Welcome to A History of Western Music - 7th Edition

Gustav Klimt. Die Musik (detail). 1895. Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
Photo: © Joachin Blauel/ARTOTHEK

This site requires Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher / Mozilla-Compatible Browser, and Macromedia Flash player.

Part II: The Renaissance
Chapter 11: Madrigal and Secular Song in the Sixteenth Century
Chapter Outline Print this page

If fifteenth-century composers forged an international idiom, sixteenth-century musicians cultivated a new flowering of national styles, especially in secular vocal music. Poets and composers in different linguistic regions naturally developed distinctive genres and forms. Music printing fostered the creation and dissemination of music for amateurs to sing for their own pleasure. This music was usually in the vernacular, further encouraging the growth of national styles.

Among the significant national genres of the sixteenth century were the Spanish villancico, the Italian frottola, and a new kind of French chanson, all simple, strophic, mostly syllabic and homophonic, easily singable, and thus ideally suited for amateur performers. The genre that proved most significant in the long run was the Italian madrigal, in which Renaissance poets and composers brought to a peak their intense interests in humanism, in the individual, and in realizing in music the accents, images, and emotions of the text. Besides influencing later French chansons and German Lieder, madrigals became fashionable in England, joined around the end of the century by the lute song. Through the madrigal, Italy and Italian composers became the leading forces in European music for the first time, a role they would maintain for the next two centuries.

Chapter Outline:

  1. Amateur music-making inspired a flowering of national styles, in contrast to the fifteenth-century unification of styles.
    1. Amateurs wanted secular music in the vernacular.
    2. Homophonic genres for easy singing were popular in Spain and Italy.
    3. The madrigal was an outlet for an interest in humanism, first in Italy and later in England.
    4. The ability to read and perform music became a social grace in the sixteenth century.
      1. Among the elite nobility first
      2. Eventually also among middle class
      3. Paintings show people reading from published music, usually part-books (e.g., HWM Figure 11.1).
      4. Amateurs constituted an eager market for a variety of secular genres.
  2. Spain: Villancico
    1. Ferdinand and Isabella encouraged Spanish music, especially the villancico.
    2. The villancico
      1. The name of the genre is derived from the word for peasant (villano).
      2. The audience/market was the elite class, but the texts were rustic and popular in style.
      3. The music was short, strophic, syllabic, and mostly homophonic, in reaction to the Franco-Flemish style.
      4. Villancicos were often published for voice with lute.
      5. Form
        1. The form varies, but always includes a refrain (estribillo).
        2. Stanzas begin with two statements of a contrasting idea.
        3. Stanzas end with a return to the music of the refrain (vuelta).
        4. The last line of the refrain text usually recurs at the end of each stanza.
    3. Juan del Encina (1468-1529)
      1. The first Spanish playwright and a leading composer of villancicos
      2. Oy comamos y bebemos (NAWM 48) is typical of the genre.
        1. The text uses crude language to exhort listeners to eat, drink, and sing the day before Lent begins.
        2. Melody and harmony are simple.
        3. Rhythms are dance-like, with frequent hemiolas.
  3. Italy
    1. The frottola (pl. frottole)
      1. Italian counterpart to the villancico
        1. Four-part strophic song set syllabically and homophonically.
        2. Melody in the upper voice
        3. Simple harmony
        4. Marked rhythmic patterns
        5. No fixed form, though several subtypes and specific forms
      2. Composed by Italian composers for the amusement of the courtly elite
        1. Petrucci published thirteen collections between 1504 and 1514.
        2. The songs were mock-popular songs, not authentic folk or popular songs.
      3. Performed by solo voice with lute
      4. Among the best-known composers of frottole was Marco Cara (ca. 1465-1525), who worked at the court of Mantua.
        1. Io non compro più speranza (NAWM 49) appeared in Petrucci's first book of frottole.
        2. The rhythm moves in six beats per measure, sometimes divided into three groups of two, other times two groups of three (hemiola effect).
        3. The poem consists of a four-line ripresa and a six-line stanza.
    2. The Italian madrigal
      1. The most important secular genre of the sixteenth century
        1. Composers enriched the meaning and impact of the text through musical setting.
        2. The genre became an experimental vehicle for dramatic characterization, inspiring new compositional devices.
        3. The poem consists of a four-line ripresa and a six-line stanza.
      2. Form
        1. Single stanza with no refrains or repeated lines
        2. The music is through-composed, with new music for every line of poetry.
      3. Poetry
        1. Composers often chose texts by major poets.
        2. Topics included love songs and pastoral scenes.
        3. The final lines of the poem were often epigrammatic, bringing home the point of the poem.
      4. Music
        1. Composers used a variety of techniques and textures.
        2. All voices played an equal role, similar to the motet of the same period.
        3. The earliest madrigals (ca. 1520 to 1550) were for four voices.
        4. By mid-century, madrigals were composed for five or more voices.
        5. Performance could be vocal, or some parts could be played on instruments.
    3. Early madrigal composers
      1. Philippe Verdelot (ca. 1480-ca. 1545)
        1. Franco-Flemish composer, active in Florence and Rome in the 1520s, when the madrigal developed
        2. His four-voice madrigals are mostly homophonic.
        3. His madrigals for five or more voices are more motetlike.
      2. Jacques Arcadelt (ca. 1507-1568)
        1. Franco-Flemish composer working in Florence and Rome from the 1520s to 1551.
        2. His Il bianco e dolce cigno (NAWM 50), published in 1538, is one of the most famous of the early madrigals.
        3. The text alludes to sexual climax (referred to in the sixteenth century as "the little death") in the words "dying fills me fully with joy and desire."
        4. A string of imitative entrances portrays the words "thousand deaths a day" ("mille mort' il di").
    4. The Petrarchan movement
      1. Cardinal Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), poet and scholar, led the movement to revive the sonnets and canzoni of Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374).
      2. Bembo identified the contrasting qualities of pleasingness (piacevolezza) and severity (gravità) in the sounds of Petrarch's poems.
      3. Composers attempted to reflect these qualities in their music.
    5. Adrian Willaert
      1. Associated major thirds and sixths with harshness or bitterness, and minor intervals with sweetness or grief
      2. Aspro core e selvaggio, Petrarch's poem about a "harsh and savage heart," uses major intervals and whole steps for harshness (HMW Example 11.2a) and minor intervals to portray the lover's "sweet, humble, angelic face" (HMW Example 11.2b).
    6. Mid-century madrigalists
      1. Cipriano de Rore (1516-1565) (see HWM Figure 11.3)
        1. The leading madrigal composer at mid-century
        2. Flemish, working in Ferrara, Parma, and at St. Mark's in Venice (succeeding Willaert as music director)
        3. Profoundly interested in humanism and in ideas from ancient Greek music
        4. De le belle contrade d'oriente (NAWM 51 and HWM Example 11.3), published posthumously, demonstrates his sensitivity to the text (a sonnet modeled on Bembo).
        5. Accented syllables receive longer notes than do unaccented syllables.
        6. Grief and sorrow are portrayed by frequent changes of voice combinations, chromaticism, and by a single high voice singing the phrase "sola mi lasci" ("alone you leave me").
      2. Chromaticism
        1. Direct chromaticism was justified by the chromaticism of ancient Greeks (e.g., HWM Example 11.3, which includes all twelve notes of chromatic scale).
        2. Nicola Vicentino (1511-ca. 1576), composer and theorist, proposed reviving the chromatic and an harmonica genera of time of Greek music.
      3. Women as composers and performers
        1. Madalena Casulana (ca. 1544-ca.1590s), who served the duchess of Bracciano, was the first woman whose music was published and the first to regard herself as a professional composer.
        2. Women performed madrigals with men, and some became professional singers.
        3. The concerto delle donne (women's ensemble) was a renowned group of trained singers in the service of Duke Alfonso d'Este, inspiring similar ensembles in rival courts (see HWM Source Reading, page 253)
    7. Later madrigalists
      1. Although many northerners composed madrigals, the leading madrigalists at the end of the century were native Italians.
      2. Luca Marenzio, e.g., Solo e pensoso (NAWM 52)
        1. Marenzio was known for depicting contrasting feelings and visual details.
        2. Based on a sonnet by Petrarch
        3. Marenzio depicts the poet walking alone with slow chromatic ascents, moving a half-step per measure.
        4. Quickly moving figures in close imitation depict the words "flee" and "escape."
        5. Literal depictions of individual words later became known as madrigalisms because they were so common in madrigals.
      3. Carlo Gesualdo (ca. 1561-1613)
        1. A rare aristocratic composer who published his music
        2. Infamous for killing his wife and her lover when he discovered them in bed together
        3. His madrigals dramatize the poetry through sharp contrasts, e.g., between diatonic and chromatic pitches, chordal and imitative textures, slow and quick rhythms.
        4. Io parto (NAWM 53 and HWM Example 11.4) exemplifies all these types of contrasts used to portray individual words (e.g., vivo son portrays a return to life with fast, diatonic, imitative figures).
    8. Other secular genres
      1. Villanella
        1. Popular in Naples beginning in the 1540s
        2. Lively, strophic, homophonic piece for three voices
        3. Rustic character portrayed with crude harmony, such as parallel fifths
      2. Canzonetta (little song) and balletto (little dance) were light genres developed for the end of the century.
        1. Homophonic, with simple harmonies
        2. The balletto (pl. balletti) use dance-like rhythms and "fa-la-la" refrains.
        3. Both genres were imitated by German and English composers.
  4. France
    1. A new type of chanson was developed under Francis I (r. 1515-47).
      1. Light, fast, strongly rhythmic song for four voices
      2. Texts were about pleasant, amorous situations, though there were also some serious texts.
      3. Syllabic text-setting
      4. Homophonic, with the principal melody in the highest voice and occasional points of imitation
      5. Composed for amateurs and published in numerous collections, including over fifty collections published by the first French music printer, Pierre Attaingnant (ca. 1490-1552).
      6. Many were arranged for voice and lute or for lute alone.
    2. Claudin de Sermisy (ca.1490-1562)
      1. His chansons were very popular and even appeared in paintings, such as HWM Figure 11.4.
      2. Tant que vivray (NAWM 54 and HWM Example 11.5)
        1. Similar in style to the frottola and villancico, with the melody in the top voice and simple harmony
        2. The form of the poetry is emphasized by long notes or repeated notes at the end of each line.
    3. Clément Janequin
      1. Composed many types of chanson
      2. His descriptive chansons feature imitations of bird calls, hunting calls, and sounds of war.
      3. La Guerre (The War) depicts a battle.
      4. Le chant des oiseaux (The Song of the Birds) uses vocal warbles and chirping.
    4. The later Franco-Flemish chanson
      1. Composers continued to compose in the Franco-Flemish tradition.
      2. Other, newer styles often influenced composers.
    5. Musique mesurée (measured music)
      1. An attempt by the members of the Académie de Poésie et de Musique (Academy of Poetry and Music), founded in 1570, to revive the ethical effects of ancient Greek music
      2. Poetry in ancient Greek and Latin meters (vers mesuré à l'antique, "measured verse in ancient style")
        1. Jean-Antoine de Baf wrote strophic French verses in ancient meters.
        2. He assigned French vowels to durations because French lacked the natural accent lengths of other languages.
      3. Claude LeJeune was the leading exponent, e.g., Revecy venir du printans (NAWM 55)
        1. Each long syllable was twice as long as a short one.
        2. Musical rhythms alternated duple and triple depending on the syllables.
      4. This experiment never took hold, but it introduced irregular rhythms into the air de cour (court air), the dominant French song style after about 1580.
  5. Germany
    1. Meistersinger (master singers) preserved a tradition of an accompanied solo song, derived from the Minnesinger.
      1. Urban amateur singers who formed guilds
      2. Began in the fourteenth century, peaked in the sixteenth, dissolved in the nineteenth
      3. Poetic competitions challenged members to create new poetry on an existing melody and poetic structure.
      4. Hans Sachs (1494-1576), a shoemaker, was the best-known.
    2. Polyphonic Lied
      1. Continued to be composed, with several approaches to melody
      2. After 1550, Germans developed a taste for Italian secular song.
      3. German Lieder survived if they took on Italianate characteristics, as in Lasso's seven collections of Lieder.
  6. England
    1. Consort song
      1. Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) and his second wife were musicians and composers.
      2. During their reign, a variety of songs and instrumental pieces in three and four parts were composed.
      3. The consort song was for voice accompanied by a consort (group) of viols.
      4. William Byrd's 1588 collection, Psalmes, Sonets and Songs, includes consort songs in imitative counterpoint.
    2. English madrigals
      1. Italian culture was in vogue in sixteenth-century England.
      2. Italian madrigals began to circulate in England in the 1560s.
      3. Musica Transalpina, 1588
        1. A collection of Italian madrigals translated into English
        2. Published by Nicholas Yonge, who wrote in his introduction that gentlemen and merchants sang the repertory at his own home.
        3. This and similar collections inspired composers to start writing their own madrigals in English.
    3. Thomas Morley
      1. Composed English language madrigals, canzonets, and balletts.
      2. Wrote a treatise, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practiall Musicke (1597)
        1. Aimed at unlearned amateurs (see HWM Figure 11.5 for the treatise's contents)
        2. Covered everything from basic notation to composing in three or more voices
      3. My bonny lass she smileth (NAWM 56) is based on the Italian balletto form.
        1. Strophic, with each stanza comprising two repeated sections (AABB)
        2. Each section begins homophonically.
        3. Sections end with a "fa-la-la" contrapuntal refrain.
    4. The Triumphs of Oriana, 1601
      1. Collection of twenty-five madrigals by twenty-three composers.
      2. The title is in honor of Queen Elizabeth.
      3. Each madrigal ends with the words "long live fair Oriana," referring to Elizabeth.
    5. Thomas Weelkes
      1. His As Vesta was (NAWM 57) is one of the most famous madrigals in The Triumphs of Oriana.
      2. Weelkes wrote his own poetry, giving himself numerous opportunities for musical depiction.
      3. A melodic peak describes "hill" and falling scales describe "descending."
    6. Lute songs (or airs)
      1. Solo song with lute accompaniment was a popular genre in the early 1600s.
      2. Leading composers were John Dowland (1563-1626) and Thomas Campion (1567- 1620).
      3. More personal genre than the madrigal
      4. Less word-painting, with lute always subordinate to the melody
      5. Published in score format rather than part books
        1. Some alternate arrangements set the lute part for voices, as shown in HMW Figure 11.6
        2. The lute part was written in tablature, a notation telling the player where to place fingers on the strings rather than indicating pitch.
      6. Dowland's best-known song is Flow, my tears (NAWM 58).
        1. Published in 1600 in his Second Booke of Ayres
        2. Inspired many variations and arrangements (e.g., NAWM 61)
        3. In the form of a pavane, with three repeated strains, the last with the same words for a musical pattern of aabbCC
        4. Repetition minimizes opportunities to depict individual words, but Dowland's music matches the dark mood of the poetry.
  7. The Madrigal and Its Impact
    1. The madrigal and the other vernacular genres inspired by it reflect the growing influence of humanism on music.
    2. Expressive codes developed after Willaert's time led to the development of opera.
    3. The vogue for social singing declined after 1600, but the madrigal in English survived to some extent from its origins to today.