The Cross section of sixteenth-century music, assorted genres and instrumentations, instrumental and vocal repertoires, and instrumental an vocal works offer a representative look at the music of a now distant era. It ranges from Josquin des Prez (Desprez) to Hans Leo Hassler, two composers who might be said to have formed the creative framework of sixteenth-century music. Josquin was one of the most outstanding personalities during the Netherlands epoch of music history. This was a period when Flemish artists dominated the whole of European cultural life. Whether in Paris, in the Italian city-states, or at the imperial court in Vienna, Netherlanders made themselves at home and shaped European culture for almost two hundred years. Josquin, the «prince of music», was one of the most famous such figures. Born around 1440, he was actually a composer of the fifteenth century, but, timeless great and universal symbol of good music that he was, he continued to influence music throughout the sixteenth century. Composers such as Adrian Willaert and Heinrich Isaac continued the Netherlandish tradition, and Orlando di Lasso, the «Belgian Orpheus» marked its crowning culmination. Composers such as Ludwig Senfl, an Isaac pupil, and Leonhard Lechner, a Lasso pupil, learned the musical trade from masters of the Netherlandish tradition and went on to develop an independent German tradition. Hans Leo Hassler marked the close of this tradition. Hassler continued to compose into the early seventeenth century, but his music was of retrospective orientation and stood in closer relation to Lasso and Lechner than to Claudio Monteverdi or Henrich Schütz.
The sixteenth century was a time of bitter religious conflict. The composers represent various confessions and political centers of the time. For example, Heinrich Isaac and Jacob Regnart spent most of their life at the imperial courts in Vienna and Prague, respectively. Ludwig Senfl succeeded Isaac at the court orchestra of Maximilian I but later moved to Munich. From Munich he was able to maintain close contact with Luther. Already during Orlando di Lasso’s time, however, the Counter Reformation had gained a strong foothold in Bavaria. Senfl may have been able to sympathize with the Reformation, but soon thereafter those who did so felt the full weight of the Inquisition. Lasso himself was above such conflict and recommended his Protestant pupil Leonhard Lechner for a post at the Dresden court. Johann Walter, whose Geystliches gesangk Büchleyn (Wittenberg, 1524) had marked the first major contribution to Reformation sacred music, had been active in Dresden prior to this time. The Protestant Hassler had difficulties in the Catholic Augsburg but was able to make a new beginning in Dresden.
The sixteenth century also witnessed important developments in the area of music. One decisive factor here was the area of music. One decisive factor here was the introduction of printed music. The Italian publisher Ottaviano Petrucci published the first printed music in 1501. Soon thereafter other publishers, among them Pierre Attaignant in Paris, Pierre Phalèse in Louvain and Tielman Susato in Antwerp, followed his example. The new publishing network made music available to a relatively broad public. Dance music on the basis of printed editions by Susato and Attaingnant accounted for a large part of the early printed editions as did secular music in general. Early forms of middle-class music culture developed and with them the need to adapt such music to the condition of private performance. It was thus that the hits of those years, Lasso’s chansons or Regnart’s German songs, came to be available on the market in various arrangements. Most of these arrangements involved intabulations for the lute, then the most popular musical instrument for private performance, but there were arrangements for other instrumentations as well. Such instrumental music may initially have been very much oriented to vocal sources, but over time a new and independent style of instrumental music emerged. Thomas Saltzer’s «Melodia primi toni» was one of the first examples of free instrumental composition transcending the vocal sources and dance music. Nonetheless many years would pass before the complete emancipation of instrumental music, and in the meantime distinctions between vocal and instrumental music were not drawn at all, «The musicians of His Most Serene Highness, the Duke of Bavaria, performed magnificent compositions, among them a seven-part motet by Orlando di Lasso with five high cornets and two trombones, ... a wonderfully beautiful madrigal by Alessandro Striggio with six large trombones ... and various twelve-part works by Annibale Padoano, on six violins, five trombones, a cornett, and a tender regal...» It was thus that Massimo Troiano described dinner music entertainment at the Munich court during Lasso’s tenure there. Motets, chansons, and madrigals involved performance not only with singers but also with instruments. Works such as «Das Gläut zu Speyer» and Lasso’s «Deus qui sedes super thronum» motet were also vocal compositions in today’s sense of the term. Music of a certain style was not bound to a set performance type; it might be performed as vocal, instrumental, or vocal and instrumental music.
As in the case of vocal and instrumental music, so too in the case of secular and sacred music: there were no sharp divisions. «The singers performed every morning at the high mass, ... and the winds, together with the singers, performed at the mass and vespers on Sundays and feast days». In his Dialogui Troiano described more than just Bavarian Tafelmusik. Sacred and secular music played and equally important role in everyday life. And the same music might serve sacred and secular purposes. No problem was seen in furnishing a secular composition with a sacred text in order to render the music suitable for performance in a sacred setting. And many a sacred composition often developed into a chanson hit. Here we find ourselves confronted with the different view of originality that prevailed during those times. What was valued was not necessarily the new or the unprecedented but the virtuoso treatment of the already existing. Many songs or melodies within the musical repertoire were set repeatedly, as the numerous printed editions of the time suggest. One example is the song «Ich stuend an einem Morgen». It was not at all infrequent for composers to arrange popular favourites by other composers. Here Lechner’s five-part arrangement of Regnart’s villanelles, one of the most famous publications of those times, stands out for the great success it enjoyed.