Professional musicians must make a living, and thus their activities are bound by economic forces and by society’s various demands for their craft. The seventeenth century was a time of such social and economic upheaval that musicians could scarcely escape unscathed. There were civil wars in England and Germany; outbreaks of plague and famine across Europe; and the shape of society was changed by the rapid growth of cities and the rise of absolutist monarchs. The first half of the century was a period of particular instability, which may well have contributed to a notable fragmentation of musical styles in contrast to the international lingua franca of polyphony so characteristic of the Renaissance period. Europe was becoming more polarised – with marked differences emerging between nations, between town and country, and between governments and governed – and music was also diversifying. Many new genres were developing and becoming identified with different outlets for musical activity.
One major change in musical life was a move to performances by virtuosos before an audience. Such a trend can be seen in opera, in its chamber equivalents of solo song and cantata, and later in the century in the instrumental concertos performed in Bologna and Rome. A distance between performer and listener had already begun to emerge in virtuosic court repertories at the end of the sixteenth century, notably the music of the concerto di donne of Ferrara and the ‘luxuriant’ style of the madrigals of Luca Marenzio (1553/4–99) and Luzzasco Luzzaschi (?1545–1607). Courts continued to seek to dazzle and amaze an audience in their festivities throughout the seventeenth century.
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