Royal Academy of Art’s Type Blog

Historical Type and Music

The use of historical fonts whose origins, for example, are more than 500 years old, is part of today’s typographical convention, which is rather eclectic. However, listening to music from that time is less common: we are not conditioned to this. How many of today’s typographers who use Adobe Jenson or Adobe Garamond will also find Renaissance music customary? Moreover, if you are not aware of the historical origins of these fonts, how do you actually look at the Renaissance type? After all, if digital revivals form the basis for a person’s perception, how do you know that modern interpretations reflect the essence of the originals?

A comparison with recordings of music from the past, such as from the Renaissance and Baroque, applies here. Through continuous research, insight is constantly changing and this has led to the development of the ‘authentic’ performance practice. And within this practice there are again different insights, resulting in different interpretations of the same scores. The listener hears the music being filtered through the ears of the interpreters, while the typographer looks at the historical fonts through the eyes of the revivalist.

For those who are working on a revival based on type from the Italian or French Renaissance, I post here a few links to (interpretations of) music from these style periods.



Josquin des Prez (ca.1450/1455–1521):


He was above all a publisher of music, Pierre Attaingnant (ca.1494–1551/1552):


Nicolas Gombert (ca.1495–ca.1560):


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina


Andrea Gabrieli (ca.1532–1585), was the uncle of Giovanni Gabrieli (below):


IMHO this is perfect music for drawing sophisticated, delicate, and slightly swinging Renaissance-revival serifs. It dates from 1597 and was created by Giovanni Gabrieli (ca.1554/1557–1612):


Tomás Luis de Victoria (ca.1548–1611):


Giulio Caccini (1551–1618) was the father of Francesca Caccini (further below):


Sebastián de Vivanco (ca.1551–1622).This has always been one of my all-time favorite tracks (I have it on CD). My advice: play it loudly!


This famous composer bridges the Renaissance with the Baroque: Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) This is definitely one of the greatest hits of classical music:


He stood with one leg in the Renaissance and with the other one in the Baroque: Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643):

BTW, the YouTube video shows my favorite instrument. You can hear that the organ is tuned differently from what is done since the times of Johann Sebastian Bach. The music of the latter and his Baroque peers cannot be played on an organ that has been tuned as the one in the video (‘meantone temparament’), because it uses a combination (A flat and E flat) that gives a shivery effect, hence it it was called ‘wolf’s quint’.


Actually more an early Baroque composer, Francesca Caccini (1587–after 1641) was also a singer, lutenist, poet, and teacher. She was the daughter of the Renaissance composer Giulio Caccini:


A Renaissance-related highly entertaining musical intermezzo:


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