Despite all the war and rivalries, there was one thing that seemed to always succeed in bringing all European cultures together. During this time in the Renaissance era, secular music had become more approved and prominent. Amid this popular uprising rose a certain form of music named Madrigals. Originating in Italy, and then moving throughout Europe to places such as France, England, and Germany, the Madrigal format evolved and developed, between the 15th and 16th century, in the Renaissance era and even spilling over into the Baroque music era.
Though the Madrigal form was birthed in Italy, it traveled to many other countries and became a highly requested and popular musical style. Indeed, this had become the turning influential point that the country had been waiting for. One of its most affected areas included England. This impacted the music world and helped to shape, and evolve, the meaning of entertainment, as well as birth other, staged themes such as operas.
The Italian Madrigal, which was the very first madrigal form, was arguably the most important and influential secular music genre of the entire Renaissance. What made the madrigals so ahead of their time was the weight and refined text painting composers put into the lyrics and music. Within a madrigal, the music analyzed “new effects of declamation, imagery, expressivity, characterization, and dramatization,” which would later help shape future entertainment outlets such as opera.
The term Madrigal first began to circulate around 1530 to describe when Italian poetry was set to other musical forms. The text format, much like any other poetic formatting, consisted of a single stanza with around seven to eleven syllabic lines. The lines could be standard text or even have a free rhyme scheme. Unlike other musical genres, a madrigal contained no refrains or repeated lines. This is what differentiated the sixteenth-century madrigal from the frottola, the formes fixes and form the fourteenth-century madrigal, which it only shares its name with. A classic sixteenth-century madrigal was through-composed, meaning it consisted of new music for each and every line of poetry. Composers would choose text by big named poets of their times.
Since this genre has so much to do with the secular music uprising it would only make sense that the madrigals main subject contents be described as “sentimental or erotic, with scenes and allusions borrowed from pastoral poetry.” As stated earlier this genre was best known for its expressiveness through text and musicality making the madrigal a “form of social play” Some of the finest poems convoluted vivid imagery and spoke themes of love, sexual relations, and wit that could both appeal and entertain. Composers had a substantial amount of freedom when it came to dealing with the poetry they were setting their music up for. Some of the variety of textures most commonly used included homophony and contrapuntal textures with sections that continuously overlapped, individually being based on their own single phrases, and with all voices, overall, containing equal roles.
Text painting and expressiveness, as discussed earlier, was vital as madrigal composers made it their purpose to make the musicality of the song match that of the craftiness of the poetry and to further bring forth its ideas, images, and emotions to both the performers and the audience. In the early madrigal stages, from around years 1520 to 1540, voice parts were limited to writing for four-part voices. Though, by 1550 having songs written for up to five or more was not unusually taboo.
The traditional four voice parts consisted of a cantus, Altus, tenor, and bassus. Nevertheless, after those parts were listed they were labeled by number in the Latin language. “Quintus for the fifth voice, Sextus for the sixth,” and so on and so forth. Typically a madrigal was written for one person per voice part, though, the music could be alternated based on availability, and instruments could be used to double voice parts or even take their places altogether.
A very important name in the early madrigalist period was Philipe Verdelot, who was a French composer who had been very active in Rome and Florence, thus explaining how he was introduced to the madrigal composition. His compositions consisted mainly of four-part homophony, and his line endings were marked by casual cadences, much like a frottola. As opposed to his five to six voice part madrigals which were more similar to the format of that of a motet. Meaning, more frequent imitation, a variety of voice pairing, and the overlapping of voice cadences.
Madrigals were a form of entertainment written distinctively for the satisfaction of both the singers themselves and the audiences at social gatherings, meals, and academic meetings. At this point in time the demand for the very artistic music genre had gone through the roof, and with the development of music printing in the earlier years of the century had made it much easier to supply for this demand.
Not only were collections of song able to be published and transported but in addition to people just wanting to practice and learn musicality, by 1570, much like in the earlier renaissance years, some patrons had begun employing professional singers to perform madrigals. Meanwhile, with the reign of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, England had created its own native tradition of secular music in the earlier half of the sixteenth century. Both being musicians and composers there is a multitude of manuscripts from his reign of 1509 to 1547 containing a variety of songs, and instrumental pieces, in up to four parts reflecting the different levels and angles of that of the court lifestyle.
Though after the ending of King Henry VIII’s reign, around the year 1560, the circulation of Italian culture began in England, thus, bringing the madrigal genre with it. It was around the year 1588 when a man by the name of Nicholas Yonge has released a collection of Italian madrigals that he has translated into English published as ‘Musica Transalpina.’ This contained over fifty pieces of some of the best Italian, and Flemish, madrigal compositions. It is believed that Yonge’s preface was the very first record of any mention of the word Madrigal in England. The leading, and most influential, English madrigalist included Thomas Morely, Thomas Weelkes, and John Wilbye. Thomas Morely was a disciple of William Byrd, a famous composer who wrote and performed for Queen Elizabeth I, and made his debut in 1593 called ‘Canzonets’, or ‘Little Shorts Songs to three voices. Within the next following years, he published at least one more book of Madrigals.
He was also known for his publication of a famous treatise named ‘A Plaine and Easier Introduction to Practicall Musicke’ which has a reputation for helping many understand the basic rules of counterpoint. By this time Morley had managed to gather the same amount of reputability as his mentor Byrd held. ‘April, Is In My Mistress’ was a madrigal that Morley published in 1594.
This music displays a variety of voice pairings, between all four voice parts, as well as what can be called a mainly homophonic rhythm between the voice pairs. It is also through-composed, which is a big rule that madrigals follow. The poem’s words help describe a woman and her many different features comparing them to the seasons. Another piece that accurately defines Morley’s artistry was ‘I Love, Alas, I Love Thee.’ This madrigal consist of a mainly call and response kind of musical technique.
It begins with a solo Cantus entrance, followed by the Altus and then the voices are paired together rhythmically and text wise. Within that same stanza, the Tenor and Bassus voices join and are paired together. Both sharing the same rhythm and text for most of the piece, with some added words here and there. The staggering entrances, continuous overlap, text painting, and expression through dynamics and voice pairing is exactly how this composer was able to bring this poem to life, which is the purpose of a madrigal. Now, after Morley’s death, soft, expressive madrigals, such as his, in England began to decline. Remaining madrigalist in schools began to revert back to a more austere tone. Though, as text and harmonic language broadened, composers began to utilize more purposeful chromaticism and prominent textual painting than ever written in the sixteenth century.
Composer Thomas Weelkes was one of the two grandest influences in the English Madrigal genre in the seventeenth century. In fact, his publications were considered some of the most innovative and experimental music of all the English Madrigalist. His collections accurately depict the rise in popularity madrigalist were getting after it’s spread into England by Yonge. Weelkes original approaches to the madrigal reconstructed it from its former Italian Model to a brand new English genre.
His piece ‘As Vesta Was’ was a six-part madrigal, which is one of the features he was best known for, that consisted of a mainly harmonious chord, but with elaborate melodies that elaborate as the piece progresses. After the top four voices enter together on the first page, the pattern becomes a call and response between those four voices up until the sixth system. At this point, the Quintus enters on their own line, and not too long after that does the Basus voice enter. It remains mainly homophonic with some polyphonic parts and points of imitation.
Another madrigal written by Weelkes was ‘Thus Sings My Dearest Jewel’, that only has Cantus, Altus, and Bassus as it three-voice parts. This is a short and fun piece that has three points of the repeated text, as well as, new dynamics for the repeats. There are also multiple points of unison between all three voices and then just simple voice pairing, while another line had a melody. Finally the second most influential English madrigalist, after Morely’s death, in the seventeenth century was John Wilbye. Wilbye was best known for utilizing chromatic passages versus Weelkes who was better known for incorporating text and phrase painting to articulate the poetic text.
A good example of this would be his piece ‘Weep, Weep, Mine Eyes’, which accurately depicts his use of chromaticism and major homophony. Each part, specifically in the second system, is singing half notes moving up or down in a chromatic manner until we get to the twenty-fourth measure when new text is introduced, as well as some new rhythmic patterns. Another Wilbye piece, titled ‘Adieu, Sweet Amaryllis,’ is still very homophonic along with still following his signature chromatic technique. Yet, in this piece, there seems to be more voice pairing and repetitive delayed entrance then the previous. Another similarity though is that Wilbye seems to keep the same text for about five systems before changing the text and resolving the song.
The sixteenth century English Madrigalist were more lyrically expressive and much better text painters compared to the seventeenth century English Madrigalist who was more focused on the notes and shaping of the music rather than the shaping of the lyrics. For example, compare Morleys ‘I Love, Alas, I Love Thee’, to Wilbyes ‘Adieu, Sweet Amaryllis’, both are beautiful pieces, but Morley is more repetitive with his text and the formation of the poetic lyrics. Whilst Wilbyes piece has more movement in the notes and just repeated text until the melody is done, then he moves on to a new text. The Madrigals changed a lot in the music world as well as impacted other worlds outside of that. With the rise of important for expression text and dramatic music thus opera was born in the seventeenth century. This expansion is what led to the Italian music dominating in the Baroque era.
The same devices that composers of opera, ballets, and film scores use to aid in portraying a character’s mood or to sway the emotions of the audience can be traced back to the same conduct that sixteenth-century madrigalist used. Though, there came a time where social singing declined following 1600 it managed to maintain itself somewhat in England. Following 1790 there was a growth of amateur choir societies in the nineteenth century helping with the revival of madrigal singing. This was especially right for the schools, seeing as that was where the performing of madrigals was most popular. In conclusions, the madrigals was a much needed and influential genre and time for music. It taught people that you should be able to feel what you hear and enjoy it.