Performance | Consorts | Renaissance | Classical
Most instrumental music of the Renaissance was written for small ensembles. At the time, the major distinction was between the consort and the broken consort. The former consisted of a set of instruments from the same family. The fact that recorders, shawms, viols, violins and many others existed not as single instruments but as a whole range – from large and deep to small and shrill – meant that each range could exist self-sufficiently if its players chose.
The broken consort brought together instruments of different families. The lute often joined a group of viol players, for example. Most published music stated that the composer expected it to be played by various instruments, or by various combinations of voices and instruments. A broken consort might consist of two plucked, two bowed and two woodwind instruments – maybe lutes, viols and flutes. Four-part vocal music could indeed have been performed by four voices, but also by, for example, two singers and two instrumentalists.
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