Something Old, Something New

The Transition from Renaissance to Baroque

Claudio Monteverdi, ca. 1630
Claudio Monteverdi, ca. 1630

John Prescott, Ph.D., will present an entirely new early music course this coming month, from Monday, August 11, through Friday, August 15. The five-day lecture series once again will be held at St. Mary Magdalen Church, 2005 Berryman Street in Berkeley, from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Dr. Prescott’s lectures have become a beloved institution for SFEMS members and friends, as he has used his extensive scholarship, intelligence and wit to make early music and its historical context come alive for enthusiastic audiences. Over the past six years, his well-attended, in-depth courses—always including many audio samples—have covered the biographies and works of such musical giants as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann, as well as surveying entire periods or historical movements, as in his recent series on the French baroque. Dr. Prescott’s new lecture series will cover one of the great watersheds of Western musical history, the transition from the Renaissance to the baroque, exploring how musical practices evolved in Italy, England, Germany, and the Low Countries.

Change in music history rarely comes instantaneously, says Dr. Prescott. Older traditions carry on while new ones are born. At the beginning of the baroque period, around 1600, composers and performers began fundamentally reconceiving the relationship between text and music, the role of harmony and the use of instruments. At the same time, the older traditions of glorious Renaissance music continued and were merged into the new style. These lectures will explore how this stylistic transition and fusion occurred in several of Europe’s musical centers.

John Prescott, ca. 2012
John Prescott, ca. 2012

Day 1 of the lecture series will lay out the musical background of this great transformation: what was Renaissance music? Day 2 will examine the birth of opera in Italy. Day 3 will define and compare the so-called Prima and Secunda Prattica—old and new styles in Italian sacred and instrumental music. Day 4 will move on to Germany and the Low Countries and discuss their musical developments at the dawn of the baroque. Day 5 will consider England during the Tudor and Stuart periods—England’s musical Golden Age.

You may register for all five days or individually by day. Musical experience or ability to read music are not necessary. Come listen, learn, and join in the adventure! Tuition is $20 per lecture or $85 for the full week ($80 for SFEMS members). For further information and registration, contact Suzanne Siebert, or 510-843-2425. You also can download a PDF of the registration form; print it, fill it out and mail it in to Suzanne Siebert, 1828 Virginia St., Berkeley, CA 94703. Checks should be made payable to “SFEMS.”

As with Dr. Prescott’s previous lectures, proceeds from this course go to benefit the SFEMS Music Discovery Workshop, a week-long summer day camp that introduces children ages 7–15 to early music and Renaissance social history through music instruction and theater projects.

John Prescott is an Affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society.

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Written by Jonathan Harris