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Documentary Film Life in Renaissance Analysis

The Video collage, Life in Renaissance, depicts musical traditions and cultural norms of the period. The video demonstrates that the city’s expenses for ceremonial and processional music reached their peak in the decades around 1400. During the next century, the stress shifted toward the use of music for the mere sake of listening — a classic development, as the emancipation of personal arts from secular functions in a harmonized society often accompanies these societies’ political and economic decline. The video allows us to evaluate bright costumes and jewelry popular during this period.

The video demonstrates that during the renaissance, there was a slow process of development, originating with such harmonious entertainments as those given by the city waits on the day of the Holy Blood procession and on the free-market days. These ‘serenades’ still went together with communal activities. But in addition to them, special ceremonies arose in the later century to which citizens went purely to listen to music. The city authorities sponsored these performances in its desire to keep the people in a good mood, and to preserve the sympathies of the kings and foreign merchants, against the depressing economical background.

The video shows the wonderful diversity of conditions under which minstrels lived was, at the same period, possibly the one thing they all had in common. The ‘wheels of Fortune’ seemed to turn quicker for minstrels – so they always were fond of the symbol. Notices about the various fortunes of a minstrel are sometimes so opposing between themselves that they do not seem to fit one and the same life path. This system of the ‘closed shop’, though standard with medieval guilds, ran approximately to absurdity when the barber Jean Basin was charged with having encouraged his nephew of 11 to play instruments at public festivals and masked balls.

The video also encapsulate motion and space. Viewers are aware that the townscape is just beyond the main scene. the video depicts the renaissance people, the houses, and the activities of a city whose frantic business, disorders and aggression cry out from page after page in the archives. It is odd that the works of the musicians have come to resemble more the towns of today — a peaceful and orderly whose medieval architecture reflects nostalgia. The noises of the market, the inns, the workshops, the stock-exchange, the community baths -they have all died, and so have the music and the song of the nightingale in the copse. And yet, these sounds have shaped the city life, contributing to its order and to its chaos.

The video demonstrates that the medieval town is a restricted space of human life which defends itself within walls against the scarcity and desperation of the countryside, and against the stillness and the cold of woodland, marshes and the ocean. Against the great randomness of life and death, the citizens build patterns which transcend individual lives: social patterns like families, guilds, organizations, confraternities; for working, praying, feasting and resting, of which they remind themselves by the church-bells. The video allows to say that music represents the holy space: the two halves of the choir who sing in fluctuation are also seated on opposite sides of the choir. At one end, room is reserved for the priest with the ministers, and for the cantor with his helper; at the other, for the cluster of clerks and choirboys who sing under the succentor’s way;

Further than, there are the nave where the worshippers can hear mass and vespers, and the many chapels around the singing group and along the aisles, where private persons and confraternities attend their private services behind closed doors. Citizens also have their special liturgy and music, which is performed by clerks and boys, gathered around a organ. Citizens approximately form one picture with the image of Our Lady or the saint in the altar panel. The spatial arrangement of the church is reflected in the timetable of its services, which partly cover or happen at the same time in different places. Also the various cycles of the liturgical year form layers — the patterns of movable and immovable feasts, the weekly and daily repetitions of ‘ordinary’ services and the fixed yearly pattern of the saints’ feast-days. In the sacristy, there is a kind of painted calendar which identifies all these cycles throughout the year, and which distributes the clergy’s tasks for that reason. This is the arbor paschalis, so-called because all depends on the city authorities. It is normally the work of the succentor — a learned minstrel who masters musical theory and grammar.

The video demonstrates that the beat of urban life conforms to the church’s calendar. The three ‘greater hours’ show the beginning and the end of the day, and the four ‘lesser hours’ split the working day into four parts. Every citizen is aware of these seven hours, as they are announced by the church bells. The citizens are reminded to pray the ‘Seven Hours’ of the Dead on Monday, of the Holy Ghost on Tuesday, of the Trinity on Wednesday, of the Holy Sacrament on Thursday, of the Holy Cross on Friday, of Our Lady on Saturday and of Our Lord on Sunday. There is one moment, at least, on each day when every citizen in the town thinks the same: the Angelus. When night breaks and the colors and noises move away, the bell recalls the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. This tale place every day at the same time, all through the year. Other forms of city music just elaborate this basic outline.

The video shows that the horns and trumpets of the capital waits and minstrels were the next strongest instruments; the minstrels played on the belfry, on the city gates, or from other dominating positions. Their signals and fanfares connected to events of common public interest, such as the arrival of prominent guests or, indeed, hostile armies; the beginning and end of community proclamations, processions, jousting tournaments in the market square, community meetings and executions. Announcements made by the authorities were communicated throughout the town by community criers who called for attention with strokes on a kind of cymbals. The sounds of the city was, of course, characterized by the individual voice: the cries of the coachmen, shopkeepers and traders, buskers, heralds and servants of noble passengers. During the Renaissance, women and children were amply represented in this show. The main point of all the noises as well as of all out-of-doors music was the market square.

In sum, the video depicts the life of the renaissance city and musical traditions of citizens. A way in which music helped order life within urban setting were the great processions. The holy chants, sung by the numerous participants, and the celebratory sounds of the accompanying city trumpeters, were carried through the streets, therefore connecting music with movement and evoking the religious meaning of the townscape. The idea of the parade itself must have been born in a city; western society inherited it from the ancient urban traditions. The urban processions of the earlier Renaissance were only an interlude; it was the medieval cities which developed and multiplied the practice.


Life in Renaissance Times (2009). Video Database.


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