Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The term madrigal has a supposed etymology tracing back to one of two words relating to a rural poem. A secular delivery written amidst an aristocratic era, a madrigals was aimed at common Renaissance sensations and thoughts. Structurally, the madrigal in the 1500's contained anywhere between four and six voice parts, and, in the early part of the 1500's, had no attributes of the fixed forms belonging to the past. A through-composed setting of a brief poem, its theme could be one of several subjects: comedy, politics, satire, love, rural scenes, and longing. Designed to be sung with a single singer per part, it fell into the category of vocal chamber music, although the voices were frequently replaced or duplicated with instruments. Two or three three-line stanzas, in addition to two rhyming lines that make up a refrain at the end of the poem, was the typical length of the poem.

In a madrigal of this time period, each poetic line was usually accompanied by the music which corresponded to the impression and rhythm of the text. The locations where madrigals were presented varied from theatrical productions, such as a play, to assemblies in academies. The artistic society where beauty contained emotion gained the madrigal as its new music.

The madrigal progressed through three stages, beginning with the first stage with strophic madrigals, i.e. madrigals with each stanza using the same music. This early phase (ca. 1525-1550) contained techniques for composition designed to correspond the music with the lyrics and they grew broader closer to the final stretch of this phase. The poetry used in madrigals had an emotional scope that also started to enlarge.

In the middle phase (1550-1580), a madrigal had two or more voices independent of each other, thus creating a polyphonic texture. Chromatic harmonies were tried by composers in the 1560's and begun by composers such as Claudio Montiverdi around the 1560's and a greater number of voices were present in the music, often five and six-voice parts.

In the late phase (1580-1620), many innovations occurred, such as solo duets and songs with accompaniment. Instead of being improvised, ornaments began to be written down. Emotional and dramatic effects were achieved by more shocking dissonance, chromaticism, and progressions of harmony. Enlivening the lyrics through images portrayed in the music passed away as harmony became the means by which this bringing to life was accomplished.

Beginnings of techniques of what is called word painting are frequently attributed to Italian madrigals. Word painting is defined as the music's attempt to somehow describe the lyrics, such as mimicing the text's action or emotion. This special art was also implemented by the English who favored simple texts. Musica Transalpina is the title of Nicholas Yonge's published compilation of Italian madrigals accessible in England.

Italian madrigals had a more casual, less integrated character and shape than the English versions. Chromaticism in the Italian madrigals did not have as great a presence in those of the English. Madrigals in England feature several facets as listed in the following: a shift to polyphonic texture from homophonic texture; chords functioning as the setting for the madrigal's final line; and sections that are repeated. Nonsense syllables, for example, "fa la la,"" were instituted by English madrigals as humor and celebration had a greater presence in these madrigals compared to their Italian complements. This madrigal from England, although it had ingenuity and good quality, lasted only a brief period of time as the cantata in the 1600's took its place.

1 comment:

  1. Alex, take a look into Monteverdi's books of Motets. He used the genre throughout his productive life, incorporating the three different "stages" of the Madrigal. Would you find more information about them and write a short entry?