Performance | Singer-Virtuosos | Renaissance | Classical
Just as virtuoso composer-violinists dominated the instrumental scene in the seventeenth century, and composer-pianists in the eighteenth and nineteenth, so were singers in constant demand throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods. In northern France and modern Belgium and the Netherlands, a rich tradition of cathedral choirs produced a thriving community of singers who travelled throughout Europe, spreading their style of performance. In their native lands the most successful ones became choirmasters at cathedral and collegiate institutions, or sang in the court chapels. Some travelled further afield attracted by the long purses of noble music-lovers. The dukes of Milan and Ferrara went to extraordinary lengths to maintain private chapels of the highest standard.
During both the medieval and Renaissance periods, choral ensembles employed either boys or countertenors (also called falsettists) on the top lines, since women were banned from participating in liturgical singing. During the sixteenth century, countertenors were gradually replaced in some institutions by castratos – adult males who had undergone surgery in boyhood to retain their high voices permanently. Women were not banned from all singing, however: in the late Renaissance, virtuoso female sopranos were increasingly sought-after at courtly entertainments.
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