[Pt.V- Proj.4] ~ Research point – Humanism

Research point – Humanism

Find out more about the intellectual and philosophical movement known as humanism. Before you read the next section, think about how a focus on human liberty and classical values might influence the music of the time.


During the Renaissance there was a renewed interest in classical antiquity and it’s values. This at first took hold of Italy and then across most of Europe. This ‘philosophy’ or code of ethics was called ‘Humanism’. The aim of Humanism was to educate the masses in linguistics, Greek, speech (rhetoric), poetry, history and morality so that they could become aware, articulate and productively engaged members of society.

This movement was lead by Petrarch who had a vast collection of antique manuscripts. The influx of Byzantine Greek crusade refugees also helped with the proliferation of, and translation of texts. Over time and as Humanism spread to north Europe it influenced and was incorporated into the Protestant Reformation (bible translation) and then spread further thanks to new methods of printing. It thus laid the foundation for much of European thought during the Renaissance. Individuality, independence and freedom of expression became perceived as valuable human rights. In many ways the foundation of our modern thinking, scientific pursuits and modern ethics was laid by Renaissance Humanism.

These ideas also greatly influenced the view of the role of music as a mode of self expression and as a method of both expressing and affecting emotions.

‘Renaissance musical humanists extended the accessibility of classical literature on music, reshaped the ways in which this literature was understood, and, ultimately, radically transformed classical conceptions of the power of music.’


Music was no longer seen as an expression of mathematics but as an art form in and of itself and additionally as means of transmitting literary ideas. The sound of words became important and the perception that they should sound pleasing to the ear. This shifted the hierarchy between music and word and eventually gave rise to new styles of music, such as madrigals.

‘Bembo, who stood as a vital figure on explaining how important the use of sonority in words and also words within the whole phrase was. This greatly affected the way Renaissance composers chose the amount of balance between music and words and the way they interact with each other. Therefore this influence brought up a new dimension in music writing that resulted in a new vocal style, the madrigal.’