| HISTORY :: MEDIEVAL ITALY AND RENAISSANCE
In Italy in the 14th century there was an explosion of musical activity that corresponded in scope and level of innovation to the activity in the other arts. Although musicologists typically group the music of the trecento with the late medieval period, it included features which align with the early Renaissance in important ways: an increasing emphasis on secular sources, styles and forms; a spreading of culture away from ecclesiastical institutions to the nobility, and even to the common people; and a quick development of entirely new techniques. The most famous composer in Italy in the 14th century was Francesco Landini, and the principal forms were the trecento madrigal, the caccia, and the ballata. Overall, the musical style of the period is sometimes labeled as the "Italian ars nova."
For a long time scholars were puzzled by the apparent decline in musical activity in the 15th century. However, more recent study has shown that while production of notated music declined in Italy, there was actually a spread of musical activity outward from the church and the aristocratic courts, and much secular music was transmitted orally, thus continuing the secularizing trend evident in the 14th century. From the middle of the 15th century to the middle of the 16th century, the center of innovation in sacred music was in the Low Countries, and a flood of talented composers came to Italy from this region. Many of them sang in either the papal choir in Rome or the choirs at the numerous chapels of the aristocracy, in Florence, Milan, Ferrara and elsewhere; and they brought their polyphonic style with them, influencing many native Italian composers during their stay.
The predominant forms of church music during the period were the mass and the motet. By far the most famous composer of church music in 16th century Italy was Palestrina, the most prominent member of the Roman School, whose style of smooth, emotionally cool polyphony was to become the defining sound of the late 16th century, at least for generations of 19th- and 20th century musicologists. Other Italian composers of the late 16th century focused on composing the main secular form of the era, the madrigal: and for almost a hundred years these secular songs for multiple singers were distributed all over Europe. Composers of madrigals included Jacques Arcadelt, at the beginning of the age, Cipriano de Rore, in the middle of the century, and Luca Marenzio, Philippe de Monte, and Claudio Monteverdi at the end of the era.
Italy was also a center of innovation in instrumental music. By the early 16th century keyboard improvisation came to be greatly valued, and numerous composers of virtuoso keyboard music appeared. Many familiar instruments were invented and perfected in late Renaissance Italy, such as the violin, the earliest forms of which came into use in the 1550s.
By the late 16th century Italy was the musical center of Europe. Almost all of the innovations which were to define the transition to the Baroque period originated in northern Italy in the last few decades of the century. In Venice, the polychoral productions of the Venetian School, and associated instrumental music, moved north into Germany; in Florence, the Florentine Camerata developed monody, the important precursor to opera, which itself first appeared around 1600; and the avant-garde, manneristic style of the Ferrara school, which migrated to Naples and elsewhere through the music of Carlo Gesualdo, was to be the final statement of the polyphonic vocal music of the Renaissance.
Taken from Wikipedia