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Madrigal leading up to Monteverd

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Published: Mon, 22 Jun 2015

Account of the evolution of the Madrigal leading up to Monteverdi.

Madrigals are secular songs for all voices. It formed the basis of poems and sonnets set to music, and various other types of poetry. The first generation of Madrigals were set for four voices; these were (cantus) Soprano (altus) Also (tenor) tenor and (bassus) bass. Madrigals dealt freely with the music, mainly of a homophonic and contrapuntal textures, in a series of overlapping sections and consistent use of imitation. The Madrigal was written for all voices, except at the time, of sacred music, which was written for male voices only.

Madrigals in the fifteenth century were written in the vernacular. At this time there was an international style of music. The sixteenth century goes development of voices and new influences. The development of the Italian Madrigal is in three stages. This progression is shown in the third generation madrigal composer, Monteverdi. The Madrigal development spans from 1530 to 1620 approximately. This is at the same time as the end of the Renaissance period and the baroque period. With the development of instruments at this time, harmony was adapted and instruments were brought together to create a contrast of new music.

This illustrates the development along with the Madrigals, and how they developed with the music.

The First Generation of Madrigals includes composers such as Jaques Arcadelt (ca. 1507 – 1568). He was a Franco-Flemish composer, and worked in Florence, Rome and France. Arcadelt’s composition Il bianco e dolce cigno was first published as a set of Madrigals in 1538, and is the most famous of the early Madrigals. This work is predominantly homophonic, and uses imitation for harmonies of 3rds and 5ths. The piece has four parts, and is predominantly consonant, apart from a few suspensions and resolutions.

The typical sixteenth century Madrigal is through composed, meaning nothing is repeated and is continuous. Thus, all new words have new music. This is also very typical as it is set for 4 voices. The meanings of the words is the most important part of the madrigal, thus, the words are drawn out over a long moving melody and occasional use of dissonance and chromatic usage, to show the connotation of the words.

Mid-sixteenth century (the second generation), Madrigals now consist of 5 to the maximum of 6 voices. This shows the steady progression of Madrigals from the first to the second generation. Cipriano De Rore (1546 – 1565) who composed Da le belle contrade d’oriente around 1560 – 1566. In this madrigal, the woman expresses sorrow that her lover is about to depart. The composer chose intervals associated with sadness and reflected the natural speech inflection. He also includes Melisma, dissonant notes, and a lot more chromaticism, and breaking phrases, to really draw out the emotion of the words. This has clearly adapted from the first generation of Madrigals, more technically demanding and increased range and use of cross rhythms than that of earlier Madrigals.

The Third generation of madrigals occurred around the late sixteenth century. In this period, this launched the Baroque era, and experimentation and development of harmony and literal context. A highly experimental composer was Luca Marenzio (1553 – 1599) who composed Solo e pensoso 1590. It starts with an ascending chromatic sequence, which demonstrates the use of experimentation with harmony at this time from the earlier Madrigals, hence, with the chromatic opening and harmonic usage. The texture in this generation is much broader in its approach and fuller than that of earlier Madrigals. At this point, Madrigals would have been sung for a purpose, because earlier Madrigals were sung just for the enjoyment for the singers. Another third generation composer was Carlo Gesualdo (1560 – 1613). His use of experimentation with madrigals continued to be used throughout into the Baroque era, with such contrasts between chromatic and harmonic passages, to express the meanings of the words and convey the emotion. His Madrigal ‘lo parto’ e non piu dissi, is experimental both harmonically and rhythmically. This is highly dissonant due to the chromaticism in all parts of the melody and countermelodies.

In short, the Madrigal took course of several changed throughout the three generations. Its harmonic progression becoming more complicated and experimentation with rhythms progressed through the sixteenth century and was a primary key of basic song writing for the Baroque era.


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