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My most recent arrangement for the Horsley Fammily String Ensemble is an easy Renaissance piece: L'Acceso by Giovanni Gastoldi (1556-1622). It is a balletto, which is a happy song, a vocal piece often about love or describing a pastoral scene with shepherds and nymphs, and containing a refrain ending with a series of nonsense syllables (usually a series of fa-la-las, diri-diri-downs, or hay-nonny-nonnies).
As the term "balletto" might suggest, although a vocal piece, it originated as a dance/song. And, although it is a vocal work, it was quite common in the Renaissance to have some or all of the parts played instrumentally. It could have been done with all singers (one to a part) unaccompanied (a cappella), or one singer on the melody and four instrumentalists on the other parts, or, as arranged here, strictly as an instrumental piece.
If the piece were performed instrumentally (even with pieces which were conceived as instrumental pieces) the instrumentation was not indicated. Any instrument could play a part as long as the notes fit comfortably within the range of the instrument, and as long as the instrument would blend well with the others. Instruments were classified as "haut" (high) or "bas" (low); however, this didn't refer to the range of the instrument, but rather the volume (loudness or softness) of the instrument. Instruments such as lutes, recorders, viols (considered "elegant" instruments) were classified as "bas" (soft). Instruments such as shawms (ancestors of the oboe), violins (considered a "crude" instrument suitable to accompany peasant dancing), cornettos (instruments made of horn ortwo pieces of hollowed out wood joined together and covered in leather with holes drilled in the tube much like a modern clarinet or oboe has its barrel drilled), natural trumpets (more like bugles–valves were still a few hundred years away), and sackbuts (ancestors of the trombone) were classified as "haut" (loud).
Music was considered a social grace. Everyone was expected to read music, sing, play an instrument, and dance. Anyone lacking those skills sone found himself excluded from most intimate social gatherings.
When one was invited to a home, the host and guests entertained themselves by singing madrigals and balletti, and by playing music on instruments often provided by the host. These instruments were often stored in an elaborately carved or intricately inlaid chest; hence the "chest of viols" or consort of recorders provided the evening's entertainment.