A Brief History of the
The madrigal began in Modena, Italy as an outgrowth of a 14th/15th
century Italian form called the frottola. When the cathedrals and
nobility in Tuscany and Lomdardy began hiring Burgundian (also known as
Flemish) choir-masters like Jacob Arcadelt, Josquin des Prez and Philip
Verdelot, the music began to change. The Flemish composers brought
their experiments in polyphony with them. What had started as a native
Italian style (mostly block-harmonized songs about love and loss),
began to use more and more polyphony and "madrigalism" (or
"word-painting") to be more expressive of the text.
One of the
techniques used by the Flemish (and their Italian students) was
imitation. This "imitation" was rarely full canon (like a round), but
instead could take a different pitch from the first part as starting
point for the new part. Also unlike rounds, each part might start at a
different time interval from the beginning of the piece. Each
individual part-beginning was called a "point", and voice-parts coming
in later are said to be "taking up the point", or providing
"counterpoint" (even though they might actually be exactly the same
music as the point).
of the Flenish and their new Italian friends spread thoughout Europe,
and their music quickly followed. The French contimued the use of
the native term chanson (meaning song,which is used for all French
art-songs, regardles of the actual underlying form, even to this day).
In Spain, the native form was the villancico, which often used a
musical structure that repeated choral sections in an ABABA
pattern. Upon reaching Germany, and then England (in the 1580's),
the Italian name was retained, but the music became even more
expressive of the text, resulting in fully-polyphonic
"through-composed" (i.e., having no verse structure) settings.
Even the Roman,
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was know to
have written a number of madrigals, some of which are presented here.
But, (like the much later Carl Orff, who dissociated himself from
almost all of his prior works after Carmina Burana) he asked his
publisher to withdraw these earlier compositions when he applied for a
position in the choir of the Sistine Chapel, calling them frivolous,
even though at least one pope, the Medici Clement VII, is known to have composed madrigals
while a cardinal.
There were other
rather closely-related forms, namely:
|The Canzonet: short,
multi-verse compositions, which may involve extensive
|use of polyphony, and
frequently involve either an AABB or ABA structure,
The Ballet (usually pronounced like ballot): These are
originally dances and
|are similar to the
lighter madrigals of Luca Marenzio (who inspired the Englishman Thomas
Morley), and which use nonsense syllables (most often fa-la-la) in
order to fill out the music.
madrigal, which didn't really exist until the 1585 (when English
composers were finally able to turn some attention away from providing
music in English for the Church), and following the continental style,
died out by 1625. It is considered by many to be the height of choral
compositional skill. In England, Thomas Morley (who was the publisher
of most of the English composers) tjought them ideal to be sung by the
diners after supper, by the hosts and guests in the emerging English
middle-class, and not the concert performance music it has since become.
At least two of
the master composers of the genre (Morley and John Dowland) wrote
singing manuals. Morley's 1597 book, A
Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, is by
today's standards, neither plain and easy, nor the music practical. It
talks about vocal technique, and makes the point that such singing was
quite normal in middle-class homes (at least when entertaining), and
that the lack of such an ability was considered uncommon, and the
product of poor education.
But Morley was
no disinterested author. He was the sole publisher of music in England,
having obtained a patent from Elizabeth I in 1596 for the importation,
printing and publishing of music and music paper. Thus, if you wanted
to print music or music paper, or bring it into England from anywhere
else, you had to pay a license fee to Morley.
One might think
this quite an easy way to make money, but enforcement was left to the
patent-holder making civil suit in the courts, and the previous
patent-holders (the composers and members of the Chapel Royal, Thomas
Tallis and William Byrd) had been forced to seek relief from their
patent from the Queen, who considered not issuing one again.