Elizabethan music was so popular that every Nobleman employed his own musicians. Even Middle Class households employed at least one servant who could also play a musical instrument. Anyone who belonged to these classes were expected to be able to perform on an instrument and read music on sight. Music and Song lyrics were printed during the Elizabethan era but these were sold as separate documents! The Elizabethan composer John Dowland (1563-1626), a University Graduate in Music, published his ' First Booke of Songes or Ayres' in 1597. It became a best seller and highly profitable to the Publisher. Other popular composers followed suit!
Elizabethan Street Music
The Medieval era of travelling minstrels and troubadours had passed with the coming of the bubonic plague. Strangers and travellers were looked upon with fear and suspicion. Travelling was discouraged by the Elizabethan government and licenses were required for any type of travel. Street, tavern and theatre musicians replaced the travelling minstrels. Wealthy Elizabethans hired musicians to play during dinner. Elizabethan street music was played at weekly markets and the occasional fairs. Elizabethan Feasts, Fairs and Festivals were all common occurrences and were celebrated during specific times of the year (most of which were dictated by the Church and religious festivals.) The instruments played to provide Elizabethan Street music were light and easily carried. They included fiddles, the lute, recorders and small percussion instruments. The songs and ballads sang by the street musicians were the traditional favorites - a far cry from the sophisticated and refined music of the Elizabethan court.
Elizabethan Town Music - the 'Waits'
There were official musicians in the large English towns who were called the Waits, equivalent to a town band. The Waits dated back to the early medieval era when they accompanied town watch. The Waits were supplied with high-pitched pipes or hautboys (similar to the modern oboe). These pipes became known as Waits Pipes and were first used to sound alarms. The role of the Waits gradually evolved into groups of musicians employed by the towns. The Waits were expected to compose and play music for important town and civic ceremonies and occasions. The Elizabethan Waits therefore provided free concerts for everyone, financed by the town.
Elizabethan Church Music
Elizabethan Church music was beautiful. Many of the Elizabethan composers not only composed music for the court but also the church. Elizabethan composers for the voice made use of two distinct styles which were called the Madrigal and the Ayre. The emergence of the madrigal ensured that ‘England first became sophisticated in the ways of Continental music.’ The early 1500's saw the high point of the unique English liturgical style. Church music included canzonets, balletts, madrigals and ‘sacred songs’. The style of Elizabethan church music is described as choral polyphony (polyphonic, counterpoint, contrapuntal), meaning more than one part. Thomas Tallis and William Byrd ( organist of the Chapel Royal ) were the chief Elizabethan composers of Elizabethan Church music providing the new Protestant Church of England with a wealth of Hymns that are still played today.