Plague, an indiscriminate and deadly disease, was an important aspect of European intellectual and cultural life during the Renaissance. Perennial outbreaks throughout the period, both small and catastrophic, provoked changes and reactions in religion, medicine, government, and the arts—from literature, sculpture and painting, to music.
In 2020 A-R Editions published Songs in times of plague, an anthology that brings together, for the first time, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century motets and madrigals, for three to six voices, written in response to plague (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-4123). These pieces, with texts commemorating outbreaks and addressing holy figures and secular patrons, reveal how music was imbricated in the wider concerns of societies habitually caught in the grips of pestilence.
Above, The triumph of Death, a 1503 depiction of the death of Petrarca’s Laura; below, one of the works included in the edition, Roland de Lassus’s setting of Petrarca’s Standomi un giorno.