Music in Elizabethan England played a major role in society. From its earliest roots, which were poetry, this art form conveys the message of Elizabethan times appropriately. A quotation from The Merchant of Venice states: The man hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treason, stratagems, and spoils. The Elizabethan woman was expected to sing and play the lute or virginals. To be fashionable was to be musical. The Tudor sovereign included, alone, between sixty and seventy musicians.
Music played such a significant role in society, that even Sir Francis Drake took with him, on a voyage around the world, a band of instrumentalists in order to impress strange people with the splendor of the English civilization. This is a true reflection of the attitude towards music, and how it shaped the musical aspect of Elizabethan England. The range of instruments used during this time is extensive. There were recorders, flutes, flageolets, rebels, tabors, drums, and sackbuts. The most popular, however, were the lute, virginals, and the viols. The lute was a loved instrument, among all classes, either played as a solo instrument, or used to accompany a solo voice.
They were found in various shapes and sizes. The most common was the treble lute, being shaped like a large mandolin, with six strings, the five lower attached in pairs, making eleven total strings. This instrument was extremely popular. The viols were used for both solo and accompaniment. A chest (or band) of them consisted of two treble, two tenor, and two bass viols. When played together, it was called a consort.
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If another instrument was brought into the making, it was called a broken consort. Viols had six strings, and played with a bow. The virginal, one of the earliest keyboard instruments, was rectangular in shape and had a keyboard of about four octaves. Elizabeth herself wa known to be one of the most accomplished performers of that instrument. There was a plethora music written for all the instruments. However, performers could play from the part-song books just as well.
Their composers even suggested such arrangements on the title pages of their compositions, telling performers that songs were apt for a type of music, such as apt for viols and voices. The printing of the part song books apt for various combinations of voices and instruments were printed in large volumes, so several people could sing or play from a single book. Composers also suggested alternate instruments, so as to make a broken consort performance. Elizabethan music began as simply singing poetry. It evolved though, and soon singing began in churches. The music in the Church of England consisted mainly of anthems.
While still relaying the same message in the song, they became more complex, through gloriously free-spirited and inspiring tunes. Some of the finest pieces were written by Christopher Tye, Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd, and Thomas Tallis. The Elizabethan settings of the Psalms, which replaced the Catholic hymns, were motivating and are still sung today. Composers, such as Robert Parsons, John Cosy n, and William Damon, helped the music become uplifting and inspiring in the church. Soon, music was playing important roles in early dramas. In 1562 the famous tragedy of Gorboduc was acted in the Hall of the Inner Temple on Twelfth Night, and they play was produced with music effects supplied by viols, cornets, oboes, drums, and flutes.
After this play, the growth of interest in theatrical performances, with recognized stage practices, was an accepted part of music in the Elizabethan society. Elizabethan music was incredibly important to the society at that time. It can be concluded that this art form was a wonderful expression of the time. From the earliest forms of music in Elizabethan times, we know that music was one of the most eloquent parts of Elizabethan history.
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