Consort of instrumentsA consort of instruments was a phrase used in England during the 16th and 17th centuries to indicate an instrumental ensemble. These could be of the same or a variety of instruments. Consort music enjoyed considerable popularity at court and in households of the wealthy in the Elizabethan era and many pieces were written for consorts by the major composers of the period. In the Baroque era consort music was absorbed into chamber music.
Definitions and formsThe earliest documented example of the English word 'consort' in a musical sense is in George Gascoigne’s The Princelye Pleasures (1576). Only from the mid-17th century has there been a clear distinction made between a ‘whole’, or ‘closed’ consort, that is, all instruments of the same family (for example, a set of viols played together) and a ‘mixed’, or ‘broken’ consort, consisting of instruments from various families (for example viols and lute).
Major forms of music composed for consorts included: fantasias, cantus firmus settings (including In nomines), variations, dances or ayres, and fantasia-suites.