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During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), English art and high culture reached a pinnacle known as the height of the English Renaissance. Elizabethan music experienced a shift in popularity from sacred to secular music and the rise of instrumental music. Professional musicians were employed by the Church of England, the nobility, and the rising middle-class.
Elizabeth I was fond of music and played the lute and virginal, sang, and even claimed to have composed dance music.   She felt that dancing was a great form of physical exercise and employed musicians to play for her while she danced. During her reign, she employed over seventy musicians. The interests of the queen were expected to be adopted by her subjects. All noblemen were expected to be proficient in playing the lute and "any young woman unable to take her proper place in a vocal or instrumental ensemble became the laughing-stock of society."  Music printing led to a market of amateur musicians purchasing works published by those who received special permission from the queen.
Despite England's departure from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534, English did not become the official language of the Church of England until the reign of Elizabeth's half brother Edward VI. His reign saw many revisions to the function within the Anglican Church until it was frustrated by the succession of Catholic Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth re-established the Church of England and introduced measures of Catholic tolerance. The most famous composers for the Anglican Church during Queen Elizabeth's reign were Thomas Tallis and his student William Byrd. Both composers were Catholics and produced vocal works in both Latin and English. Secular vocal works became extremely popular during the Elizabethan Era with the importation of Italian musicians and compositions. The music of the late Italian madrigal composers inspired native composers who are now labelled as the English Madrigal School. These composers adapted the text painting and polyphonic writing of the Italians into a uniquely English genre of madrigal. Thomas Morley, a student of William Byrd's, published collections of madrigals which included his own compositions as well as those of his contemporaries. The most famous of these collections was The Triumphs of Oriana , which was made in honour of Queen Elizabeth and featured the compositions of Morley, Thomas Weelkes, and John Wilbye among other representatives of the English madrigalists.
Instrumental music was also popular during the Elizabethan Era. The most popular solo instruments of the time were the virginal and the lute. The virginal was a popular variant of the harpsichord among the English and one of Elizabeth's favourite instruments to play. Numerous works were produced for the instrument including several collections by William Byrd, namely the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and Parthenia . The lute strung with sheepgut was the most popular instrument of the age. Lutes could be played as solo instruments or as accompaniment for singers. Compositions of the latter variety were known as lute song. The most popular Elizabethan composer for the lute and of lute songs was John Dowland. Several families of instruments were popular among the English people and were employed for the group music making. If all of the instruments in an ensemble were of the same family they were considered to be in "consort". Mixed ensembles were said to be in "broken consort". Both forms of ensembles were equally popular.
In music history, the music of the English Renaissance is noted for its complex polyphonic vocal music, both sacred and secular, and the emergence of instrumental music. With the gradual shift in the early Baroque period, England experienced a decline in musical standing among European nations. After Dowland, the greatest English composer was Henry Purcell, whose death left a void in English music history until the Victorian era.
The Church was a major influence for music in the 16th century. The Puritans wanted to do away with all church music, but the will of the people to sing only made it more predominant.  Many composers that wrote for the church also wrote for the royalty. The style of the church music was known as choral polyphony. Hundreds of hymns were written for the church. Many of those are still sung today. It is “doubtless (that) your worship requires music.  ” At the most elegant of weddings, usually those of the nobility, the processional included musicians who played lutes, flutes, and violins. It was also very common at that time for commoners to have music played for them whenever they wanted.
Town musicians were known as waits. They were the equivalent to that of a modern town’s band. The waits have been in existence as far back as the medieval period and their role was to perform at public occasions of the viewing pleasure of the town. They were to play original composed music.
Street musicians or travelling minstrels were looked down upon. They were feared and soon grew out of style and were replaced by the tavern and theatre musician. Street music was common to be heard at markets and fairs. The music was usually light and quick. They performed using fiddles, lutes, recorders, and small percussion instruments attracting crowds whenever they played. The songs they played and sang were traditional favourites, "a far cry from the sophisticated and refined music of the Elizabethan court."
Theater became increasingly popular when music was added. Location on stage meant everything to a theatre musician. The location gave certain effects to the sound produced. This could be the impression of distance or providing an atmosphere to the plays and performances done. Theatre music became even more popular with the rise of William Shakespeare in the 1590s.
Many composers of the period are still known by name, today. William Byrd (1539–1623) is considered by most modern authorities “the greatest of all the Elizabethan composers."  He was the leading composer of religious music. Many of his songs still exist today. William Byrd was the chief organist and composer for Queen Elizabeth. Also during the 16th century were John Bull (1562–1628), best-known organist of the Elizabethan era, and John Dowland (1563–1626), leading composer of lute music. John Dowland published his first book of songs or "ayres" in 1597. It became a bestseller. These composers, among others, would give rise to the English Madrigal School which, while brief, was incredibly popular. 
A madrigal was the most common form of secular vocal music. “The poetic madrigal is a lyric consisting of one to four strophes of three lines followed by a two-line strophe."  The English Madrigals were a cappella, light in style, and generally began as either copies or direct translations of Italian models, with most being for four to six voices. 
Other composers include Robert Johnson, John Taverner, Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis, and John Blitheman.
Organology (the study of instruments) was aided greatly by the development of book printing. Michael Praetorius' encyclopedic Syntagma Musicum has a section with woodcuts which shows instruments as they were used on the continent about 17 years after the end of the Elizabethan period, and even 20 years hadn't made great changes.
Many Renaissance instruments are unfamiliar to modern listeners. Most instruments came in 'families', with sizes of the same instrument associated with the ranges of the human voice: descant (soprano), treble (alto), tenor, bass. (In some cases, these were extended up (sopranino, garklein) and in others, down (quart bass, contrabass, etc.) This arrangement had been in use for centuries. Playing instruments from the same family together was referred to as playing in consort. During Elizabeth's reign, the first documented regular use of mixed ensembles (broken consort) are recorded.
Consorts were considered loud or soft, and the exact application of these titles is sometimes hard to pin down. Generally, loud consorts consisted of cornetti, sackbuts, shawms and the higher-pitched recorders and flutes. Soft consorts generally included the viols, flutes, recorders, krummhorns and other of the quieter instruments.
Instruments of the 16th century could be broken down into four main types: string, wind, percussion, and keyboard. The lute was the most popular stringed instrument. The lute is identifiable by its size and shape, with the pear-shaped body and angled head. Strings are grouped in courses, each course consisting of a single or doubled string, tuned in unison or octaves. The most common lute of Elizabeth's time had six, seven or eight courses, and was used both for solo and accompaniment purposes. Although the lute came in sizes, the Tenor was most popular. Similar instruments include the cittern, orpharion and bandora.
The next most popular stringed instrument, made in sizes and played in consorts or alone, was the viola da gamba. The viol had six strings, and frets of gut tied around the neck, rather than embedded in the fingerboard. The shape of the body was somewhat like the violin family instruments, but with deeper ribs, a shallow top plate and a flat back in two parts with the upper part angled to give clearance to the player. There were three main sizes: treble, tenor, bass, with reference made in a Gibbons six-part fantasia to the "great double bass." Unlike the violin family instruments, the viol bow was held underhanded, with the palm up and the middle finger in contact with the bow hair. The most popular size of the viol was the bass. Although roughly the size of a small cello, the bass viol had no end-pin, and, like the other viols, was supported by the legs (hence the Italian name, viola da gamba.) They were most commonly played in consort, i. e. as a family in groups of three, four, five, and six. In this way, they could be used as accompaniment for singing. Duet music for any two of the family still exists, and the bass, alone, was a popular solo instrument for pieces such as Woodycock. A small bass (or tenor-sized viol tuned as a bass) was often employed to play polyphonic music, Lyra-Way. When used in this fashion, the instrument was called lyra viol.
The common wind instruments included the shawms, recorders, cornetts, sackbuts (trombones), krumhorns and flutes. The trumpets and pifferi were used for the announcement of the arrival of royalty and during military exercises. The shawms, cornetti and sackbuts were used in loud consorts. The flute had a sweet and solemn tone, the recorder had a more rich sound, but because of the windway (which directed the breath against the edge where the sound is created) the player had less dynamic control. The shawms and krummhorns were double-reed instruments, but because the krummhorns had a cylindrical bore, they sounded an octave lower than the shawms of the same sounding-length and were quieter. (This cylindrical bore is what gives the clarinet its characteristic sound, but the clarinet, as such, had yet to be invented.) The soprano of the shawm family (called 'hautbois' by the French, for high or loud wood) would eventually be tamed to make the baroque oboe. The bass of the shawms was so long that the player had to stand on a box to reach the reed, and wood cuts exist which show a bass shawm player holding the instrument horizontally, with another person helping to support. For this reason, the Curtal, with a folded bore, was often used to replace the bass shawm. The fife was a wooden pipe with six finger holes used with the drum in marching formations.
Single reeds were used for the drones of bagpipes, but chanters used double reeds.
Percussion was normally just various forms and sizes of drums and bells. The keyboards were the organs, virginals, and harpsichord.
Other Elizabethan instruments included the portative organ, which was a type of small organ played with one hand while the player operated a bellows on the back of the instrument with the other. There was also the grand church organs and harps of various sizes.
John Dowland was an English Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep", "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe", "Now o now I needs must part" and "In darkness let me dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century's early music revival, has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.
Renaissance music is traditionally understood to cover European music of the 15th and 16th centuries, later than the Renaissance era as it is understood in other disciplines. Rather than starting from the early 14th-century ars nova, the Trecento music was treated by musicology as a coda to Medieval music and the new era dated from the rise of triadic harmony and the spread of the ' contenance angloise ' style from Britain to the Burgundian School. A convenient watershed for its end is the adoption of basso continuo at the beginning of the Baroque period.
The viol, viola da gamba, or informally gamba, is any one of a family of bowed, fretted, and stringed instruments with hollow wooden bodies and pegboxes where the tension on the strings can be increased or decreased to adjust the pitch of each of the strings. Frets on the viol are usually made of gut, tied on the fingerboard around the instrument's neck, to enable the performer to stop the strings more cleanly. Frets improve consistency of intonation and lend the stopped notes a tone that better matches the open strings. Viols first appeared in Spain in the mid-to-late 15th century, and were most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque (1600–1750) periods. Early ancestors include the Arabic rebab and the medieval European vielle, but later, more direct possible ancestors include the Venetian viole and the 15th- and 16th-century Spanish vihuela, a six-course plucked instrument tuned like a lute that looked like but was quite distinct from the four-course guitar.
William Byrd was an English composer of late Renaissance music. Considered among the greatest composers of the Renaissance, he had a profound influence on composers both from his native England and those on the continent. He is often coupled with John Dunstaple and Henry Purcell as England's most important early music composers.
The term lute song is given to a music style from the late 16th century to early 17th century, late Renaissance to early Baroque, that was predominantly in England and France. Lute songs were generally in strophic form or verse repeating with a homophonic texture. The composition was written for a solo voice with an accompaniment, usually the lute. It was not uncommon for other forms of accompaniments such as bass viol or other string instruments, and could also be written for more voices. The composition could be performed either solo or with a small group of instruments.
Thomas Morley was an English composer, theorist, singer and organist of the Renaissance. He was one of the foremost members of the English Madrigal School. Referring to the strong Italian influence on the English madrigal, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians states that Morley was "chiefly responsible for grafting the Italian shoot on to the native stock and initiating the curiously brief but brilliant flowering of the madrigal that constitutes one of the most colourful episodes in the history of English music."
Thomas Tomkins was a Welsh-born composer of the late Tudor and early Stuart period. In addition to being one of the prominent members of the English Madrigal School, he was a skilled composer of keyboard and consort music, and the last member of the English virginalist school.
Anthony [Antony] Holborne [Holburne] was a composer of music for lute, cittern, and instrumental consort during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
A consort of instruments was a phrase used in England during the 16th and 17th centuries to indicate an instrumental ensemble. These could be of the same or a variety of instruments. Consort music enjoyed considerable popularity at court and in households of the wealthy in the Elizabethan era, and many pieces were written for consorts by the major composers of the period. In the Baroque era consort music was absorbed into chamber music.
Fretwork is a consort of viols based in England, United Kingdom. Formed in 1986, the group initially consisted of six players, while it is currently five viols. Its repertoire consists primarily of music of the Renaissance period, in particular that of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, arrangements of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and contemporary music written for them.
Thomas Lupo was an English composer and viol player of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Along with Orlando Gibbons, John Coprario, and Alfonso Ferrabosco, he was one of the principal developers of the repertory for viol consort.
The lyra viol is a small bass viol, used primarily in England in the seventeenth century.
In English early Baroque music, a broken consort is an ensemble featuring instruments from more than one family, for example a group featuring both string and wind instruments. A consort consisting entirely of instruments of the same family, on the other hand, was referred to as a "whole consort", though this expression is not found until well into the seventeenth century. The word "consort", used in this way, is an earlier form of "concert", according to one opinion, while other sources hold the reverse: that it comes from the French term concert or its Italian parent term concerto, in its sixteenth-century sense. Matthew Locke published pieces for whole and broken consorts of two to six parts as late as 1672.
"Flow, my tears" is a lute song by the accomplished lutenist and composer John Dowland (1563–1626). Originally composed as an instrumental under the name "Lachrimae pavane" in 1596, it is Dowland's most famous ayre, and became his signature song, literally as well as metaphorically: he would occasionally sign his name "Jo: dolandi de Lachrimae".
A consort song was a characteristic English song form of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, for solo voice or voices accompanied by a group of instruments, most commonly viols. Although usually in five parts, some early examples of four-part songs exist. It is considered to be the chief representative of a native musical tradition which resisted the onslaught of the italianate madrigal and the English lute ayre, and survived those forms' brilliant but short-lived ascendancy.
In the years centering on 1600 in Europe, several distinct shifts emerged in ways of thinking about the purposes, writing and performance of music. Partly these changes were revolutionary, deliberately instigated by a group of intellectuals in Florence known as the Florentine Camerata, and partly they were evolutionary, in that precursors of the new Baroque style can be found far back in the Renaissance, and the changes merely built on extant forms and practices. The transitions emanated from the cultural centers of Northern Italy, then spread to Rome, France, Germany, and Spain, and lastly reached England . In terms of instrumental music, shifts in four discrete areas can be observed: idiomatic writing, texture, instrument use, and orchestration.
The Rose Consort of Viols is an English ensemble of viol players who perform mainly early consort music, including works by Orlando Gibbons, John Dowland, and Henry Purcell.
Early music of Britain and Ireland, from the earliest recorded times until the beginnings of the Baroque in the 17th century, was a diverse and rich culture, including sacred and secular music and ranging from the popular to the elite. Each of the major nations of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales retained unique forms of music and of instrumentation, but British music was highly influenced by continental developments, while British composers made an important contribution to many of the major movements in early music in Europe, including the polyphony of the Ars Nova and laid some of the foundations of later national and international classical music. Musicians from the British Isles also developed some distinctive forms of music, including Celtic chant, the Contenance Angloise, the rota, polyphonic votive antiphons, and the carol in the medieval era and English madrigals, lute ayres, and masques in the Renaissance era, which would lead to the development of English language opera at the height of the Baroque in the 18th century.
"Can She Excuse My Wrongs" is a late 16th-century song by the English Renaissance composer John Dowland, the fifth song in his First Booke of Songes or Ayres. The words are set to a dance-tune, a galliard.
Walter Porter (c.1587–1659) was an English composer and church musician. He travelled to Italy to study under Monteverdi, and shows Italian influence in madrigals and his one surviving anthem.
They felt that except for psalm singing by the congregation, music in church was an unnecessary distraction and that paying musicians to sing or play was subtracting money for more godly causes.