Consort of instruments

Consort of instruments

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A consort of instruments was a phrase used in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to indicate an instrumental ensemble. These could be of the same or a variety of instruments. Consort music enjoyed considerable popularity at court and in households of the wealthy in the Elizabethan era and many pieces were written for consorts by the major composers of the period. In the Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 era consort music was absorbed into Chamber music
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...


Definitions and forms

The earliest documented example of the English word 'consort' in a musical sense is in George Gascoigne’s The Princelye Pleasures (1576). Only from the mid-seventeenth century has there been a clear distinction made between a 'whole' consort, that is, all instruments of the same family (for example, a set of viol
The viol is any one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed musical instruments developed in the mid-late 15th century and used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The family is related to and descends primarily from the Renaissance vihuela, a plucked instrument that preceded the...

s played together) and a 'mixed' or 'broken' consort
Broken consort
A broken consort in English early Baroque musical terminology refers to ensembles featuring instruments from more than one family, for example a group featuring both string and wind instruments...

, consisting of instruments from various families (for example viol
The viol is any one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed musical instruments developed in the mid-late 15th century and used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The family is related to and descends primarily from the Renaissance vihuela, a plucked instrument that preceded the...

s and lute
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....


Major forms of music composed for consorts included: fantasias
Fantasia (music)
The fantasia is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation. Because of this, it seldom approximates the textbook rules of any strict musical form ....

, cantus firmus
Cantus firmus
In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.The plural of this Latin term is , though the corrupt form canti firmi is also attested...

 settings (including In nomines
In Nomine
In Nomine is a title given to a large number of pieces of English polyphonic, predominantly instrumental music, first composed during the 16th century....

), variations
Variation (music)
In music, variation is a formal technique where material is repeated in an altered form. The changes may involve harmony, melody, counterpoint, rhythm, timbre, orchestration or any combination of these.-Variation form:...

, dances or ayres
Air (music)
Air , a variant of the musical song form, is the name of various song-like vocal or instrumental compositions.-English lute ayres:...

, and fantasia-suites.

Major composers

Composers of consort music during the Elizabethan era
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 include John Dowland
John Dowland
John Dowland was an English Renaissance composer, singer, and lutenist. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep" , "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe" and "In darkness let me dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and has...

, Anthony Holborne
Anthony Holborne
Anthony Holborne was a composer of English consort music during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.-Life:Holborne entered Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1562. He was admitted to the Inner Temple Court in 1565. Holborne married Elisabeth Marten on 14 June 1584. On the title page of both his books he...

, and William Byrd
William Byrd
William Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.-Provenance:Knowledge of Byrd's biography expanded in the late 20th century, thanks largely...

. The principal Jacobean era
Jacobean era
The Jacobean era refers to the period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who also inherited the crown of England in 1603 as James I...

 composers included Thomas Lupo
Thomas Lupo
Thomas Lupo was an English composer and viol player of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Along with Orlando Gibbons, John Coprario, and Alfonso Ferrabosco, he was one of the principal developers of the repertory for viol consort.-Life:He was part of a distinguished family of musicians, who...

, Orlando Gibbons
Orlando Gibbons
Orlando Gibbons was an English composer, virginalist and organist of the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods...

, John Coprario, and Alfonso Ferrabosco
Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger
Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger was an English composer and viol player of Italian descent. He straddles the line between the Renaissance and Baroque eras.-Biography:...

. Later seventeenth-century composers included Christopher Simpson
Christopher Simpson
Christopher Simpson was an English musician and composer, particularly associated with music for the viola da gamba.-Life:Simpson was born between 1602 and 1606, probably at Egton, Yorkshire...

, William Lawes
William Lawes
William Lawes was an English composer and musician.-Life and career:Lawes was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire and was baptised on 1 May 1602...

, Matthew Locke
Matthew Locke (composer)
Matthew Locke was an English Baroque composer and music theorist.-Biography:As a boy, Locke was trained in the choir of Exeter Cathedral, under Edward Gibbons, the brother of Orlando Gibbons...

, and Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell – 21 November 1695), was an English organist and Baroque composer of secular and sacred music. Although Purcell incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, his legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music...


Modern consorts

In modern times, a number of ensembles have adopted the term Consort in their names, such as the Jaye Consort, the Morley Consort, the Early Music Consort of London
Early Music Consort
The Early Music Consort of London was founded by Christopher Hogwood and David Munrow in 1967 and disbanded in 1976 following Munrow's death. It produced many influential collections of early music, typical of which was The Art of the Netherlands issued as a 3-record set in 1976.-Selected...

, the Purcell Consort of Voices, the Consort of Voices, the Quadriga Consort
Quadriga Consort
Quadriga Consort aka Quadriga Early Music Band is an early music ensemble from Austria. Founded in 2001 by harpsichordist Nikolaus Newerkla, the ensemble plays rearranged early British and Irish traditional music....

, the Locke Brass Consort
Locke brass consort
The Locke Brass Consort was a musical ensemble of brass instruments based in the United Kingdom. It was founded by Leslie Lake in 1966, as a quintet, to give concerts in schools and music clubs....

, and the Rose Consort of Viols
Rose Consort of Viols
The Rose Consort of Viols is an English ensemble of viol players that perform mainly early consort music, including works by Gibbons, Dowland and Purcell....


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