river. That tragedy helped Byrd’s career who obtained Parson’s position in 1572. There he grew as a composer and made important contacts at the royal court. These contacts helped him along with Tallis obtain a patent for the printing music in 1975. For twenty one years these two composers ruled music paper and produced a gigantic join publication that consisted of 34 motets dedicated to the queen Elizabeth. Even though the publication became a big financial failure, Elizabeth granted Byrd and Tallis the leasehold on lands in the West country and East Anglia for 21 years.
Since the early 1570s William Byrd became a staunch and devout Catholic. Being a Catholic at the Elizabethan times was dangerous as Catholicism was considered bordering the sedition. From time to time Byrd got into serious trouble. In 1583 his membership of the Chapel Royal was temporarily suspended, Tudor authorities placed his house on the search list and restrictions were placed on Byrd’s movements.
These setbacks did not discourage Byrd. He re-established his reputation as a major composer in royal court and became a “house composer” of many powerful Catholic lords of England. He dedicated to many of them his numerous motets published in 1589 and 1591. At the same time he produced two influential sets of English songs as well. After all he was a single monopolist of paper music since his fellow monopolist and teacher Tallis had died.
Surprisingly, the 1580s turned out to be a productive decade for Byrd as a composer of instrumental music too. In 1591 he published his new collection of 42 of Byrd’s keyboard pieces. This collection shows Byrd’s talents and expertise in a wide variety of keyboard forms. Up to 1591 he also created an abundance of consort music, although some pieces did not reach us and got lost. The growing popularity is also reflected in his music that becomes a vivid and impressive word painting.
In 1594 Byrd was in his early fifties and semi-retired. He changed his residence and moved with his family to a small village Stondon Massey in Essex. His patron Sir John Petre, a wealthy landowner lived nearby. Petre was a devout Catholic and held clandestine Mass celebrations at his mansion.
Even in his late years when he was over 70, Byrd created sets of sonnets, songs and psalms heavily contributing to Anglican church music. He also wrote a collection of 21 brilliant keyboard pieces. He died a rich man surrounded by respect of local community that warmly called his “a father of music”. His death came when he was resting at the mansion of the Earl of Worcester.
Renaissance composer Jacob Clemens non Papa spent most of his life in Flanders. Unlike many of his contemporary Flemish composers and musicians, Clemens never traveled to Italy. As a result Italian influence is completely absent in his music. He was a prolific composer in many music styles, and famous for his polyphonic settings of the psalms in Dutch known as the Souterliedekens.
It is likely that the nickname “non Papa” was merely created in jest rather than for practical reasons. Nonetheless, the suffix “non Papa” has survived throughout the centuries. Jacob’s early life is unknown. The details of the years of his artistic maturity are very scarce. He may have been born around 1512 somewhere in the area of present day Belgium or the Netherlands. We learn of him as a popular composer from the late 1530s document. It mentions that Jacob Clemens published his collection of chansons in Paris. Between March 1544 and June 1545 he was a singer at the cathedral of Bruges, and shortly after he began business and then lifelong friendship relationship with Tillman Susana, the publisher in Antwerp.
From 1545 until 1549 he was probably choirmaster to Duke of Aerschot, preceding famous Renaissance composer Nicolas Gombert. In 1550 Marian Brotherhood in ‘s-Hertogenbosch employed Clemens as singer and composer. There is also evidence that he lived and worked in Ypres, Leiden, and Dordrecht. This is why in 2012, Clemens’ 500th anniversary will be celebrated in several of the towns where he is thought to have worked as a singer and composer.
Jacob Clemens died in 1555 or 1556. Some contemporary documents mention that he met the violent end but the details of his death are unknown. According to a later sources, Clemens was buried near Ypres in present-day Belgium. After Jacob’s death, his works were distributed to Germany, France, Spain, and England. The influence of Clemens was especially prominent in Germany.
Clemens was primarily a composer of sacred music. He was one of the main representatives of the generation between Josquin and Palestrina and Orlandus Lassus. His musical output was roughly 80 percent sacred music, either liturgical or for private use.
His career as a composer lasted for barely two decades, but Clemens was extremely productive writing 15 masses, 15 Magnificats, 233 motets and more than 100 secular works. But his most important, widely known and influential work turned out to be 159 Souterliedekens – Dutch settings of the psalms, using popular song melodies. They were published in 1556 by Tielman Susato and comprised the only Protestant part-music in Dutch during the Renaissance. Souterliedekens are generally simple, and designed to be sung by people at home. They use the well-known secular tunes, including drinking songs, love songs, ballads, and other popular songs of the time.
Walter Frye – this is how we call this early Renaissance composer who was possibly English. As with many other famous Renaissance composers we don’t know much and assume a lot. There are 3 “suspects” who could have been him, and one of them even had a different name. The other suspect died around 1474, so we assume that Walter Frye died at that year, yet we still don’t know how many years that Frye walked the earth.
However, a great composer, whom we name Walter Frye, created masses that influenced music works of such important Renaissance composers as Jacob Obrecht and Antoine Busnois.
Besides masses, Walter Frye also wrote popular motets and songs, including ballades. All of his surviving music is vocal, and some of his shorter secular music pieces became extraordinary famous in Italy, southern Germany, Bohemia and Austria, They were published there in numerous collections and different variations. Frye’s ballades and songs were often rearranged, plagiarized and copied.
As most of Walter Frye’s music manuscripts survived in continental Europe, experts think that famous English composer spent much of his time there. Yet, his music is closer to that of other English composers than to famous Franco-Flemish compositions of the Burgundian School. It is highly likely that most of Frye’s music still remain anonymous, as the few remaining English 15th century manuscripts rarely mention the names of composers. Besides, many English manuscripts were destroyed during the ransacking of the monasteries carried out by Henry VIII.