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History of Brass: The Renaissance Era

December 6th, 2023 | 2 min read

By Adam McCulloch

History of Brass: The Renaissance Era

Want to learn more about the beginnings of brass music? Let A Brassy History take you on a walk down a musical memory lane.

This first episode of A Brassy History begins with the Renaissance era. Hosted by brass boffin and pBone Music Ambassador Grant Golding, this series promises a deep dive into the history of brass instruments and their significant role in music evolution. This free video series includes lots of backing tracks to play along with, so read on and check out the episode!

From caveman beats to royal fanfares

Our story begins in the caveman days, where percussion, created by clashing rocks, laid the foundation for musical discovery. These primal rhythms, used for everything from soothing babies to invigorating warriors, paved the way for brass instruments. Made from anything handy, including animal horns and even human thigh bones, these early brass instruments served as primitive communication tools, sending signals over long distances.

Picture of the Mona Lisa playing pBuzz

The Renaissance: a cultural rebirth

Fast forward to the Renaissance period, spanning 1300 to 1600, a time of rebirth in art, literature, and music. The era's great minds included Michelangelo, Donatella, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael – yes, the same names as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! This period also saw the invention of the printing press, a game-changer for music dissemination, although initially, only the über-rich had access to printed scores.

Brass instruments during this time were more refined than their ancient counterparts. Trombones, known then as "sacbut" or "sacabouche" (meaning push-pull mouth), and trumpets were prominent. These instruments were integral in sacred music, accompanying choirs in churches and playing various parts of the Bible in musical form.

Secular music and brass instruments

Apart from sacred music, the Renaissance also enjoyed secular music – tunes for dancing, ballads, and home entertainment. Instruments like the crumhorn and cornetto were popular, and brass instruments played a significant role in this genre as well.

Orfeo: the game-changing moment

The pivotal moment that bridged Renaissance music with the Baroque period was Claudio Monteverdi's staging of his musical drama Orfeo. For the first time, trumpets, traditionally military and battlefield instruments, were incorporated into theatrical music. The blending of military and traditional instruments in Orfeo was the Renaissance equivalent of a viral hit, forever changing the course of music history.

Annie Lennard pBuzz

Hands-on experience with historical music

In keeping with the interactive nature of A Brassy History, viewers are encouraged to play along with Renaissance pieces using modern brass instruments like pTrumpet, pBone, pBuzz, and pBone Mini. Backing tracks and simplified parts are available, offering a unique opportunity to experience and understand this crucial period in music history.

Ready to dive into the video lesson? Here's the full YouTube video from Grant:

The legacy of Renaissance brass

The Renaissance era set the stage for significant developments in brass music. From signalling instruments to key players in orchestras and sacred spaces, brass instruments evolved alongside culture and society. As we delve deeper into A Brassy History, we'll continue to explore how these instruments shaped and were shaped by the times they lived through.

Adam McCulloch

Adam is the Content Manager at pBone Music. This should mean that he’s the ideal person to write about himself, but he finds boasting in the third person a little awkward. He honed his word wizardry with a degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds. He has since written copy for clients and businesses across the land, from awards to something beginning with “z”. He also spent a number of years as a musician. He has written pop songs and even jingles for kids, performed more first dances at weddings than you could shake a pBuzz at, and once played a gig for a pie company at The Etihad Stadium in Manchester. When he’s not reminiscing about those good old days, you might find Adam enjoying the football (although as an Everton fan, that can be difficult). He also loves spending time with his partner, Jen, and his family and friends, and sincerely hopes they feel the same way.