The 1500's in Europe were a historically fascinating time. The grip of the Catholic Church was eroding under increasing skepticism, a renewed interest in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome compelled scholarship, the cobwebs of Medieval times were being swept away by a revival of culture that would influence western society to this day: the Renaissance.

None of the arts were immune to such radical change, but relevant to this node is the field of music. With the domination of pagan cultures by the Church, musical expression was extremely suppressed, viewed with disdain as an innappropriate submission to carnality. Music of the Ancient Romans was all but obliterated from the memory of civilization under the Church's heel -- an act tantamount to the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Music that was permitted was generally limited to music of the voice -- think plainchant. Instrumental music did continue to exist, but mostly through folk usage.

Enlightened times, rich with ideas as well as commerce, became a fertile ground for imaginative musicians. Composers began to write for instruments as well as voices; performers began to make a living by playing music on a variety of instruments. With this expanding tradition came the practice of developing consorts of musical instruments.

A consort, proper, is a family of instruments designed to fill out a complete range, from soprano to bass, of a single timbre. Consorts of viols, recorders, shawms, krummhorns, and kortholts all became common -- or, at least, as common as one could expect in a time dominated by diversity and experimentation.

As time passed, consorts passed out of favor as composers (or more precisely, the royalty that paid them) began to choose particular instruments as their favorite. Still, the tradition of consorts influences music to this day, most notably in the stringed instruments of the orchestra. (Although it should be noted that the differently-ranged stringed instruments of the orchestra -- the violin, viola, cello, and double bass -- come from different "consort lineages" -- they don't comprise a single consort, technically.) The tradition still lives on in the varied instruments of the winds, as well, as in the oboe family, which might be easily linked to a Renaissance origin, as compared to the saxophone family, which was filled out more recently and has its origin with instrument makers in the 19th century.

Con"sort (?), n. [L. consore, -sortis; con- + sors lot, fate, share. See Sort.]


One who shares the lot of another; a companion; a partner; especially, a wife or husband.


He single chose to live, and shunned to wed, Well pleased to want a consort of his bed. Dryden.

The consort of the queen has passed from this troubled sphere. Thackeray.

The snow-white gander, invariably accompanied by his darker consort. Darwin.

2. Naut.

A ship keeping company with another.


Concurrence; conjunction; combination; association; union.

"By Heaven's consort." Fuller. "Working in consort." Hare.

Take it singly, and is carries an air of levity; but, in consort with the rest, has a meaning quite different. Atterbury.

4. [LL. consortium.]

An assembly or association of persons; a company; a group; a combination.


In one consort there sat Cruel revenge and rancorious despite, Disloyal treason, and heart-burning hate. Spenser.

Lord, place me in thy consort. Herbert.

5. [Perh. confused with concert.]

Harmony of sounds; concert, as of musical instruments.



To make a sad consort`; Come, let us join our mournful song with theirs. Spenser.

Prince consort, the husband of a queen regnant. -- Queen consort, the wife of a king, as distinguished from a queen regnant, who rules alone, and a queen dowager, the widow of a king.


© Webster 1913.

Con*sort" (?), v. i. [imp. & p.p. Consorted; & vb.n. Consorting.]

To unite or to keep company; to associate; -- used with with.

Which of the Grecian chiefs consorts with thee? Dryden.


© Webster 1913.

Con*sort", v. t.


To unite or join, as in affection, harmony, company, marriage, etc.; to associate.

He with his consorted Eve. Milton.

For all that pleasing is to living ears Was there consorted in one harmony. Spenser.

He begins to consort himself with men. Locke.


To attend; to accompany.


Thou, wretched boy, that didst consort him here, Shalt with him hence. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

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