The University of Mississippi

Music 301: History of Western Music I

Thomas Morley on Kinds of Vocal Music

A Motet.

A Motet is properly a song made for the church, either upon some hymn or anthem [antiphon] or such like. . . . This kind of all others which are made on a ditty [poem or text] requireth most art, and moveth and causeth most strange effects in the hearer, being aptly framed for the ditty and well expressed by the singer, for it will draw the auditor (and especially the skilful auditor) into a devout and reverent kind of consideration of Him for whose praise it was made. . . . If you compose in this kind you must cause your harmony to carry a majesty, taking discords and bindings [suspensions] so often as you can, but let it be in long notes, for the nature of it will not bear short notes and quick motions which denote a kind of wantonness.

Light music.
A Madrigal.

This much for Motets, under which I comprehend all grave and sober music. The light music hath been of late more deeply dived into, so that there is no vanity which in it hath not been followed to the full; but the best kind of it is termed Madrigal; . . . it is a kind of music made upon songs and sonnets such as Petrarch and many poets of our time have excelled in. . . . As for the music, it is, next unto the Motet, the most artificial and, to men of understanding, most delightful. If therefore you will compose in this kind, you must possess yourself with an amorous humour (for in no composition shall you prove admirable except you put on and possess yourself wholly with that vein wherein you compose), so that you must in your music be wavering like the wind, sometime wanton, sometime drooping, sometime grave and staid, otherwhile effeminate; you may maintain points and revert them, use Triplas, and shew the very uttermost of your variety, and the more variety you show the better you shall please.


The second degree of gravity in this light music is given to Canzonets, that is little short songs (wherein little art can be shewed, being made in strains, the beginning of which is some point lightly touched and every strain repeated except the middle) which is, in composition of the music, a counterfeit of the Madrigal.


There is also another kind more light which they term Balletti or Dances, and are songs which being sung to a ditty may likewise be danced. There be also another kind of Balletts commonly called "Fa las." The first set of that kind which I have seen was made by Gastoldi; if others have laboured in the same field I know not, but a slight kind of music it is and, as I take it, devised to be danced to voices.

Instrumental Music


The most principal and chiefest kind of music which is made without a ditty is the Fancy [fantasia], that is when a musician taketh a point at his pleasure and wresteth and turneth it as he list, making either much or little of it according as shall seem best in his own conceit. In this may more art be shewn than in any other music because the composer is tied to nothing, but that he may add, diminish, and alter at his pleasure. And this kind may bear any allowances whatsoever tolerable in other music except changing the air and leaving the key, which in Fancy may never be suffered. Other things you may use at your pleasure, as bindings with discords, quick motions, slow motions, proportions, and what you list. Likewise this kind of music is, with them who practise instruments of parts, in greatest use. . . .


The next in gravity and goodness unto this is called a Pavan, a kind of staid music designed for grave dancing, and most commonly made of three strains, whereof each strain is played or sung twice; a strain they make to contain eight, twelve, or sixteen semibreves as they list, yet fewer than eight have I not seen in any Pavan. In this you may not so much insist in following the point as in a Fancy, but it shall be enough to touch it once and so away to some close. Also in this you must cast your music by four, so that if you keep that rule it is no matter how many fours you put in your strain for it will fall out well enough in the end, the art of dancing being come to that perfection that every reasonable dancer will make measure of no measure, so that it is no great matter of what number you make your strain.


After every Pavan we usually set a Galliard. . . . This is a lighter and more stirring kind of dancing than the Pavan, consisting of the same number of strains; and look how many fours of semibreves you put in the strain of your Pavan--so many times six minims must you put in the strain of your Galliard. The Italians make their Galliards (which they term Saltarelli) plain, and frame ditties to them which in their masquerades they sing and dance, and many times without any instruments at all, but instead of instruments they have courtesans disguised in men's apparel who sing and dance to their own songs.

Almans, Branles, Voltas, Corantos.

The Alman is a more heavy dance than this (fitly representing the nature of the people whose name it carrieth) so that no extraordinary motions are used in dancing of it. It is made of strains, sometimes two, sometimes three, and every strain is made by four. . . . Like unto this is the French Branle, which goeth somewhat rounder in time than this, otherwise the measure is all one. Like unto this (but more light) be the Voltas and Corantos which being both of a measure are, notwithstanding, danced after sundry fashions, the Volta rising and leaping, the Coranto travising and running. . . . All these be made in strains, either two or three as shall seem best to the maker.

--A Plain and Easie Introduction to Practicall Music, 1597.

[ Warren Steel | Music Department | UM Home ]