The collections of solo song set to poetry created by the troubadours
developed further during the late medieval and Renaissance periods into French polyphonic chansons and the Italian madrigal.
The styles and flavours of these songs filtered into England, where the dance madrigal or ballett and the ayre ( one voice accompanied by lute or viols ) were very popular.
The courtly ballad "Greensleeves"
, by an unknown author, is fairly typical of this Elizabethan period,
and is probably its best known song.
In terms of the history of popular music these developments represent something of a cul-de-sac, their innovations
having more importance within the classical tradition. On the other hand John Gay
did use the melody to "Greensleeves"
in his "BEGGAR'S OPERA"
of 1728, a production which marks the beginning of ballad opera
a tradition of popular theatre which feeds directly into later developments in both Britain and North America.
Another highly significant change took place with the Reformation, which began in Germany under Martin Luther in 1517 and spread
into England, where it culminated in the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.
One outcome of this was that the traditions of plainsong, which monks had performed in latin for centuries,
were quickly superceded by forms of worship more accessible to the common man, within a newly established Anglican church.
One of these forms was the metrical psalm, in which religious texts were adapted into rhyming verses to enable them to be sung.
These were in turn superceded by the vernacular hymn, the first great exponent of which was Isaac Watts, whose texts really began to
both express and excite the religious fervour of the congregation. His most famous compositions include "Joy To The World"
and "O God Our Help In Ages Past". Watts was followed by John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist tradition of
worship, one part of which is the use of both words and music in hymns to uplift and unite the churchgoers.
The significance of all this for the development of the popular song lies in the role these styles of hymn singing played in the creation of the
negro spiritual, the seedcorn of gospel music,
which became a major influence on many later styles in the 20th century.