What is considered early music?
Early music is generally considered to include works from the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods, typically but not exclusively from Western civilizations. The time span ranges from about 1100–1800 CE, spanning many styles, countries, and types of instruments. The music may have been intended for country folk, courtiers, townspeople, or the church.
It is the music of Irish villagers dancing jigs and reels, as well as entertainment at noble courts. The composers and performers may have been enslaved or colonized people, melding the music of their colonizers and their own traditions. They may have been nuns performing instrumental concerts for audiences, as well as for God. Or they were Sephardic Jews not only singing of the lost Jerusalem but also remembering the scent of orange blossoms in Seville in their centuries of exile. Rich or poor, educated or self-taught, across the many divides, they left us beauty and remembrance in music.
So why care or focus on music from that long ago, other than as a historical curiosity?
Some of it may sound strange to our ears, was created for a purpose long forgotten, is in a foreign language, or is deeply religious in a way that is not part of one’s own tradition.
Each person may have his or her own response. Here are two of ours. First, the music itself is gorgeous, heart-melting, and worth hearing on its own merits. The second is that these people were just like us: they loved, played, fought, mourned, prayed, danced, and laughed. They made music for the same reasons we make music today, and did so with astonishing creativity and virtuosity.
When you hear the music of the past, you connect not only to your emotions but also experience the connection—the humanity—of those who can now only speak through music.