My dear friend, Adrienne, another homeschooler, asked me for recommendations as she teaches her adorable children about classical music. She opened a can of worms, as I began to search my brain, and found all sorts of tidbits lying around, unused. (My own children have not been exposed to very much classical music, at least, not in a systematic way. They hear it, certainly, but they don't really know what they're listening to.)
I've answered her short emails with long ones--probably more than she wanted--but I think I will repost some of my answers here, in case all those tidbits get lost, and I need to find them again. If she's reading, she'll notice that I've edited my answers for publication. (Please note, that I do not guarantee that the following is 100% factually correct.)
"Oh, wise musician friend. Do you know of any composers during the 1500s?"-Adrienne
Off the top of my head, I'd say that the most prolific composer during that era was named Anonymous. :)
Palestrina is probably the most important composer from the 1500's. He is credited with saving polyphonic music in the church. The story is--composers were starting to get pretty elaborate in their compositions--with singers singing so many different lines at the same time, that the words were hard to understand. The Church was starting to come down pretty hard, and trying to end the use of polyphony in church music, and go back to simpler styles of music. Palestrina was very careful in the placement of words, and composed in such a way that you could understand the words, even though the musical parts weren't all being sung at the same time.
A little background from my high school Renaissance music report that I gave in AP English:
Back then, sacred and secular music were completely separated. You had your church music--with its proper forms, and sacred texts, and instruments considered appropriate for church; and then you had your secular music--which was performed at dances, or at the theater, or in the fields, etc., basically, anywhere besides in church. Texts in secular songs were incredibly varied--my favorite is a song called, "Love is Like Tobacco." Also, your purely instrumental music is more likely to be secular, because sacred music was set to sacred texts. One of my favorite primarily secular composers is John Dowland, although he's later in the century--and passed away in 1626.
Incidentally, King Henry VIII was an accomplished composer, in addition to his many other notable accomplishments, including the formation of the Anglican church...and having six wives.